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Coates' Bluff, the Original Shreveport

Map 1: A map from 1837 features Coates' Bluff in northwestern Louisiana, the original settlement that became Shreveport. It was a trading post ran by an man named James Coates (Ruderman).

Here's a map that flummoxes me, which I appreciate, because I like to use the word "flummox."

This map from 1837 is titled "Map of defences of the western frontier." I labeled it Map 1, as you'll understand in just a bit. Drawn for the war department, it lists forts and settlements west of the Mississippi River and includes a helpful chart of distances. For example, the time it took for a soldier to travel from Fort Towson (today's Choctaw County, Oklahoma - K) to Coates' Bluff (today's Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana - L) in 1837 is nine days.

But that's not the point of this article (you can read more about this map here). I'm honing in on Coates' Bluff/ Coates Bluff in this missive, because it's a dilly to pin down accurately. Coates' Bluff was Shreveport's original settlement, the site of a trading post within a Caddoan village, also called a factory. But the constant man-made shifting of the Red River has a lot to do with the fact that Coates' Bluff is a bluff no longer.

I also think the 1837 has Coates' Bluff too far north, but since the map isn't really drawn to scale, Imma gonna let that slide.

If you look for "Coates' Bluff" on Google Maps today, you'll be directed to an apartment complex on Wright's Island. I think it's good that at the very least, the complex pays homage to the history this place, as the geography gives very few hints. Bayou Pierre, for example, once emptied into the Red River at the bluff, where it acted as a waterway for steamboats that were navigating around the Great Raft of the Red River on their way from New Orleans to Fort Towson. But between 1832 and 1837, Captain Henry Sheve was tasked by the US Congress to remove/circumvent the raft, and to do so, he cut past Coates Bluff to open the river's channel. Shreve made two cut-offs, one south of Coates' Bluff and one almost directly due east of the trading post and village. The "Shreve's Cut" at Coates' Bluff was a canal that bypassed the bluff and starved Bayou Pieree of water (Map 4).

Up until Shreve's meddling, the trading post and village at Coates' Bluff were way-markers for steamboats navigating the river. Shreve's cut removed the commercial traffic from the settlement, shrinking Bayou Pierre and the lakes that formed around it. But removing the raft was not a one-time thing. The Red River needed constant tending to support river traffic, so more canals were dug in the interim. In the 1930s, for example, more canals were cut at Bayou Pierre to assist shipping (Map 3).

Today, Coates' Bluff is not really visible but can be appreciated on a nature trail that was cleaned and organized by a local teacher. Students created a history of the area that can be viewed on You Tube, with contributions by important historians like Dr. Gary Joiner, who mentions Shreve's not-so-nice reasons why he cut off Coates' Bluff around the 14.18 mark.

If you'd like to visit Coates' Bluff for yourself, there are few ways to do so. One is to drive around the "luxury apartment community" on Wright Island (not really an island anymore) at Clyde Fant Parkway and Coates Bluff Drive. Or you can swing around to the intersection of Olive Street and Youree Drive, where a historical marker commemorating the old post was erected at the northeast corner. Better still, go to the intersection Galloway Boulevard and Sevier Street, just across from the Montessori School for Shreveport. There, you will find the entrance to the Coates' Bluff Nature Trail, where you are able to appreciate this little slice of long-gone history.

Map 2: Shreve's first cut-off is seen in the middle of this 1941 map. Follow the river fruther north, and you'll see a dotted line. This was the channel that Shreve cut to bypass Coates' Bluff in the 1830s. By the time this map ws made, Bayou Pierre was a small ditch (USGS).
Map 3: In this 1934 map, Bayou Pierre and Anderson Bayou were re-engineered to create further shipping channels. These channels didn't last, and today, this area is home to apartments (Sanborn, LOC).

Satellite image
Map 4: Today, Coates' Bluff can be appreciated with a walk in the woods, outlined here as the Nature Trail.
A snapshot in time: The Times Picayune (New Orleans) welcomed the steamer Gladiator, which arrived via Coates' Bluff in April of 1837.

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