The Legend of Caddo Lake
By Nancy Craig Scott
As the sun was breaking the morning sky, Chief Blackhawk arises pale and weary.
“Come, my people, gather around. The Great Spirit has sent us news.”
Everyone quickly sits in their respective places around the fire. The tribal meetings include young and old for they are one entity. Blackhawk’s face tells many tales within its weathered and careworn patterns.
He sighs, heavily, as he collects his thoughts. “The Great Spirit has told me we must leave our home here in the valley.”
“But why do we need to leave?” Gila bursts out impatiently. Gila has not seen too many moons pass and his youthful demeanor is usually impatient. Gila lives with his tribe, the Caddo Indians in a valley on the eastern border of what is now Texas. His home of a lifetime is warm most of the year. Their houses are tall dome shaped huts. The pottery they make is one of their greatest sources of pride.
Glila was named for Gila monster, the first medicine man of their tribe. He is tall and lanky and some part of him is always in motion. He aspires to be a worthy Shaman and help keep his people healthy. He knows in his short life it takes years of practice to gain the skills and the respect of his people to be regarded as a true medicine man. Chief Blackhawk sees promise in Gila. Blackhawk is revered by everyone as wisdom his has come with the many moons he has seen pass.
Blackhawk sighs once more as he looks sharply and addresses Gila. “Gila, you must learn to listen and wait and I will tell you all what the Great Spirit tells me.” As I lie quiet not asleep or awake, I hear a noise so loud it makes me dizzy. I see visions of cracking of the earth, I feel trembling under my body, trees fly with the birds, and my head pounds with bellowing thunder. An eerie calmness rolls in and a bright sunbeam slices across our land.”
In the sunbeam the Great Spirit appears and tells me, ‘You must take your people and move to the highland, the danger is eminent.” As the bright light diminishes I rise to greet you and share the news.
Silence abounds in the dawning morning. The shock of the news leaves the cool air cold and numbing. Only a few people in the tribe remember the last time the Great Spirit visited.
Again, Gila‘s words spill into the dead space, “Blackhawk, you were so tired last evening, maybe in your exhaustion it was just a dreadful dream.”
Blackhawk glares darkly at Gila and firmly states, “Gila, I know you mean no disrespect, but it was not a dreadful as you say. Before the Big War the Great Spirit came to us and saved many lives and as he will now!”
As the tribe looked around it did not seem likely the danger was so near. The clouds and the massive cypress trees stood motionless. They revered the Great Spirit and plans began immediately for a final feast and ceremony on their sacred land. The tribe works with hopeful hearts praying they would be safe in the highlands by nightfall.
Gila is full of shame. He knows he should never question his Chief or any other elder. He slips quietly into the woods to gather medicinal herbs to take on their journey. This is not the first time words have flown out of his mouth before he could stop them. As Gila is gathering the berries, roots, and leaves he sees fresh cracks in the earth. The sky is darkening, even though it is only mid-morning. The grayness and blackness appears to be gulping all the blue and white sky. Gila’s first instinct is to hurry back, but he rethinks his plan when he sees deeper crevices becoming visible under his feet. With watchful steps he finds his way to the rim of the valley, where the closing ceremony is underway. This time Gila silently sits in his respective place. Everyone chants together to ask the Great Spirit to guide them on their journey.
The Caddo’s fine grass and reed huts must stay behind, but everything else is packed. All of the people work together as they harvest the last of the fruits and berries to eat along their passage to the higher ground. Efficiency will allow them to make the trip in one move. The last items gathered; one for each member is a twig, a feather, or a wildflower. These sacred parts of nature will promise prosperity in the new home. They thank their old land and leave it with hopeful hearts.
As they walk toward the high land stark blackness covers the sky. Everyone quickens their pace to reach their destination. As the end of the line of people approach the new land the Great Spirit’s predictions are beginning. Thunder bellows and the swirling speed of the clouds make them dizzy, as they look upwards. They find small coves to protect them from the pelting rain and gusting winds.
Chief Blackhawk and Gila proceed to the highest point to look back at their old homeland. As the peer down, it is exactly as the Great Spirit predicted. Large chunks of land are dropping off into dark gashes and trees uproot and appear too fly. With the mighty storm the water rushes into the gaping earth like a stampede of a hungry herd. It is both terrifying and captivating to witness the earth being ripped open by such force.
As Blackhawk and Gila return, Gila chants, “May our new home bring us enough food to sustain us and the Great Spirit be with us for eternity. We will use the land wisely and I will learn to take care of my people.”
Within three days the storm ceases, the land settles and an eerie magnificent lake appears from the destruction. Long fingers of murky water reach between the huge cypress trees, as far as the eye can see. Gila takes it all in, his new home, the new lake, and a new awareness within himself. He vows to practice patience. He will learn his duties and make a worthy medicine man for his people.