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Sale and Murphy Canal along the Red River

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

Once carrying traffic between Louisiana and Arkansas

Survey map of a canal in Red River in Louisiana and Arkansas
The Sale and Murphy Canal of the Red River is visible in this portion of a Red River survey map from 1887. The canal was tolled for stern wheeler and paddle wheeler passage around portions of the Raft above Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana. The canal spanned between Louisiana and Arkansas (Map located in Bossier Parish History Center; found at Louisiana Digital Library).

The other day, I posted a short article that included a reference to the "Sale and Murphy Canal." An astute reader asked, where was this canal? So I thought I'd answer in another post!

The Sale and Murphy Canal along the Red River once linked Louisiana and Arkansas around the upper portions of the Great Raft. It had been dug in the 1870s by day laborers for the benefit of the men who charged tolls for stern wheelers and paddle wheelers to bypass the log jam that had developed in the Red River above Shreveport (Caddo Parish).

This is how it was described by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1891:

"When the river above Shreveport was closed by the great raft there were numerous lakes along both sides connected with the navigable parts of the main river by bayous or outlets, some of which were natural and others artificial, and these lakes and outlets were used at high stages for passage of boats to the head of the raft. As the different rafts formed upstream, the lower outlets were abandoned for newer ones above, and if the latter were not sufficient capacity they were cleaned out and enlarged, or else short canals were dug at convenient points to form connections between the river and lake channels... The Sale and Murphy Canal is the uppermost of these outlets, 66.5 miles above Shreveport and 3 miles below the Arkansas and Louisiana line."

Federal appropriations closed the canal in 1884 by filling the northern with "mattresses" of brush and earth - this was done to keep water in the newly-cleared main channel. But guess what? Floods and the silty banks of the river created a guessing game as to how the stream would behave, and the canal re-appeared time and time again. By 1904-ish, the infill finally succeeded, and the canal was no more.

Now, time and the Red's mighty waters have erased pretty much all evidence of the Sale and Murphy Canal.

Geological map of area where the canal was once located.
A 1948 USGS map shows the kinda-sorta old location of the canal on the west side of the river (also called the "right bank," as looking downstream). Note that at this date, there was still a Missionary Lake, but the Missionary Ferry landing was a good mile or two from its place along the Red River.

Modern satellite image of same location with no canal present
And now, not only is Missionary Lake no more, but neither is the Sale and Murphy Canal!


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