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Whelan Site

E. Mott Davis General

The Whelan archeological site, now under the waters of the Lake O' the Pines fifteen miles west of Jefferson in Marion County, was a small ceremonial center of Caddoan peoples dating from the fifteenth or sixteenth century A.D. Four circular mounds two to five feet high were clustered at the edge of the Cypress Creek floodplain next to the creekbottom. Evidences of a house and a probable elevated granary were near the largest mound, Mound A. Mound A and Mound B, the smaller mound, and their environs were investigated by E. M. Davis of the University of Texas in 1957. The filling of the lake prevented further work. Mound B contained no features but covered a fireplace. At the site of Mound A, but before the mound was built, a circular structure about eighteen feet in diameter had been built and later destroyed. It showed no sign of being a residence. Another was then built in the same place and later destroyed, and was followed by a third, and perhaps a fourth. The last one was burned down; how the others were destroyed is not known. The fireplace ashes and dirt accumulated until the floor of the last structure was more than two feet above the original ground surface. After the last burning a cap of earth 2½ feet thick, derived from a nearby midden, was added to make a mound five feet high and sixty feet in diameter. It is not known how long all this took-except that styles of decoration on the potsherds in the site did not change during this history-nor could it be determined why it was done. The seventeenth-century Caddos, as seen by Henri Joutel, often burned houses on abandoning them, but those were much larger domestic residences, and no subsequent houses or mounds were built on the same spot. No burials were found at the Whelan site.

Over 15,000 potsherds were in the midden fill that made up the cap of Mound A and covered the floor of the nearby house. The origin of this midden is a puzzle, as no village was found, and in any case the frequent flooding of Cypress Creek should have made this a poor place to live. The sherd collection, dominated by the Pease Brushed-Incised type, with Ripley Engraved second in frequency, clearly relates the site to the very similar Harroun mound site, nine miles upstream, and to several additional sites (at least two of them with mounds over burned structures), all in the Cypress Creek drainage and now grouped as the Whelan Phase. The pottery also shows that these people were the ancestors of the later Titus Phase peoples (who apparently did not build mounds) and their descendants, the historic Caddos, who were met by the Spaniards and French. However, it is not known which of the historic Caddo groups were descended from the Whelan and Titus Phase peoples, as the Cypress Creek drainage seems not to have had Caddo settlements in historic times. Mound A was the most elaborate mound in all the sites of the Whelan phase; no other mounds had more than two structures buried under them, and some of them had only one. These mound sites appear to have been rural ceremonial centers, much smaller in size and importance than the great mound sites of the same general period along the Red River, such as the Hatchel-Mitchell site. Elsewhere in the four-state Caddo area similar sites with small mounds built over burned or dismantled structures (although with varying pottery assemblages and hence representing different Caddo groups) are to be found. Erecting and renewing mounds over ruined structures was a common practice in late prehistoric sites in the southeastern United States, and the purpose of the custom may have varied from group to group. If more work could have been done at the Whelan site before it went under water we might better understand the local variant of these practices. Unfortunately, the Spanish and French documents of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries shed no light on Caddo mound-building or on repeated burning or dismantling of structures; those customs had apparently been abandoned by that time. It is clear that the ceremonial practices of the Caddos changed significantly over the centuries, and that we have much to learn about the history of their rich religious life.

E. Mott Davis, The Whelan Site, a Late Caddoan Component in the Ferrell's Bridge Reservoir, Northeastern Texas (File No. 41MR2, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin). Mildred Gleason, Caddo: A Survey of the Caddo Indian in Northeast Texas and Marion County, 1541–1840 (Jefferson, Texas: Marion County Historical Commission, 1981). Edward B. Jelks and Curtis D. Tunnell, The Harroun Site (University of Texas Department of Anthropology Archaeology Series 2, Austin, 1959). Henri Joutel, Joutel's Journal of La Salle's Last Voyage (London: Lintot, 1719; rpt., New York: Franklin, 1968). Susan V. Lisk, Ceramics from the Whelan Site: A Temporal and Functional Analysis of a Late Caddoan Mound Site Assemblage (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1984). Dee Ann Suhm et al., "An Introductory Handbook of Texas Archeology," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 25 (1954). John R. Swanton, Source Material on the History and Ethnology of the Caddo Indians (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 132, Washington: GPO, 1942). J. Peter Thurmond, "Late Caddoan Social Group Identifications and Sociopolitical Organization in the Upper Cypress Basin and Vicinity, Northeastern Texas," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 54 (1983).


  • Archeology
  • Land Sites

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

E. Mott Davis, “Whelan Site,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 01, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.