The Spirit of the Caddo

The spirit stays Six 1 days before starting on its way. During these six days a fire must be kept up at the east end of the grave. 2 Anybody in the family, man or woman, old or young, may keep up this fire. All the possessions of the deceased, clothes, etc. are kept by this fire, hung on a pole. At the close of the six days things which are unfit for further use are burned, other things are smoked, and may then be given away to friends or reltives. 3 Members of the household of the deceased who have been staying at home are smoked 4 at this time, after which they take a bath in the creek. Now at noon there is a meal at the grave. The pots are set in a circle, and with a spoon a man, any one may be chosen, takes some food into his hand from each pot and puts this food on the middle of the grave, it is for the journey. 5

Recurrently, at the same time of year, for two, three, or four years a feast for the deceased person is made (kanitashnowia’a kiats’abisu, there is going to be a feast; kia, used to be; Mr. Bisu [Wing]) 6 and food is taken to the grave, or, as Ingkanish puts it, a beef is killed and a piece taken to the grave which is encircled clockwise four times. There is much visiting about in connection with these characteristically Southeastern feasts, 7 as acquaintances as well as relatives are entertained. It has become customary to hold a peyote meeting the night before a death feast. At the feast the next Ghost dance will be announced.

Of the dead it is said, Ganihaada’ (R.), he passed away, or hayuna (hayu, high, na, locative), “he has gone home” is White Moon’s free translation. At death people go up to the sky. 8 Deceased relatives and others are seen in the Ghost dance trance, in fact the entire “village of the dead” may be seen. 9

There is or was a ceremony to bring back the dead. Kanoshtsi’ (Kanosh, French), a doctor who died in 1908, 10 had four sisters, long since dead, who were also doctors and practiced bringing back the dead, 11 with success if they began to work soon after the death. They sent their supernatural partners after the deceased. They could catch up with the deceased and bring him back to the body providing he had not passed beyond certain clouds in the sky. 12 These women doctors conducted their ceremony “to catch up with the dead” in a large permanent “grass house.” 13 Their brother has been heard to say that had he only paid more attention to his sisters’ methods he would have been as good in practice as they.

That the return of the dead after burial would be far from welcome is inferable from the notorious case of John Stink, an Osage. One day, after his burial, he came walking into town with his dogs. People would not have anything to do with him. So he had to go and live alone. For many years he has been living alone, with his dogs. 14 In telling the story of John Stink, White Moon added: “Once a woman, a White woman, tried to mix me up with him. She wanted me to tell him she would marry him. She said she was not afraid of him and would live with him, it would be good for him and good for her.” John Stink was rich. White Moon declined to be mixed up in the case.Citations:

  1. Four (Ingkanish). The Delaware build a fire at the grave but they do not keep it up four days like the Caddo nor hold a feast (Pardon).[]
  2. Cp. Dorsey 2: 15, 31, 65.[]
  3. Who are at hand. When the horses and hogs belonging to White Moon’s father, Mr. Blue, were distributed at his death, they, went to his widow and her son and other relatives. White Moon did not get any because he was not home. Of Mr. Blue’s land eighty acres went to the widow, and eighty were divided between his two sons.[]
  4. Ingkanish refers to this rite as holding one’s hands over the fire which is between them and the grave, then passing one’s hands down one’s face, holding them again over the fire, passing them over heart and body, holding them to the fire, and passing them over legs, holding them to the fire and passing them over the face, and finally raising them up to the west.[]
  5. Cp. Harrington, 286, 287. Grave meal among Shawnee, also fire on grave until fourth day when the spirit departs, when his things are smoked, and the mourners bathe (Voegelin).[]
  6. See p. 35.[]
  7. Choctaw (Swanton); Shawnee (Voegelin).[]
  8. There was an early belief about a high god in the sky to whom the dead go (Hatcher, XXXI, 162). Cp. Dorsey 2: 15.[]
  9. Cp. Mooney, 1096, 1102.[]
  10. In 1922 (Ingkanish). He passed on some of his craft to his son. Little Frenchman who died in 1922 was probably the son of the doctor who died in 1908-three, perhaps four, generations of doctors.[]
  11. Cp. Pawnee, Grinnell, 170; Kiowa, Parsons, 75.[]
  12. According to Wing, “there are two kinds of medicine-men. One kind has power to doctor and heal the sick; another has the power to prevent any one from being hurt or. harmed, and can charm away all danger” . . . these are more powerful and have power to bewitch people far off. “They have a song of death, and when they sing the song before a dying person they frighten away death and the person lives. There are few people who ever receive this power, which is generally given by the sun, moon, stars, earth, or storm, but some very wild and ferocious animals can also give the power to people” (Dorsey 2: 23). Wing himself, after White Moon, was of the second class, for he was nei di as well as konah’.[]
  13. Such as the Wichita now hold dances in. Formerly among both Wichita and Caddo the “grass house” was a dwelling house. Today most of the Caddo live in frame houses, “very fine too.” Even log cabins (ya’ko) are rare. Kohu’tsauo, grass house (Ingkanish); kohuthitkwisaiyaba’, we had grass house (White ‘loon).[]
  14. In 1939 Willie Longbone, aged 72, a Delaware living near Dewey, Okla. (not near Caddo) told Dr. Voegelin about John Stink: “The Osage set the corpse up between two rocks and piled rocks around it. When John Stink died they set him up like that, with his legs stretched out and moccasins on. But he got up and put the rocks away and walked away. He came back to camp with his moccasins on. White doctors had attended him and pronounced him dead. He was ‘buried’ for five or six days. The government made the Osage quit burying in rocks like that afterwards. “John Stink lived fifty years after his first ‘death,’ and died last fall (1938) for good. He was never quite right after his first ‘death’; he couldn’t talk any more; before that he was like anybody else. He went out in the hills and slept [lived] there; he ate in a restaurant in town; he always had six dogs with him.”[]


Parsons, Elsie Clews. Notes on the Caddo, Memories of the American Anthropological Association. Supplement to American Anthropologist, Volume 43, No. 3, Part 2. 1921.

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