Building the Past: Grass House Returns to Caddo Mounds

By Rachel Galan, Caddo Mounds Site Educator and Interpreter

Tony Souther and Phil Cross in forest by Caddo Mounds State Historic Site.We are moving forward with big dreams at Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. With the location and identification of the natural resources required to build the new Caddo grass house at the site (e.g. switchgrass, pine and willow poles, and a large central cedar post) and the first efforts to gather these materials, the construction phase of the grass house project is officially underway.

For the thatching of the grass house, Alamo Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) was cut at the East Texas Plant Materials Center with the help of 19 volunteers and three Caddo Mounds staff. It took the group 30 hours and three grass-cutting sessions to collect enough grass needed for house construction.

Clearing switchgrass

Replica Caddo grass house in 1981In 1981, an experimental replica grass-thatched house was constructed at the George C. Davis site and displayed an interpretive exhibit for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which managed the site at the time. By 1995, the house was architecturally unstable and provided the opportunity to conduct a staged burn of the house, artifacts, and organic remains so archeologists could observe and document the effects. In addition to the archeological aspect, traditional ceremonial practices were observed during the burn.

The second house reconstruction project was started in 1997, but never completed and was dismantled in 2000.

Replica Caddo grass house in 1995, prior to burn.The purpose of the new house is more than a research project or an interpretive tool (although I am excited about that). The new house will also strengthen relationships, increase awareness, encourage stewardship, and preserve Caddo traditions. While the people who populated the Mound site at Caddo Mounds State Historic Site have been gone since about 1250 A.D. (for roughly 30 generations), the spirit of the place permeates all that we do. 

“I appreciate your efforts to bridge our living culture of today and our history.” Instagram comment by ndnregalia, 2016

The construction of this grass house will:

  • Bring Caddo people and non-Caddo members of our community together for the house construction.
  • Support Caddo artists in the creation of traditional items (e.g., utilitarian pottery) for the house.
  • Allow Phil Cross to pass on the knowledge and skills for grass-house construction to a Caddo apprentice.
  • Provide an opportunity to document the entire construction process through photos and video.
  • Give visitors a unique and authentic look into the lifeways of the ancient people who lived at Caddo Mounds.

Volunteers pose for a group photo.There is still much work to be done in the construction of the new grass house. If you would like to participate, our Facebook page and website have information about volunteer opportunities.

The Friends of Caddo Mounds and the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission are seeking sponsors to financially support the documentation of the grass house project, its furnishing, and its long-term maintenance. You can contribute to the grass house project here.

You can even get involved by sharing your memories of the first grass house for inclusion in our temporary "Memories of the Past" exhibit. Remember to tag related social media posts with #cmgrasshouse.

Caddo Mounds State Historic Site is located near Alto, 26 miles west of Nacogdoches. The site is part of the lush Pineywoods landscape of the Texas Forest Trail Region.

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