A Landing a Day

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Shreveport, Louisiana and the Great Raft

Posted by graywacke on January 5, 2015

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now more-or-less a once or twice a week blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Landing number 2145; A Landing A Day blog post number 573.

Dan: This is getting ridiculous.  My OSer streak has now reached 13/15, thanks to this landing in . . . LA; 39/36; 2/10; 11; 149.6.  One more OSer and my Score is 149.9, and another obviously pushes me back over 150. 

With apologies to my readers who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, feel free to skip this part.  Anyway, I feel compelled to put in a graph of my Score over the last 90 or so landings:

 Score graph

Landing 2056 was my first venture below 150.  After some ups and downs above and below 150, you can see that I’ve been solidly in the 140s for some time now.  But then after my all-time low Score of 145.8, it has been nothing but OSer misery . . .

OK, back to landing business as usual.  Here’s my regional landing map:

 landing 1

My local landing map shows many small towns and then, some distance away (~25 miles), Shreveport:

 landing 2

Here’s my watershed analysis, showing that I landed in the Bushneck Bayou watershed; on to the Bayou Castor; on to the Sabine River (18th hit):

 landing 3

The Sabine (the river that forms most of the border between TX & LA) meanders its way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Here’s my Google Earth (GE) trip in from outer space:


Backing out a little, here’s a static GE shot showing that I landed in the middle of an oil field:

 GE 1 - oil patch

And it turns out that I do have local Street View Coverage:

 GE 2 SV location

Here’s the Street View from the yellow dude’s location:

 GE SV landing .33 miles away

Anyway, moving right along . . .

Of course, I did a Google search for all of the nearby little towns, starting with Keatchie (usually spelled Keachie).  I stairstepped my way east and north, checking out each town.  Nothing, nothing, nothing. 

So, reluctantly, I Googled big ‘ol Shreveport.  What jumped out immediately was this, from the city’s website:

Shreveport, Louisiana, was founded in 1836, by the Shreve Town Company, a corporation established to develop a town at the juncture of the newly navigable Red River and the Texas Trail, an overland route into the newly independent Republic of Texas.

The Red River had just been cleared of the 180 mile long raft of debris (the “Great Raft”) that had clogged its channel since time immemorial.  The clearing work was performed by Captain Henry Miller Shreve, commanding the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Shreve Town Company and the village of Shreve Town were named in Shreve’s honor. On March 20, 1839, the village of Shreve Town was incorporated as the town of Shreveport.

I love “since time immemorial.”  But since I’m a left-brained geologist, I knew that I had to roll up my sleeves and learn more about the Great Raft!  But first, here’s a picture of a teeny portion the Raft, from Louisiana State University:

greatraft- LSU

And of course, I need a map.  Here’s a regional shot showing the historic extent of the Great Raft:

great raft map 1

By the way, when one Googles “Great Raft,” the first entry is Great Raft Brewing, not surprisingly out of Shreveport.  But there was plenty of information about the log jam.  First this on its origin, from the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture (Oklahoma?  Oh, well . . .):

Before there were Indian settlers, or European explorers, or the United States, there existed the great Red River Raft. Origin of the raft remains conjecture. The most widely accepted theory holds that flood waters from the Mississippi River engulfed the mouth of the smaller Red, forcing large amounts of driftwood upstream. Repeated floods over thousands of years shoved together dislodged trees, scrubs, and earth into a logjam serpentining northward, creating natural debris during high tide, collecting huge quantities of it when the waters receded.

Hmmm.  InvasivesWatch.org has something different to say about the origin:

The Red River alluvial valley contains the most erodible soils of any major river valley in the United States. For centuries before the arrival of the Industrial Age and westward migration, periodic flooding of the Red River carved into the forests that lined the river’s banks. As they were torn loose from the soil, trees filled the river and formed a series of intermittent log jams from the present-day Arkansas-Louisiana border to the area of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Well!  I can see we have competing theories about the Great Raft’s formation.  And the date of origin is questionable.  Wiki says that it formed “around 1100 – 1200 AD.”  TexasBeyondHistory.net says that it formed “around the end of the 17th century.”  And, of course, we can’t forget “since time immemorial.”

FYI, I don’t buy the InvasivesWatch theory.  I have trouble imagining a flood ripping out all of the trees –  floods happen all of the time, and some trees go down (typically those right on the banks); but a wholesale destruction of a forest by a flood I don’t buy.  And then, the trees grew back and it happened again and again?  Not likely . . . 

Back to the Oklahoma (my favorite) website:

Reports read as if witnesses struggled to describe what they saw. Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis, commissioned by Pres. Thomas Jefferson in 1806 to explore the southern part of the Louisiana Territory, found the great raft north of present Natchitoches, Louisiana. The men described an amalgamation of red cedar, cottonwood, and cypress trees covered with bushes, grass, and weeds so tightly bound that “[a] man could walk over it in any direction.”

The raft covered the entire width of the river and extended to the bottom of the channel. “An almost impenetrable mass,” Freeman wrote in his journal, dammed the river. Later eyewitnesses estimated the great raft’s length anywhere from eighty to one hundred and fifty miles. Whatever the truth, and one can easily conclude the size varied over time, the immensity of the raft convinced Freeman that no amount of human effort could dislodge it from the river.  Freeman said there was “no hope.”

Hmmmm.  No hope, eh?  Sounds like a book title.  It is a book title, by Michael Whitington, all about the Great Raft:

 no hope by michael whitington

So anyway, staying with OK, along comes Mr. Shreve:

The federal government’s first serious attempt at clearing the Red River began in 1833 when Capt. Henry M. Shreve, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and 159 men using Shreve’s invention, the “snag steamboat,” tore logs from the tail of the raft, causing them to float downstream. By 1836 Shreve triumphantly declared a cleared path of seventy-one miles. The captain included in his report a request for an additional thirty thousand dollars for boats to patrol against the raft’s reforming.   Congress chose to ignore Shreve’s request, and by August 1839 the great raft had fought back, barring the Red River to travel.

During the next thirty-two years (from 1839 to 1871) the government spent over $633,000, funding schemes of dubious value. Several contractors attempted to either recreate what Captain Shreve had done, or dig a new main stream around the raft, or excavate reservoirs, all with little success. Workers died of disease and fever; many simply deserted. At times the river attacked the machinery with such viciousness that boats and cranes washed down stream. Perhaps Thomas Freeman had been right.

Moving to InvasivesWatch.org:

In 1871, Congress again authorized the Corps of Engineers to clear the Red River of the Great Raft. The following spring, under the direction of Lt. Eugene Woodruff, the work began. Woodruff used snag boats that Shreve had invented and steam operated saws. The crews began again at the foot of the raft, above Natchitoches and worked to cut and pull apart the logs and debris. The work went faster than it had in Shreve’s time because Woodruff had at his disposal a tool that had not been available earlier – nitroglycerin.

Anticipating future floods, Woodruff and his engineers dredged the channel, created reservoirs, and constructed dams. Sadly, Woodruff would not live to see the completion of the project. He contracted yellow fever and died in Shreveport in August 1873. His brother George completed the project before the year ended.

Note that the engineered lakes and reservoirs were remanants of natural lakes formed by the damning caused by the Great Raft.  These lakes are known as “Raft Lakes” to this day.  Here’s a map, showing all of the lakes along the Red River:

great raft map 2

Here’s a picture of an 1873 snag boat, from the Library of Congress:

1873 snag boat on the raft library of congress

And, from the InvasiveWatch website, here’s another snag boat shot:

Plate33B  from invasive

From Wiki:

The removal of the Great Raft hastened the capture of the Mississippi River’s waters by the Atchafalaya River and forced the US Army Corps of Engineers to build the multibillion dollar Old River Control Structure.

I featured the Old River Control Structure in my Winnfield LA post – great post by the way – just type “Winnfield” into the search box to check it out.

Time to close it out with some GE Panoramio photos.  First, a couple of Keachie shots, by Rockin-Photos.  First a house that has seen better days but has managed to maintain its grandeur:

 pano rockin-photos keachi house

And then a store (that has also seen better days):

 pano rockin-photos keachie store

I’ll close with this artsy shot (from about 10 miles north of my landing) by JAlfred 85:

 pano jalfred85 10 mi N

That’ll do it.





© 2014 A Landing A Day




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