NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - It was a log jam hundreds of years in the making that blocked any boat traffic on Louisiana’s Red River and it wasn’t until the mid-19th century when a riverboat captain figured out how to clear the mess.
The Great Raft ran up multiple areas up the river, including up to Shreveport and created blockages up north. The log jam caused spills into neighboring lowlands and even created several lakes in Louisiana.
The name ‘The Great Raft’ was deemed after washed-out, dead trees created an immense log jam that built up over almost 800 years along the Red River. However, it wasn’t until the 1830s when residents began to attack the issue and by that point, it was around 175 miles long.
The attack began with Henry Shreve, steamboat captain and inventor, who designed what was called the ‘snag boat’. He attached a chain to one of the logs and had crews of people cut the branches and roots off anything that would snag once it went over the back of the boat and drifted downstream.
The removal of the logs was done one by one and took the crew five years in Shreveport. It was a long process done mostly by sheer manpower.
It opened up a navigable waterway to what later became Shreveport all the way into Jefferson, TX and Fulton, AR.
The opened waterway later became an 80-foot high overlook from a bluff at Grand Ecore used during the civil war by union and confederate troops.
Eventually, Congress ignored Captain Shreve’s recommendation to maintain the cleared river channel and a second raft formed which had to be cleared again in the 1870s.
Now the army corps of engineers operate a series of four locks and dams on the Red River with a manmade channel, nine feet deep and 200 feet wide maintained by dikes, dredging, locks and dams making it navigable between the Mississippi and Shreveport, LA.
There are visitors centers at both ends of where the Great Raft used to be on the Red River. The centers are located on the southern end of the river just north of Alexandria and on the northern end of the river in Shreveport.
The initial clearing of the great raft by Captain Shreve not only gave Shreveport its name, but it also began an era of river commerce that continues today on The Red River.