Special to the HC Courier
NACOGDOCHES - It's time to roll up your sleeves and cut some switch grass! Caddo Mounds State Historic Site (CMSHS) harvested switch grass at the Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest in Nacogdoches in November 2015 for the construction of a traditional Caddo grass house at the site. The next harvest will take place at the Experimental Forest on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 9:30 a.m. A rain out date is scheduled for Jan. 30.
In 2014, Friends of Caddo Mounds embarked on a mission to build a new grass house at the site. The first replica Caddo grass house at CMSHS was constructed in 1981. The house remained an integral part of the site until the mid 1990s, when it deteriorated beyond repair. Per Caddo custom, the house was burned.
Two decades later, through the efforts of Friends of Caddo Mounds, CMSHS staff and numerous supporters, the Caddo grass house will rise again on the prairie along the Neches River bottom in 2016.
"The grass house dwelling will be used for interpretation and public education about how Caddo houses were designed and constructed, the materials that were used to build them, and the activities that were conducted inside," said CMSHS Interpreter Rachel Galan. "But we also want the house constructed to honor the Caddo and their culture," said Galan.
Caddo elder Phil Cross has agreed to construct the grass house this summer at the site. Cross is the only living Caddo elder who knows the traditional grass house building techniques. After the first grass cutting last November, the grass was stored on site to dry.
In December, Caddo elder Phil Cross returned to CMSHS to mark pine polls and willow trees to be harvested later in the spring for construction of the grass house. Cross analyzed the switch grass harvest and it was determined that more switch grass was needed.
According to Friends of Caddo Mounds President Jeff Williams, by utilizing Phil Cross, the group is incorporating the unique knowledge and invaluable experience of the ancient Caddo people and the thriving Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.
Locals are also excited about the grass house project, and anxious to see the prairie resemble their memories of the site.
"I spent a lot of time in the area as a child. No matter how many times I visited the site or drove by on TX SH 21, the ancient earthen mounds and grass house always enchanted me," said Friends of Caddo Mounds member Dana Goolsby. "I remember seeing the grass house at CMSHS in our Texas History books in elementary school, and realizing how important the site was even then. Today, the site still enchants me and is more important than ever. Joining the Friends of Caddo Mounds group has given me the opportunity to help preserve Caddo culture and East Texas history."
Anyone who is interested in volunteering at CMSHS and helping with grass house work days is encouraged to attend the next Friends of Caddo Mounds meeting on Thursday, January 21, at 6p.m. The Friends of Caddo Mounds is a 501 c3 non-profit organization under a Memorandum of Agreement with the Texas Historical Commission's Historic Sites Division. The group meets at the CMSHS Museum on the third Thursday of each month at 6p.m.
Switch grass cutting volunteers are encouraged to wear closed toed shoes, work clothes, and bring work gloves. Safety goggles are a plus. Any volunteers able to bring gas or battery run hedge cutters would be appreciated. Lunch and drinks will be provided at the work day.
Please call Anthony Souther or Rachel Galan for more information about the grass house project, how to donate, or how to get involved at (936) 858-3218. Like the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site on Facebook for updates about upcoming work days.