Van Zandt County is very rich in Indian traditions, with evidence of ancient civilizations more evident that one would at first believe. We usually depend of written history, traditional stories and archaeological research for most of our knowledge of the Native Americans who once inhabited this area. There is some personal as well as authentic history of the existence of the Cherokee Indians in Van Zandt County, however it is evident that the Caddo Indian tribe were much more prevalent here than any other Native American tribe.
The northern half of the county was unquestionably occupied by a Caddo tribe. The Caddoes lived in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas and extended eastward and northward for an undeterminable distance. The Caddo were much less nomadic than the Cherokee, Comanche, and many other Native American tribes. They would build permanent houses of poles, grass, and mud where favorable conditions existed. There is evidence of cultivated fields of corn, beans and probably some type of melon. There is some evidence of fields being cleared by burning the trees on the Sabine river north of Edgewood. It is also believed by some students of Native American culture that the Caddoes had their own crude alphabet. The Caddoes were also unquestionably the best and most accomplished potters among the Native American cultures and other cultures within the United States as well.
There is evidence in Van Zandt County of pottery made using a crude glazing effect used during the burning process to make the pottery more durable. Their pots were made from a carefully selected type of clay, like some of the clay found in Van Zandt County. They would mix this clay with crushed shells and lignite taken from deep ditches.
The Caddo tribe was the largest and most powerful Native American tribe in Texas. They were divided into three distinct groups. The group that lived in Van Zandt County, often called the "Van Zandt Caddoes" were what many would call the pure Caddo. Once one gained acceptance within the tribe they turned out to be a very friendly, but very unhealthy people. Usually when they began to die they would pass away very quickly and in sizeable numbers. The last known Caddo died in Oklahoma several decades ago.
When the Indians lived in Van Zandt County, rivers, creeks, branches, and streams of all kinds were their highways. Indian campsites were rarely found where there was no water, either by a stream or spring or lake. At this time if a campsite is found that is not near water, evidence will enevitably be found that water was once near the campsite in some form. It is believed that this was necessary for a number of reasons, the chief reason being that the needed drinking water and shade. It is also possible that streams offered a direction of travel similar to the inclination one has of following a certain highway in unknown territory in order to get to a certain place or destination. Indications are that the first Indians came to Van Zandt County up the Sabine river and branched off to other sections, and to smaller streams, lakes and springs. An abundance of evidence of early Indian occupation can be found all along the Sabine from where it enters the county to the south until it leaves the county on the north. All evidence of Indian life in the northern portion of the county is said to be Caddo. A few miles out of Grand Saline on the Golden Road (FM 17) pieces of potter, arrowheads, and a few skin scrapers have been found. An Indian mound has been found near a stream just west of FM17. Almost every farmer's field along the river in this area has produced signs of Indian life. A very large Indian mound was excavated in this vicinity and many artifacts were found and a number of burials were also located that were in fair condition.
It has been suggested by some historians that the Indians came to the Grand Saline area from many miles away to get salt, which they used as a crude remedy for rheumatism. However, there is no particular evidence that Indians were more numerous in any direction from Grand Saline and the salt works than other points in East Texas.
Artifacts that have been found in the northern half of the county are said to be made of an imported stone. Examination of samples of these stones indicate that most of the stone probably came from Arkansas, although some of it resembles the types of material found in great abundance in Southwest Texas, along the Colorado, San Marcos and other rivers. It is much more likely, however, that this stone came from Arkansas due to the relationship of the various tribes of that time. The Indians living in the southwest were different tribes than the Caddo and the Indians of Arkansas were Caddo as well. A visit to the southwestern tribes could have meant trouble.
The Caddoes who lived around Butler and Silver Lake, as well as most of the other Indians around Grand Saline were devoted to hunting, a little agriculture, pot making and some fishing. There also appears to be little or no evidence of war either civil or trouble with other tribes, as is evidenced by the fact that only one war artifact has been found in the Caddo culture in this area.
The agricultural evidence has been found with stones varying in size from about 5 inches in diameter up to about 20 inches, bowled out similar to a hen's nest. They are used to grind seeds and corn for food and are called metataes; the stone that is used as a crusher is called a mano. The mano varies from a size about like a large egg up to sometimes as large as a half loaf of bread. Manos and metataes show more than any Indian artifact long and continued use.
Evidence of much fishing has been found in Van Zandt County along the Sabine and some of the creeks of the county. The most important evidence is a small oval shaped stone about the size of a small hen egg, notched at each end, ground to a msooth finish and called a "sinker stone" by archaeologists. These stones were used to hold a crude net or seine down. These sinker stones have been found all along the Sabine and on the north side of the river in Rains county. Very unusual arrowheads have been found along Boggy, Ditch and Goose Lakes in Van Zandt County. These arrowheads have only 1 barb instead of the usual 2 barbs on traditional arrowheads. It is believed that these were used to spear fish when the water was clear or low. In the Mt. Lebanon community more evidence has been found in the form of old mussel shells, bird bones, terrapin and turtle shells, and fish bones. Another artifact has been found at the same site near Mt. Lebanon which consisted of a large ball of very fine clay. This ball of fine clay is believed to be a ball that was brought from the clay pits located in another area to be fashioned into a pot at a later time.
Half way between Edgewood and Myrtle Springs on the side of a small stream an Indian mound has been found and the elements of that particular mound indicates that it was used as a worshiping place. The location and position to the rising sun indicated that this mound was probably used to worship the rising sun. It also appears that the Indians built a small lake by hand opposite the straight side of this mound.
There is a campsite located exactly north of Edgewood in the Sabine bottom tha is one of the largest and most extensive ancient campsites found in the area. There is an abundant amount of evidence over a very large area that indicates that the Indians lived here for a very long time. This is the location where a very fine skinning knife, made of imported high grade stone was found. This skinning knife was one of the finest ever found in East Texas. It was also the location of one of the largest manos to be found in East Texas. Several clay pots have also been found at this site as well as a crude vase that had been burned inside indicating that is was used for a lamp being filled with grease and fine bark or grass and used as a lamp or torch. The outside of the lamp is said to have four cardinal points as indications of the four seasons. More sinker stones have been found here than any other point along the Sabine. A very rare stone known as a "boat stone" (Pictures) was also found at this campsite. The boat stones were believed to have been used in ceremonies of festivals and were always highly polished and finished. They are never very large, but are always highly polished and finished. Several pieces of high grade volcanic glass stone called obsidian has been found at this site as well. Samples of this was sent to A&M for identification and possible origin. They were unable to tell where it came from but indicated that is resembled obsidian found in Wyoming.
Mill and Crooked creeks are also interesting and have yielded many valuable artifacts and a few burials. Cana Creek was the location of one of the most beautiful and finest boat stones that has ever been found in this area. The greatest accumulation of natural stones that Caddos and other indians gather together for making arrowheads is located on Magby Creek north of Wills Point.