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Before the arrival of the Europeans, “log jams” formed by the accumulation of fallen trees and driftwood on rivers and streams were a common phenomenon across North America, but none was as enormous as the one that existed on the Red River. At its peak, this log jam—known as the Great Raft—extended for 165 miles (265 km) clogging the lower part of the river in what is now Northwest Louisiana and Northeast Texas.

The Great Raft began forming sometime around the beginning of the last millennium. Periodic flooding of the Red River dislodged great number of trees from the river’s flood banks that was made up of easily erodible soil. The trees filled the river and formed a series of intermittent log jams that stretched for miles. Each spring brought a fresh supply of logs and the raft grew until it was more than a hundred miles long. Pieces of the raft sometimes broke up and floated downstream, but new logs and debris that got added to the upper end kept the raft at a nearly constant length of between 130 and 150 miles. The jam also forced water over the banks and into the valley creating numerous large and deep lakes. Some of these lakes—Caddo, Cross, Wallace, Bistineau, and Black Bayou—still exist and are known as Great Raft Lakes.

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Photo credit: Noel Memorial Library, LSUS

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