1541 - A.D.
HERE DESOTO REACHED HIS MOST WESTWARD POINT IN THE UNITED STATES. HERE WAS THE CAPITOL OF THE WAR- LIKE TULA TRIBE OF INDIANS WHO FIERCELY FOUGHT DESOTO AND HIS MEN. RELICS FOUND IN THIS VICINITY SUGGEST THE ROMANCE OF PAST CENTURIES ABOUT WHICH HISTORY WILL EVER BE MEAGER AND INCOMPLETE.
Arkansas History Commision
The monument, built in 1936, was a WPA project initiated by Attorney Osro Cobb of Little Rock and formerly of Caddo Gap, after he had been appointed by the President of the United States to serve on the Arkansas State Relief Commission.
During the planning stage of the monument, Cobb and Colonel John R. Fordyce of Hot Springs, Vice Chairman of the National DeSoto Commission created by Congress to research Hernando DeSotols explorations, had professionals transcribe and research DeSotols journals kept by the three scribes accompanying him. It was determined to the Commission's satisfaction that Caddo Gap was the most westward point in DeSoto's expeditions and that he and his forces were defeated by the Indians after a threeday bloody battle. Over a thousand persons attended the dedication of the monument on Saturday, May 22, 1937. The principal speaker was Governor Carl E. Bailey. Chief Gray Horse, an Apache living at Hot Springs, gave an Indian benediction. After the benediction, the governor and the chief smoked the peace pipe to assure peace in the valley "so long as grass grows green and the water of the river runs to the sea."
For forty-two years this Tula brave stood like a sentinel watching over Caddo Gap. Thousands of tourists stopped to read the inscription and to take pictures. Then, in 1978, following a severe storm, it lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the pedestal, completely beyond repair.
The Caddo Gap Indian Monument Restoration Project Committee, headed by Caddo Gap native Jewel Davis, began the tremendous task of getting the Indian restored. Three thousand five hundred dollars had to be raised locally before the Arkansas Arts Council could fund the remaining monies needed for restoration. After the local citizenry raised its share, the AAC selected Guy Tillman, a Hot Springs artist, to cast a new bronze Indian. For several months, Tillman and four apprentices worked on the project at Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, the only place in this area with a foundry adequate for the job.
After completion, the new Indian was placed on the old pedestal and a second dedication was held on Sunday, September 21, 198O. Governor Bill Clinton made the dedication address. Judge Cobb gave a brief history of the first Indian and Mrs. Davis made a thank-you speech.
Today's Indian statue at Caddo Gap has a feather just as the original did, but had Jim Thomas, a teenager growing up in Caddo Gap in the early 1950s, not had a conscience that kept pricking him it would not have.
One Halloween night Jim and two friends put a keg over the Indian's head, and, in the process, broke off the feather. The vandalism was not discovered and the boys got off scot-free, except f o r Jim's conscience. He and his family moved from Caddo Gap and finally even his guilt settled in the back of his mind. However, it all came back to him in the late 1970s when he read in a state newspaper about efforts to finance and reconstruct the Indian that had been broken during a storm. After a few sleepless nights, he decided the only way to ease his conscience would be to get his employer, Mountaire Poultry Inc. of DeQueen, to help finance the undertaking.
He convinced Mountaire to donate one thousand dollars and felt very smug about the whole thing until he read an updated article and saw the pictured replica from which the statue would be cast. The feather was missing!
Jim immediately called the man in charge of reconstruction and told him he had left off the most important part of the Indian -- the feather. The man told him he had to have proof the original Indian was wearing a feather before he could add one. Jim called his mother, Mrs. Ozelle Thomas Elms, who just happened to live in Arkadelphia where the statue was being made. She found an old photo of the Indian and he was indeed wearing a feather. She showed it to the man in charge and that is how the second Indian at Caddo Gap got his feather.