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Day Trips: Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, Alto

Mystery mounds of the Caddo

By Gerald E. McLeod, November 27, 2020, Columns

Caddo Mounds State Historic Site outside of Alto preserves the remains of a once great Native American society that occupied the forests of East Texas.

Visitors can walk among the mounds and imagine what the cultural center might have looked like.

The human-made rounded hills rising more than two stories were temple, ceremonial, or burial mounds. Enlarged over centuries, the temple mounds were added to when the wooden temples were burned and buried, only to be rebuilt. Burial mounds were enlarged with the death of a priest or prominent person.

The Caddo were once the most advanced and powerful tribe in Texas. They had armies that protected the scattered settlements and farmers who harvested agricultural commodities. The tribe traded with other Indigenous people as far away as the pueblos of New Mexico and people of the Appalachian Mountains.

The Caddo mounds were largely abandoned by 1300. The culture that had flourished for nearly 1,000 years began unraveling with European-introduced diseases. The Caddo continue to live around the Caddo Nation Headquarters outside of Binger, Okla.

On April 13, 2019, the historic site was hit by a tornado as visitors celebrated Caddo Culture Day. Tribe members had traveled from Oklahoma to take part in the annual celebration. The victims included one fatality, and several were critically injured.

Although the mounds were undamaged, the visitors' center was destroyed except for a porch awning. Gone are the interpretive museum and a replica of a beehive-shaped traditional Caddo grass house.

Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, about 3.5 hours from Austin, has reopened the trails for self-guided tours. For more information, go to, or call the park at 936/858-3218.

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