Caddo Lake: Background information when reading Heaven, My Home

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Heaven, My Home

A Highway 59 Mystery

by Attica Locke

Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke X
Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 304 pages
    Aug 2020, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Caddo Lake

This article relates to Heaven, My Home

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Caddo Lake surrounded by treesCaddo Lake and its surrounding wetlands cover approximately 26,000 acres on the Texas-Louisiana border. It's the only naturally-formed lake in Texas, and it's also significant for its large size and unique biodiversity. Known for natural beauty, including its trademark giant cypress trees and Spanish moss, Caddo Lake is a popular destination for camping, hunting, fishing and hiking.

The lake takes its name from the Caddo Nation, a confederacy of Native tribes that once occupied areas of East Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The word "Caddo" comes from a French shortening of "kadohadacho," which means "real chief" in the Caddo language. The Caddo, who at one time maintained a large matrilineal, agriculturally-based society, are descended from people who inhabited the area from as early as 200 BC onward, and may have had contact with Aztec and Mayan societies. The Caddo encountered French and Spanish settlers in the 18th century. Colonialism eventually forced them out of their ancestral homeland and into central Oklahoma, where the modern-day Caddo Nation is located.

Caddo legend suggests that the lake was created by an earthquake. A more recent theory claims it may have been formed sometime in the 19th century by a log jam that pushed water out of the Red River and into Big Cypress Bayou. Currently, Caddo Lake is preserved by an approximately 1,500-foot dam that was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1968 and 1971. Caddo Lake State Park, like many U.S. state parks, owes much of its current infrastructure to the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, the Depression-era program that employed young men for public works projects. Those enrolled in the CCC created roads, cabins and trails using the "rustic" style of the National Park Service, which sought to blend architecture with nature.

In 1993, parts of Caddo Lake were recognized as an international wetlands site, becoming the 13th place in the U.S. to be given this designation. Today, the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge makes efforts to conserve and manage wildlife in the area, which is home to some of the richest and most diverse plant life in the state of Texas; some of its cypress trees are upwards of 400 years old, and there is also an abundance of pine forest. Over 200 different bird species reside there, and it's considered a significant habitat for waterfowl in particular. Other animals native to the area include turtles, snakes, alligators and fish. The variety of game fish makes the lake a popular fishing destination.

The Caddo Lake area has gained something of a reputation for being haunted, or just having a spooky atmosphere. This may be due in part to its reputation for crime in the 19th century, during which time the thriving port city of Jefferson received steamboats from New Orleans, and it was claimed there was a murder every day there. It could also be related to the fate of the Mittie Stephens, a steamboat that went up in flames on its way to Jefferson in an 1869 disaster that killed around 60 people. These days, there isn't much in the way of human habitation along Caddo Lake, and the presence of ghost towns adds to the eerie atmosphere. Additionally, like much of East Texas, the area has become a popular place for Bigfoot sightings.

Caddo Lake, courtesy of Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

Filed under Nature and the Environment

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This "beyond the book article" relates to Heaven, My Home. It originally ran in September 2019 and has been updated for the August 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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