Mounds of excellence; Caddo Mounds site, staff, volunteer wins awards
Visitors to the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site read up on the historically accurate replica of the traditional grass house the ancient Caddo people would have built while living at the site. The Site recently won the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s 2018 Paul E. Buchannan Award, recognizing the house for its contribution to the study and preservation of vernacular architecture and the cultural landscape.
Attention to historic details; a willingness to put in the time; and a whole lotta love and respect – that’s what makes the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, its staff and volunteers stand out. And those traits are getting recognized.
The site, a staff member and a volunteer were honored with several prestigious awards recently, from two highly recognized state and national organizations.
“We’re extremely appreciative of receiving these awards,” Caddo Mounds Site Manager Anthony Souther said. “This is a wonderful way of validating the efforts I and all our staff and volunteers put into this park.”
According to the Texas Historical Commission (THC)’s website, “Caddo Mounds State Historic Site protects and interprets a unique Texas and Caddo legacy — the remains of a large village and ceremonial center built by the ancestors of today’s Caddo people.
“More than 1,200 years ago, a group of Caddo Indians known as the Hasinai built a village 26 miles west of present-day Nacogdoches. The site was the southwestern-most ceremonial center for the great Mound Builder culture. Today, three earthen mounds still rise from the lush Piney woods landscape, where visitors discover the everyday life and the history of this ancient civilization.”
Last week, Site Educator/Interpreter Rachel Galan won Texas Historical Commission (THC)’s 2018 Outstanding Employee Excellence Award and Friends of Caddo Mounds President Jeff Williams received THC’s The George Christian Outstanding Volunteer of the Year award.
“It’s always nice to be recognized in your work,” Galan said. “It’s very exciting to receive recognition at the state level.”
Galan, a native of Houston, said she feels she’s come full circle in her second career at Caddo Mounds, after serving for numerous years as a librarian at Stephen F. Austin University.
“I studied cultural anthropology and even wrote a paper comparing Caddo mythology and archeology, so this has really brought me back to my original interest,” she said. “Working here just encompasses all the skills, and all the things I really love to do. That’s pretty awesome.”
Souther added, “In the six years she’s been here, we’ve been able to expand our exhibits, add new attractions and renovate -- if it weren’t for Rachel, we couldn’t do a lot of what we are able to do.”
THC also honored 10 entities during the Real Places 2018 conference for their accomplishments and exemplary leadership in the preservation of Texas’ historic places.
“The George Christian Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award—named after the well-known Texas political consultant and former press secretary to Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson as well as Texas Governors Price Daniel and John Connally— was given to Jeffrey Williams of the non-profit volunteer organization, Friends of the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site,” the THC’s website explains. “During his four years serving as a member and subsequent three years as president of the organization, the group tripled its membership, installed four National Park Service signs at Caddo Mounds, and — most significantly — raised the funds to build a traditional Caddo grass house at the site.”
All their hard work and collaboration has paid off.
Earlier this month, the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site’s grass house project was recognized as a co-winner of Vernacular Architecture Forum’s (VAF) 2018 Paul E. Buchannan Award during its annual conference in Alexandria, Va.
The VAF award was instituted in 1993 to “recognize contributions to the study and preservation of vernacular architecture and the cultural landscape that do not take the form of books or published work,” states a release from the Forum. “The award is named for Paul E. Buchanan who served for more than 30 years as the director of architectural research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.”
The grass house construction project was a collaborative opportunity for the east Texas community, Caddo tribal members and many volunteers to recreate a historic grass house.
“The purpose of our new grass house is to strengthen relationships, increase awareness, encourage stewardship, and preserve Caddo traditions,” Souther said. “While the Caddo people who populated this site have been gone since about 1300 A.D., the spirit of this sacred place lives on in all that we do here.”
Souther, a U.S. Air Force veteran from Georgia, went on to explain the park has been home to three grass houses.
“The first one was an archeological project where they built it just like the Caddo people would have built it,” Souther said. “They researched and replicated the tools the Caddos would have used and built the grass house accordingly. It finally became structurally unsafe and was burned in a traditional Caddo ceremony in 1995. The second one was only up for about two years and was never finished.”
After identifying and locating the natural resources required to build the new Caddo grass house, including switch grass, pine and willow poles, and a large central post, project personnel began gathering the materials needed in November 2015. Construction, directed by Caddo elder Phil Cross and his apprentice Chad Earles, both of the Tribal Complex of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma in Binger, Okla., began in June 2016 and took about three weeks to complete. Project staff worked with Elder Cross and Earles to identify, cut and debark the pine poles used for the vertical uprights and in preparing the house location. The Caddo grass house project was designed and built as a partnership between the Caddo people and the East Texas community, which was instrumental in inspiring donations, recognition and the production of a documentary to be released on PBS stations this fall.
“That’s what I’m most proud of,” Galan said of the project and her award. “Sometimes you grapple with the part of the job that involves interpreting someone else’s culture. We have to find ways to do that without appropriating that culture. We want to preserve and tell their stories with respect. But through several of our projects, including building the grass house, we’re able to strengthen the connections to the Caddo people – making sure they are more involved, and have more input on what we’re doing here at the Site, it’s having a positive impact and building better relationships. That’s the part I feel the best about.”
This project would not have been possible without generous financial support from the Friends of Caddo Mounds, Cherokee County Historical Commission, MICA Group through the TIDES Foundation, Humanities Texas, Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historical Foundation, and The Summerlee Foundation.
The project also received significant in-kind support from the East Texas Plant Materials Center, the USFS Davy Crockett National Forest, Stanley Tree Service, High Rack Ranch, Pro Star Rental, and many other in-kind sponsors. To learn more visit www.visitcaddomounds.com and www.texashistoricsites.com.
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