Lake Ouachita Indian Mounds

Indians were the first to inhabit the Ouachita Valley. The River and Lake derive their name from the Washita Indian tribe, other Indian tribes living along the banks of the Ouachita included the  Caddo, Osage, TensasChickasaw, and Choctaw.  “Washita” is an Indian word meaning “good hunting grounds” and “sparkling silver water.

Many Indian Mounds were excavated in the area of the proposed lake.
The University of Arkansas carried out two major excavations in the river valley in 1939. Their were several smaller projects which took place up to the time the lake filled.

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The larger projects were WPA projects that local men were hired to participate in.

According to Hester A. Davis* in her article “A History of Prehistory in the Mid-Ouachita River Valley” which appeared in the Garland County Historical Societies, the Caddo Indians** first inhabited the land covered by Lake Ouachita. Native Indian sites have been found in almost every field bordering on the Ouachita and Caddo Rivers. In 1939, there were two important archeological studies.

These studies, of the Adair site and The Poole Indian mound Site, provided evidence of concentrations of groups related to the Caddo tribe. The artifacts from the two major mound projects are still in the possession of the University Museum at Fayetteville Arkansas.

Indians of the Valley

 The Ouachita Valley Indian tribes began to disappear in the 1600s. Most disappearances were the result of tribal warfare. The “Washita” tribe was almost totally destroyed in 1690 by the “Tensas” tribe. The remaining remnant of the “Washita” tribe was driven out of the Ouachita valley by the “Chickasaw” tribe in 1734. Between 1803 and 1836, Native Americans were forced to cede their lands in Arkansas and move west.

In 1812, the United States government agreed to acknowledge private land previously granted by Spain and Mexico. Two grants were also awarded to previous French claims.

Exploration of the Valley

The Spanish were the first Europeans to actually explore the Ouachita River Valley. Hernando DeSoto, credited for discovering the Mississippi River, was recorded as having walked the entire length of the Ouachita River from Hot Springs , Arkansas to Jonesville, Louisiana. In his travels.

Meet Dr. George Hunter and Mr. William Dunbar

They explored Arkansas for President Thomas Jefferson after its purchase as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Hunter and Dunbar explored the Ouachita River and reported back to Jefferson and the American Philosophical Society.

They were to explore the Ouachita River region and travel all the way to the source of the Red River. The Hunter-Dunbar expedition set out on October 16, 1804, traveling up the Ouachita River and on to the area of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dunbar became the first man to give a scientific report of the hot springs, in his journals. Dunbar made scientific reports on the Indian sign language, animal and plant life, fossils, and astronomical phenomena in the area. Dunbar never explored the Red River region and was never in Texan territory. Both manuscripts by William Dunbar document the expedition up the Red and Ouachita Rivers to the Hot Springs of Arkansas in 1804-1805.

The “Journal… to the Mouth of the Red River” (200p.) is the fullest available record of the activities of the expedition from the time of their departure from St. Catharine’s Landing on October 16, 1804, until their return to Natchez, Miss., on January 26, 1805. The “Journal of a geometrical survey” includes a record of course and distances as well as a thermometrical log and other brief notes. The two are bound together in a volume with Zebulon Montgomery Pike’s journal of a voyage to the source of the Mississippi, 1805-1806.
William Dunbar’s papers are housed in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Miss.

Additional Dunbar Papers, including his journal of the expedition to the Hot Springs, is housed in the special collections department of the Ouachita Baptist University library in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

The Poole Site, 1981 3GA3. Arkansas Archeologist 22:7-64.

Poole was a large multi-component site in the upper Ouachita basin, excavated by the WPA in 1940. Wood analyzed the materials in 1963; Early provides an updated discussion p. 51-60 Most graves are considered Caddo culture, Buckville phase. Lithics are well-illustrated with photos or line drawings. They include knife/bifaces, pelatoid and rectangular celts, various arrows, steatite beads (Figure 3, p. 13) from B 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 19, 24, 25, 28, 34. B. 7 pelatoid celt associated with Foster Trailed-Incised and Dunkin Incised vessels. B. 9 side-notched arrows associated with Poole Plain and Foster Trailed-Incised vessels. Fig. 19, p. 44, shows drawings of Bassett arrows assigned to Caddo component. Early agrees with the celts and small arrows being Caddo.


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