Messing with a River
Red River Landing, Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana today.
The Red River once entered the Mississippi River at the place where southern Louisiana juts towards the east. It mixed its waters with the Black River, then met the Mississippi. But another part of the Red River, now known as the Atchafalaya River, ran parallel to the Mississippi and emptied into the Gulf of Mexico at La Fourche Parish.
The routes of these streams helped to control the waters and lands to the south. Above Natchitoches stood the massive Red River Raft, a natural log jam that formed hundreds of thousands years prior. The raft acted as a natural dam that controlled the watershed for the Red River, preventing too much water flowing into the Mississippi River from the Red River at any one time.
Then Captain Henry Shreve, a well-respected riverboat captain who often worked as a contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers, dug a short cut for the Mississippi River below its confluence with the Red River in 1831. By 1837, he also cleared some parts of the Red River Raft. In doing so, he let loose a barrage of waters into southern Louisiana. This meant that the Army Corps of Engineers had to re-imagine the lower Red River, creating a number of channels, locks, and dams north of its former point of entry to control its waters before entering the Mississippi River.
The former confluence became a busy steam boat port known as Red River Landing. This town in Point Coupee Parish was never very big, but it served river traffic until the rivers' natural proclivities to lose their shores eventually drowned the town away.
Today, the approximate location of Red River Landing is a popular fishing spot across from Angola State Prison.
The way the Red River entered the Mississippi River in a map from 1814 (Library of Congress).
1906 map of "Shreve's Cutoff," the shortcut he dug for the Mississippi River. Red River Landing is at the bottom of the map, with Angola Landing just to its north. Angola State Prison was the site of a plantation (Louisiana Digital Library).
Red River Landing in an 1894 map. Note the lake below it... this formed because of the excess waters draining due to Shreve's Cut Off (Library of Congress).
Today, the Red River enters the Mississippi further north from its original path. This rerouting was done by the Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding in southern Louisiana due to the excess waters draining into the Mississippi River, and the straight caused by Shreve's Cut-Off.