Bossier Focus

Between A.D. 1100 and 1200 the early Caddo culture was changing into a simpler culture that has been named Bossier; for the parish in which it was first discovered (Webb 1948a). The large centers faded out or were inhabited by small groups. The people seem to have been secure, not menaced, and beginning to spread out along the streams in small settlements or family homesteads. Local materials were used and few exotic objects have been found. Burial customs became simpler; usually single graves with a few offerings and situated near the home or in small cemeteries. The pottery of the Bossier folk was of good quality and still had some of the decoration by engraving, incising, and punctating techniques of the earlier period, but increasing amounts of everyday wares were decorated by simple brushing (similar to Plaquemine pottery of eastern and southern Louisiana).

Between Caddo Lake and Natchitoches the location of settlements in the Red River Valley almost disappeared at this time, possibly signifying the beginning of the Great Raft. The villages and hamlets were on the lateral streams, lakes, and into the uplands, along virtually every watercourse. A calm period of pastoral life is indicated and probably lasted until it was shattered in 1542 by Moscoso's tattered Spanish army and the subsequent arrival of other Europeans.

One such hamlet or family homestead of Bossier people was at the Montgomery site in upper Webster Parish at the Springhill Airport (Webb and Jeane 1977). The people seem to have lived here long enough for their thatched roof, clay-daubed houses to have been repaired and relocated a number of times, leaving numerous post molds. Their simple tools and arrow points were made of local cherts; ornaments are missing and polished stone tools are rare. Residues of gathered or hunted food stuffs are present: hickory nuts, acorns, persimmons, mussels, turtle, fish, and deer bones. No corn, beans, or pumpkin seeds have been found, but they must have grown these crops and probably did so in gardens rather than in fields. Their pottery, as shown by broken sherds, ranged from rough culinary or storage pots to nicely engraved bowls and red-surfaced or engraved bottles.

Vessels from a Bossier Focus site on Lake Bisteneau. Illustration from Webb 1983:191, courtesy of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey.

A Bossier group of higher culture lived along Willow Chute, an old Red River channel in the valley east of Bossier City. Farming homesteads and hamlets are strung along its course and two large mounds- Vanceville and Werner-mark the Bossier ceremonial centers. Beneath the Werner mound, destroyed in the 1930s, were the ruins of an immense lodge which was circular with a projecting entrance (Webb 1983). The entire lodge measured 80 by 90 feet. It was probably ceremonial, or the lodge of a Caddi (chief), as few arrows, tools, or personal possessions were found. There were quantities of deer and other animal bones, fish and turtle bones, and mussel shells. Broken pottery in large amounts denoted feasts and the ceramics were of exceptional quality. No burials or whole vessels were found.

Each lateral lake along Red River-Black Bayou, Caddo, Wallace, Clear; and Smithport lakes on the west side; Bodcau, Bistineau, Swan, and Black lakes on the east-has Bossier period sites around its mar- gins. Occupations continue westward to Sabine River and into eastern Texas, southward almost to Catahoula Lake, eastward along D'Arbonne and Corney bayous toward the Ouachita, and northward into Arkansas. Either late Bossier or Belcher people could have been in the populous Naguatex district described by the De Soto chroniclers, encountered just before the Spaniards crossed Red River.

Belcher Focus

The Belcher mound site, in Red River Valley about 20 miles north of Shreveport, gives its name to this Caddo culture period. Radiocarbon dates at the site and comparisons with other cultures suggest that the Belcher Focus began about A.D. 1400 and lasted into the seventeenth century. During its beginning, Belcher culture probably overlapped and coexisted with Bossier culture.

The Beicher site was excavated by Webb (1959) and his associates over a 10-year period. The Belcher mound contained a succession of levels on which houses were built, burned or deserted, and covered over with new buildings. Burials were placed in pits beneath the house floors or through the ruins of burned houses. It is inferred that the houses were ceremonial lodges or chiefs' houses. The earliest house was rectangular; with wall posts erected in trenches and packed with clay; a 7-foot entranceway projected northeastward. The walls were clay-daubed, and the gabled roof covered with grass thatch. Later houses were circular; also with projecting entranceways, and with interior roof supports and central hearths. They also were daubed and thatch-covered, but were divided into compartments, which contained internal posts for seats or couches and sometimes small hearths for each compartment. Food remains found on the floors of Belcher houses included maize, beans, hickory nuts, persimmon seeds, pecans, mussel and snail shells, and bones of deer; rabbit, squirrel, fox, mink, birds, fish (gar; catfish, buffalo, sheeps-head, and bowfin), and turtle. Belcher tools encompassed stone celts (hatchets or chisels), arrow points which had tiny pointed stems, flint scrapers and gravers, sandstone hones, bone awls, needles and chisels, shell hoes, spoons and saws, and pottery spindle weights.

Conch shell ceremonial drinking cups and lizard effigy shell neckalce from Belcher mound site. Artifacts date to approximately A.D. 1400 to 1500. Photographs by Doug Bryant.

Ornaments found with burials or on house floors at Belcher include beads, anklets, pendants and gorgets of shell, pearls, ear ornaments of shell, bone and pottery, bone hairpins, bear tooth pendants, shell inlays, and small shell bangles. Some of the shell pendants were carved in lizard or salamander effigy forms. Ceremonial drinking cups made of conch shells were sometimes decorated, one bearing a composite flying serpent-eagle design. Platform and elbow pipes were of baked clay. Split cane basketry or matting fragments show herringbone or 1-over-4-under weave.

Belcher pottery was superior to that of the Bossier people and, indeed, is some of the best in the entire Caddoan area. There was a diversity of bowl, bottle, urn, jar; vase, miniature, and compound forms. Large storage ollas were found broken on house floors. Techniques of decoration involved engraving, stamping, incising, trailing, ridging, punctating, brushing, applique' nodes, insertion of red or white pigment into designs, red slipping, polishing, pedestal elevation, rattle bowls, bird and turtle effigies, and tripod and tetrapod legs. Many of the vessels had ornate or intricate curvilinear designs, with scrolls, circles, meanders, spirals, and guilloches; sun symbols, crosses, swastikas, and triskeles were added.

Many of the 26 burials found in Beicher mound exhibited a carry-over of the early Caddo burial ceremonialism, presumably including human sacrifice. Individuals or groups of up to seven persons were placed in shaft burial pits, and often were surrounded by many pottery vessels-sometimes in stacks-in addition to tools, arrows, ornaments, food offerings, vessels with spoons, decorated drinking cups, pipes, and other indicators of high rank. As many as 20 to 40 pottery vessels had been placed in a single pit. Even small children had ornaments and numerous vessels, as though they were of the nobility. This suggests a hereditary social ranking as was found among the Natchez Indians.

Prehistoric Caddo pottery from the Belcher mound site, Caddo Parish. Courtesy of L.S.U. Museum of Geoscience. Photographs by Al Godoy.

Other mound centers of Belcher culture, occurring along Red River into southwestern Arkansas, show similar ceremonialism. Villages and hamlets along the river to Natchitoches and into the uplands are marked by typical Beicher pottery sherds. In all, late Belcher people were dispersed widely, and their way of life gave rise to the generalized cultural base that existed at the time of European intrusion.