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Twelve Mile Bayou, aka the Jefferson to Shreveport Waterway


Map
Connecting Mooringsport on Caddo Lake to Shreveport on the Red River is Twelve Mile Bayou, dredged and straightened into the Jefferson-to-Shreveport Waterway during the first half of the twentieth century (USGS).

As a person who grew up around canals that connected the Ruhr Valley to the Rhine River, I've always been intrigued by man-made waterways. I've lamented to everyone who would listen, and even to those who ran away when I pontificated, the frustration of having the Red River Valley un-channeled, meaning that we rely way too much on trucks and trains instead of natural highways that are usable and owned by everyone. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize that the Jefferson to Shreveport Waterway still exists as Twelve Mile Bayou, with a maintenance road and levees still running alongside it.


But where are the barges?


Proposed in the early 20th century, the "Jefferson to Shreveport Waterway" was the brainchild of the Caddo Levee Board and the Red River Improvement Association, among others, and was championed by several progressive politicians such as Senator Morris Sheppard from Texas. Its purpose was "to restore navigation between Shreveport and Jefferson, Texas" and "stop the transportation monopoly" of the railroads. At a Women's Federation of Clubs meeting in New Orleans in 1911, a representative explained how "previous to 1873, when the great Red River raft was destroyed, a thriving business was carried on between these towns. With the destruction of the raft the lakes were drained and communication ceased, for Jefferson was left high and dry inland, wiht no means of getting to market. The restoration would mean renewed life to Jefferson, and it would create business all along the line. The rich iron ores at Jefferson, too bulky for profitable railroad transportation, could find outlet to Shreveport and Red River."


The original proposal from 1911 placed the canal through Cross Bayou, but Twelve Mile Bayou was chosen to be dredged and prepared instead, even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave less-than-favorable outcome predictions due to elevation changes. The waterway was shown to be useful in 1922, when the "Gardie Eastman," an 1882 steam boat and rafter (log remover) arrived in Shreveport to take Twelve Mile Bayou to Caddo Lake.


In 1938, Senator Sheppard's bill brought funding for the project that apparently served multiple purposes: flood control, land reclamation, and transportation. It continues to be funded.


The canal - Bayou! - still exists between Caddo Lake and Shreveport as an ever-widening water road (dredging cleaves the shore line, causing the channel to widen). I personally don't understand why steel isn't used to line the canal; in Germany, our canals are encased in steel tubs to prevent bank cave-ins and to maintain consistent water flow. It's not like the Red River and its tributaries can ever revert back to their natural states, after all. But, maybe, there'd be more engineering devoted to it if the canal would be used for more than just personal pleasure crafts. I don't mean that recreational boating is wrong at all. I just would like to see life and purpose in our domestic industries again.


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