History Moment By William “Doc” Halliday

The Great Red River Raft – Misconceptions
Great River Raft

Many people know the story of the Great Red River Raft; that there was a log jam blocking the Red River at the area that is now Shreveport; Capt. Shreve unblocked the river and created the town of Shreveport. While this is essentially true, it over-simplifies the story and allows misconceptions.

 
The obstruction was huge. The log jam didn’t just block the river at one bend; it ran from Natchitoches upstream for a couple of hundred miles.

 
People may think of several logs jammed together that prevented maritime traffic. The debris was so thick that, in places, you could cross the river on horseback without getting the horse wet! As the logs and other debris filled the river, dirt would accumulate on the top of the logs; bushes and trees would grow above the water. In places the river was so masked that you would not notice it.

 

No one is certain of the cause of this blockade, but it was not created by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812. The Caddo Indians that inhabited the area from about 1000 AD until the early 1800s believed that the Great Raft had always been there. The Raft was definitely impeding the flow of the Red River a century prior to the New Madrid earthquakes. In 1719, Jean-Baptiste de La Harpe documented the existence of the Raft in his journals.

 
Capt. Shreve was with the Corps of Engineers and in 1827; he assumed the post of “Superintendent of Western River Improvement”. Capt. Shreve’s order in 1833 to clear
the Raft was an effort to facilitate easier and faster delivery of supplies and materiel to an Army Fort in Oklahoma. As plantations built up around the river, there was more pressure
to make the river navigable for commercial purposes.

 
Capt. Shreve is credited with clearing the Raft. He did clear a channel and make the Red River navigable in 1838. However, Capt. Shreve did not clear the entire obstruction. H e suggested to Congress that more money be appropriated, but the channel he provided was apparently “good enough”.

 
Capt. Shreve continued to work…

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