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  • Caddo Sun Accounts across Time and Place
  • Carla Gerona (bio)

Billy Day, a Tunica/Biloxi, recently described the significance of the sun for Caddoan people. Day quoted an “old Caddo relative” of his who said: “I used to go outside and hold my hands up and bless myself with the sun—a’hat. Well, I can’t do that anymore because they say we are sun worshipers. We didn’t worship the sun. We worshiped what was behind it—the power behind it.” Day’s comments, recorded in the documentary series 500 Nations, served to illustrate the centrality of the sun among ancient Caddoans, but it also hinted at change over time as well as resistance to that change. This essay uses sun accounts as a prism into Caddo history. It asks, In what ways did sun stories change over time? My main argument is that constructing a simple cause-and-effect transformation model does not adequately reflect Caddo history. The Caddos had more than one people, more than one sun account, more than one history, and more than one way of recording history.1

In Caddo Indians: Where We Came From, ethnohistorian and Caddo Cecile Elkins Carter documented a disjuncture between Caddo ways of doing history and her academic education. When Carter interviewed Caddo elders, they explained that “God gave special ways to the white man and special ways to the Indian.” The “white man” wrote things down, but the “Indian” told what happened and expected “children to listen and remember.” Carter noted that many of her informants confused historical events such as the Indian Removals and the Civil War, but she also feared that the “Indian way of preserving history was weakening.” Her book sought to resolve the problem by drawing on both Native American and European sources and juxtaposing past and present events. Carter described her project as putting together “the broken [End Page 348] parts of an exquisite pottery bowl found in an ancient burial mound.” Like Carter, I draw on different sources and epistemological approaches. Unlike Carter, I do not expect the sherds to form complete pots. In Texas—and later in Oklahoma—Caddos, Spanish, French, Anglos, Wichitas, Apaches, and Comanches, among others, fought over land, resources, and people as well as beliefs, stories, and histories. And they left behind many shattered pieces.2

This article is organized around several key moments in which the Caddos shared a sun account that made it into the written records. The first part of this essay looks at a Caddo origin account, paying particular attention to the man who published the story, anthropologist George Dorsey. The second and third parts of this essay also focus on accounts that Dorsey published but do so from the perspective of his Caddo collaborators, the political leader White Bread and the medicine doctor Wing. The fourth part of this essay turns to the works of two more recent scholars, Vynola Beaver Newkumet and Howard Meredith, who wrote about the sun’s origins in relation to Caddo dance. The fifth and final part goes back to the earliest known contact period to explore European descriptions of Caddo sun accounts, beginning with Francisco Casañas. All of these records represent moments in which Caddos and outsiders exchanged information, and uncovering the historical context in which people shared sun stories is as significant as the recorded words.

In some accounts a father created the sun; in others a mother did so. None of the accounts are the same, and sometimes they seem contradictory. What should scholars do with such conflicting accounts? Should we privilege Catholic priests, Western anthropologists, Caddo leaders, or late twentieth-century Caddo musicologists? Should we value the earliest accounts or the latest ones? Of course, one could start with the Franciscan Casañas and work up through time, or begin with the more recent Native American scholars and move back to the European intrusion. I instead have chosen a nonlinear approach to emphasize that each of these accounts adds different and unique information and to avoid privileging any one account over another. Rather than trying to bring chronological order to such a fragmentary record, this essay looks at multiple historical points out...


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pp. 348-376
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