The Red River Raft

I came across this remarkable phenomenon while re-reading America as Seen by Its First Explorers by John Bakeless. About 900 years ago, a flood washed a bend of land and all the trees on it into the Red River.  (The red clay substrate makes the water red, hence the name.) The trees and sediment caused a logjam and subsequent floods kept washing more and more debris into it so that by 1830 the logjam, known as the Red River Raft, was an incredible 165 miles long.  The sediment was so deep trees, bushes, bamboo, and grass sprouted on the logjam.  Forests of cypress, cedar, cottonwood, willow, sycamore, oak, and persimmon grew over the river, and many pioneers didn’t even realize they were passing over a river when they crossed it. Some of the trees were 10 inches in diameter. The logjam forced the river to shift positions, often leaving behind fertile soil where the Caddo Indians planted crops.  The impenetrable thickets and unnavigable river protected the Caddo Indians from European settlers and kept them isolated from other hostile tribes.  The logjam created 5 major lakes as well, and these attracted huge flocks of waterfowl.  Natural channels wove their way through the logjam, but it was impossible to travel through it by boat.

Image result for Red River in Arkansas map

Map of the Red River and some of its tributaries.

Great Raft

Photo of part of the Red River Raft after it reformed during the 1870s.

Henry Shreve (the city of Shreveport was named after him) began dismantling the Red River Raft during the 1830s.  He used a giant winch on a steam boat to remove logs from the bottom up and he dug channels through the raft itself.  He successfully cleared the Red River Raft but warned that it could reform, and a few decades later it did.  Eugene Woodruff dismantled the reformed raft during 1873, but this increased water flow through the Mississippi River and flooded parts of Louisiana.  The Army Corps of Engineers was forced to build the Old River Control Structure to prevent disastrous flooding downstream.

Great Raft

Boat with winches used to clear trees from the Red River Raft.

Log jams over 100 miles long must have occurred sporadically during the Pleistocene, providing unique habitat for land and aquatic flora and fauna.

3 Responses to “The Red River Raft”

  1. Tammy Hunt Says:

    Very interesting information! It also made me want to break into song!

  2. ina puustinen-westerholm Says:

    At some point in the future..good person. it is going to become..exceedingly clear..that what amount of iq..i still have..is due to the..’respite’ your excursions into..the real world..and history..you provide here. Please make sure your family members..know with what pleasure..the oregon readings..go on. Have a..spiffin day, ina

  3. W Says:

    http://earth.nautil.us/article/460/the-birth-and-death-of-a-landscape

    The Atchafalaya has been a Mississippi distributary for at least 450 years, though for centuries its entrance was choked off by a 20-mile-long logjam, likely accumulated from trees swept regularly into the river from eroded banks. In 1839, local residents attempted to remove the blockage by setting it on fire. They destroyed, according to a government report, an “immense mass of timber” and “thousands of alligators”—but the logjam remained.

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