A Letter from Mark Wolfe Regarding the April 13 Tornado at Caddo Mounds State Historic Site

The following letter should be attributed to Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Texas Historical Commission, regarding the tornado that devastated the THC’s Caddo Mounds State Historic Site on Saturday, April 13, 2019.

Our hearts are broken by the suffering of our friends across Alto, Cherokee County, and elsewhere who were impacted by the terrible storm and tornado over the weekend.

Site staff had only minor injuries. But members of the Caddo Nation and of the Friends of Caddo Mounds were among the many injured and traumatized by this horrific event. It is especially unfair that a day of celebration for the tribe and for other guests from across the region became such a nightmare.

Early Sunday morning, Deputy Executive Director for Historic Sites Joseph Bell, Division Director for Communications Chris Florance, and I traveled to the site to check on agency employees and to offer what assistance we could.

We expected to be horrified by the damage, and we were. What I don’t think we expected was the inspiration, compassion, and hope we saw on display from the many people affected by this tragedy.

It was especially gratifying to see the level of response and recovery provided by Cherokee County and their public safety, utility, and charitable partners who mobilized from across the region, including our good friends at Texas Parks and Wildlife. As terrible as these events were, they would have been far worse without the assistance of these dedicated individuals and organizations.

One person lost their life at the site. Their identity has not been released and we are uncertain whether they were attending the event or sought shelter there from the tornado. Regardless of why they were there, it is a terrible loss, and our hearts go out to this individual’s loved ones.

Although we see in media accounts that 30-50 individuals required medical attention and that some of these were transported by helicopter to area hospitals, we only know the names of a few of the injured. We hope you understand that we are not permitted to share personal medical information. We respect the privacy of each and every person who was injured and wish them a speedy recovery.

Roughly 50 percent of the visitors center building was demolished by the storm. We are working to obtain a structural assessment of what remains. Fortunately, the exhibit items in the visitors center were replicas—we do not display actual tribal artifacts out of respect for the Caddo people and their beliefs.

The Grass House is gone. Some interpretive signage on the site grounds is intact, but some was lost.

The site's guest house suffered minor damage. Conditions of the utility buildings across the road range from demolished to mostly intact. The demolished structures were primarily garage space for tractors. Those vehicles appeared to be okay, just inaccessible. The site managers’ house was slightly damaged.

Our estimate to rebuild the visitors center, to replace vehicles and equipment, and to make other necessary repairs, is $2.5 million. We’re already working on efforts to identify resources to accomplish this goal. We believe that Caddo Mounds State Historic Site will be an important part of the area’s recovery.

But for now, we urge those of you reading this to be generous in your support of the Alto community. There are several ways you can help.

BancorpSouth has set up a fund for disaster recovery. You can call 936-858-4416 to donate, or send donations to: BancorpSouth, Alto Relief Fund, P.O. Box 430, Alto, TX 75925. As we learn of other verified donation opportunities to assist the community we will share them with you.

At any point in our time at the site this weekend, we could lift our eyes to the distance and see the Caddo Mounds themselves, seemingly untouched by the storm’s devastation. It was an important reminder that we do the work we do with the understanding that our lives are brief, but the places, stories, and cultures that we preserve will outlive us all.

With that in mind, we will rebuild and re-open Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. We don’t know how yet, and we will likely need your help to do it—but for now, we will focus on the injured, the traumatized, and those who are grieving.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions or concerns. We will continue to update you as we receive more confirmed information.