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Henry Ker on the Red River: Adventurer or Liar?


Map
A portion of an 1814 German map from the collection of Barry Lawrence Ruderman. The area above Natchitoches is where Henry Ker recounts his supposed adventures along the Red River.

Between 1809 and 1819, a young American named Henry Ker traveled up the Red River from its mouth to its far western reaches search of gold. He survived a shipwreck, wolves, stampeding bison, and some hostile people to find... nothing of value to him, but lots of valuable information for Red River Historians.


Or not. He was accused of fabricating many experiences in the journal after its printing, and this was actually not uncommon in a time when many men desired to be another Merriweather Lewis or William Clark.


Ker recounted many fascinating descriptions in his journal (self-published in 1816), and below is a description of an "ancient fortress" at a place where two rivers enter the Red River above a creek.


The names of the rivers Ker mentioned are unfamiliar to me. It makes me wonder what map he used, if he used one at all. I decided to illustrate this journal entry with an 1814 German map of Louisiana Territory from the Barry Rudderman Collection just because I can't find anything better right now.


"November 15. We found ourselves in a kind of bay formed by the junction of three rivers, namely, the Willput on the right, the Kindas on the left, and above these a creek; all of these falling together into the Red river, formed a kind of bay nearly three quarters of a mile wide. A little above this, on the left shore, we saw a clearing which attracted my attention. We came too [sic], and after ascending a few hundred yards I came to a steep ascent on the the [sic] summit I found it had the resemblance of an ancient fortress. Though there were a few scattering trees of immense size, yet it bore marks of having been once inhabited. The form was an oblong square, with a kind of broken breastwork that would scarcely be noticed without particularly examining it. In the rear of this was a kind of hollowpath covered over with shrubs, leading to a beautiful spring, which I found to be artificially stoned. Every thing appeared ancient. I took a particular observation of the place and proceeded."


I'm still confused by this description, and it might be impossible to ever really know what he meant, as he did not use the geographical names of the rivers and now, the river itself has changed. And, again, he may have been just making all this up. But I have to wonder... would this at Bayou Pierre? Soda Lake by Shreveport? Sulphur Bluff? The Great Bend? The Blue River? Island Bayou? The Washita (today's Lake Texoma?)

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