Thinking outside the box proved to be a winning solution when the U.S. Forest Service and the Caddo Nation joined forces to investigate and identify archeological sites on national forests in Texas and Louisiana.
In 2009, Barbara Williams, heritage program manager for the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas, faced the daunting task of uncovering evidence of historic and prehistoric artifacts buried in the loamy soil of the Davy Crockett National Forest and Sabine National Forest in the deep East Texas piney woods.
So the forest reached out to the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, whose historic homeland was in the forests of East Texas. The Tribe partners with the Southern Region for training as heritage paraprofessionals and employment on the region’s national forests.
Gary Parker is one of those heritage paraprofessionals, a crew boss and a member of the Caddo Nation. He has a strong interest in Tribal employment opportunities and a personal interest in heritage work. His mother, who recently passed away, wished to see Caddo Tribal members identify heritage sites within the Tribe’s ancestral lands and thus strengthen the connection of current generations of Caddo people to those lands.
As the partners talked, they realized they could solve what was previously thought to be an insurmountable task, and the work began.
“They found evidence of historic campsites, old lumber towns and long-abandoned logging sites,” said Juanita Garcia, the forest’s assistant heritage program manager. “Old bottles, pottery sherds and tools – what was considered trash when it was thrown away – are like puzzle pieces we can use to help us understand how people lived in those times. It gives us an incredible window into the past.”
Employees on the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, also historic Caddo homelands, reached out to Parker and his crew in spring 2011 for heritage survey work. From September 2011 to November 2012, the Caddo crew surveyed more than 8,000 acres to support the forest’s archaeological and resource management projects to benefit forest health and endangered species. Approximately 90 new heritage sites were identified, including ancestral Caddo sites.
“We’ve progressed from shovel tests in Texas to learning every phase of what the archaeologist needs to complete the project,” Parker said. “The opportunity to travel into our Caddo homeland just tops it off and turns the experience into something both meaningful and memorable.”
The crew’s work will resume on the Kisatchie in the spring of 2013.
The partnership proved an enriching experience. The Caddo shared their culture with Forest Service employees and the Caddo honed their skills as archeological assistants.