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Shreve Report on the Completion of the Red River Raft Removal


Newspaper article
In his message to Congress on board the Eradicator (great name!), Henry Shreve cautions that the red river raft (log jam) will continue to require appropriations (money) to clear it.

When Captain Henry Shreve makes a report to Congress about the successful removal of the Great Raft of the Red River, and it finds its way into the era's national newspapers, it's best to let him speak.


In this message delivered to Congress in 1838, Captain Henry Shreve explains that the great Red River Raft is no longer much of an obstacle below and above Shreveport. The steamboats even go upstream at a rate of six miles an hour, which is quite a feat considering that most stagecoaches averaged five miles an hour.


For millennia, the Great Red River Raft, a massive log jam, created a back log of water above Natchitoches. It fed the many lakes that once dominated the landscape of northwestern Louisiana. After Americans started to settle in the region after the Louisiana Purchase, it became a national concern to remove the log jam so that steamers could bring troops and supplies to the frontier fort of Fort Towson (today's Choctaw County, Oklahoma), and so that the boats could service the many plantations that had begun to dominate the economy.


Henry Miller Shreve was born in New Jersey and traded beaver pelts on the Ohio River. He built his own steamboat, the Enterprise, designed to navigate shallower waters and which assisted in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He successfully challenged Robert Fulton's steamboat monopoly on the Mississippi River and was also a co-plaintiff in the famous case, Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824. To clear the rivers from obstacles, Captain Shreve invented a snag boat with a steam-powered saw mill. This boat, called the Heliopolis, was used by Shreve and his crew to clear the Red River Raft in the 1830s after Shreve was appointed to the role of "Superintendent of Western Rivers" in 1826.


In his message, Sheve cautions that the raft isn't completely gone, though. He writes that Congress should finance further and continuous channel clearing, but this was funding Congress didn't always secure. Needless to say, the raft continued to reappear throughout the 19th century until it was permanent removed via nitroglycerin by Lieutenant Eugene Woodruff of the Army Corps of Engineers.


The message was printed in the Madisonian, a newspaper published in Washington, D.C. (May 1, 1838). The map is a small portion of an 1847 map (LSU) that shows the Red River in Caddo and Bossier parishes, the area that Shreve describes in the message.


Mao
The shaded area in this 1847 map indicates the raft clearing by Captain Shreve (LSU).

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