The story behind the largest trophy in sports, Chief Caddo

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Chief Caddo tradition

NATCHITOCHES — College football teams across the country play for trophies in rivalry games, but none is harder to cart off afterwards than the one at stake when Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin meet Saturday at 3 p.m. in Turpin Stadium in both teams’ regular season finale.

Chief Caddo is the world’s largest sports trophy, standing 7-foot-6 and weighing over 320 pounds. He was once 400 pounds, but he’s dried out a bit over the years and supposedly went on the Pritiken Diet during the great Natchitoches experiment in 1980.

The tradition originated in 1960, when longtime rivals Northwestern State and SFA decided to award the winner of the game with a trophy. The settled on a statue of a legendary Indian chief whose tribe was responsible for settling in the locations that became the English-speaking towns of Natchitoches and Nacogdoches. The lose of the 1961 game would have a tree chopped down from its nearby forests to be sent to the winning school, who would have a statue carved. The Demons won that 1961 game 35-19 and SFA delivered a 2,000-pound black gum log to Northwestern. Wood carver Harold Green of Logansport spent some 230 hours on the statue.

It was named “Chief Caddo” to honor the native Americans that not only first settled the two communities, but provided safety for the early white settlers in the area. Historian say had it not been for the Caddo Indians, the Spanish and French colonists who came to the area would not have survived the onslaughts of the Apache and Comanche warriors from the west and the Natchez from the east. Also, French and Spanish writers of the time said certain wise Caddo chiefs made it possible for the two European colonies to live as neighbors while their mother countries were at war against each other.

As to the common heritage of Natchitoches and Nacogdoches, there’s some question about how the cities – each the oldest settlement in their respective states – got their names. Both versions agree that an Indian chief with two sons sent one east, the other west, and they each traveled the same distance and established villages. As for the folklore in question:

One version, as reported by historian Samuel Stewart Mims in Rio Sabinas, credits the chief of an Adae Indian village on the Sabine River. The village was overpopulated, and the chief ordered his two grown sons to report to him precisely at sunrise. He told one son to walk east, the other west, until the very moment of sunset. The sons were to establish a village at the place they reached. The son who went east wound up in a grove of papaw trees, and he named his village Natchitoches, meaning papaw. The westbound son reached a grove of persimmon trees and named his village Nacogdoches, meaning persimmon. There’s no documentation, but there are papaw trees in Natchitoches and persimmons in Nacogdoches.

Another version says that the chief had twin sons, Natchitoches and Nacogdoches, and couldn’t decide which would succeed him. So he split the tribe between them and sent them in different directions. They traveled for three days, one eastbound, the other westbound, and wound up where the cities are located today.

It is intriguing to note that Natchitoches and Nacogdoches are virtually equidistant from Toledo Bend, which stands on the Sabine River bed at the Texas-Louisiana border.

Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin have been playing for Chief Caddo since 1961, and the Demons have had a 30-20-1 advantage in the trophy game. That means in the 51 years of the Chief’s existence, he’s spent 36 in Natchitoches (including the 1965-1968 no contest seasons and the 1989 tie season.)

To those who know the Chief best, that comes as no surprise. Even an SFA coach admitted that the Chief seemed to like Natchitoches, blaming it on meat pies and Cajun cooking.

But longtime Northwestern followers know it goes deeper than that.

After all, if you were a wooden statue, would you want to spend a lot of time around a bunch of Lumberjacks?

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