Historic Caddo Mounds Reopening: A Rebirth 5 Years in the Making

by Katt Noble on July 5, 2024 in Travels,

Discover the Resilient Spirit of the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site

If you’re looking for a travel destination that blends rich history, cultural heritage, and a story of resilience, look no further than the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site (SHS) in Alto, Texas. This unique site, nestled in the heart of East Texas, offers an immersive journey into the vibrant legacy of the Caddo people who have called this land home for centuries. The site provides a fascinating glimpse into the ancient traditions, sophisticated societies and enduring spirit of the Caddo culture. Visitors can explore the beautifully reconstructed Caddo Grass House, stroll through the serene Snake Woman’s Garden and engage with interactive exhibits that bring history to life.

A Tragic Day in 2019

Caddo Women at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.

On a spring day in April 2019, the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, a place of celebration and cultural pride, was struck by an EF3 tornado during the annual Caddo Culture Day celebration. The tornado wreaked havoc, injuring many and critically damaging the site, including the museum and the traditional Caddo Grass House. This tragic event left a deep scar on the community.

Alaina Tahlate, a language preservationist, gifted the community with the word “shahó,” encapsulating the experience of the tornado. Shahó is more than just devastation; it represents the communal journey of recovery, the rebuilding of community, and the transformation of a landscape marked by loss into one of hope and renewal.

The Grand Reopening: A Symbol of Rebirth

The Snake Woman’s Garden is filled with local/native plants the Caddo use in their everyday life. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.

Fast forward five years, and on May 18, 2024, the Caddo Mounds SHS celebrated its grand reopening. This day, now part of shahó, was a vibrant testament to the lessons of Whirlwind Woman, embodying themes of devastation, rebirth, family and community. The joyous sounds of mockingbird songs and the rhythmic beats of the Caddo drum filled the air, signaling a powerful message of resilience.

The grand reopening was more than just an event; it was a celebration of the community’s indomitable spirit. Visitors from near and far joined the festivities, enjoying cultural performances, traditional dances and heartfelt speeches from community leaders. The day was a celebration of unity and the strength derived from overcoming adversity.

Overcoming Challenges

The Snake Woman’s Garden is filled with local/native plants the Caddo use in their everyday life. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.

The path to the grand reopening was not without its challenges. The aftermath of the tornado was exacerbated by the global Covid-19 pandemic, which brought supply shortages and persistent rain, testing the resolve of those involved. The pandemic, with its widespread impact, caused significant delays and disruptions. Supply chains were affected, construction timelines were extended and the community faced the emotional toll of another crisis. Yet the community’s dedication never wavered. Through sheer determination and resilience, the people behind the Caddo Mounds SHS persevered, ensuring that the site would be restored better than ever. Their commitment to restoring the site is evident in every corner of the new facilities as well as the surrounding grounds.

Rebuilding with Safety and Resilience

The rebuilding process at Caddo Mounds SHS was marked by a thoughtful approach, emphasizing safety and resilience. The new museum features “hardened” bathrooms, a stronger overall structure, and an earthen berm to provide enhanced protection against future natural disasters. These improvements not only honor the past but also ensure a safer future for visitors and staff.

The focus on safety extends beyond structural integrity. The design incorporates modern technologies and resilient building practices to withstand extreme weather conditions. This commitment to safety is a tribute to the lessons learned from the tornado, ensuring that the site remains a safe haven for cultural preservation and community gatherings.

A grass house at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.

The Future of Caddo Mounds State Historic Site

Looking ahead, the future of the Caddo Mounds SHS is bright and promising. The rebuilding process was seen as an opportunity to enhance and improve. The subsequent years, marked by healing and reflection, underscored the importance of our relationship to place. Assistant Site Manager Rachel Galan and Educator/Interpreter Maggie Leysath have employed metaphorical storytelling to interpret the ways the 397 acres have nourished and healed inhabitants throughout time.

A key metaphor for the new initiatives is “braiding,” symbolizing a desire for reciprocity. In braiding, each strand remains an individual entity, yet all strands come together to form a whole. This concept, highlighted in Gloria Snively and Wanosts’a7 Lorna Williams’s “Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science,” and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults,” encourages mutual exchange and responsibilities.

New initiatives at Caddo Mounds SHS weave together Indigenous ways of knowing, Western science, and the arts. These initiatives, focusing on co-stewardship for land conservation and interpretive programs, bring learning to families through Creative STEM experiences. Developed in partnership with the High Desert Museum’s National Science Foundation funding under Grant #2115488, these programs highlight the site’s commitment to education and cultural preservation.

Visiting the Reimagined Caddo Mounds SHS

A historic sign at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission.

Today, a visit to the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site offers an exceptional blend of history, culture and nature. The newly rebuilt museum and visitors’ center provide a safer, more engaging experience for all. These modern facilities, combined with the site’s comprehensive educational programs, offer deep insights into the rich heritage of the Caddo people. Visitors can explore the beautifully reconstructed Caddo Grass House, participate in interactive exhibits, and join cultural events that celebrate the traditions and stories of the Caddo community. The site is not just a place of learning but a living testament to the resilience and spirit of the community that brought it back to life.

The reopening of the Caddo Mounds SHS is a celebration of a community that has turned tragedy into triumph. It stands as a symbol of resilience, demonstrating that even in the face of immense challenges, hope and renewal are possible. The site’s new initiatives reflect a commitment to learning, healing, and growing together, ensuring that the Caddo Mounds SHS remains a vibrant, educational, and inspirational destination.

From foraging events to Caddo Artist Series/Talks, to STEM based family camps, the Caddo Mounds SHS is just another reason why you should visit the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

For more information:
* ticket prices and upcoming events
* to learn more about the Caddo through virtual experience
* Texas Historical Commission


 Cover photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission

A Texas native, Katt Noble is the former Digital Manager of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.