Captain Henry M. Shreve Clearing the Great Raft from Red River, 1833-1838
In 1714, the French founded Natchitoches in northwest Louisiana, yet it was another 120 years before settles moved only 70 miles to the north. The cause of the delay was the Great Raft of the Red River. A massive log jam 160 miles long, the blockage was impassable, so thick in places that men rode horses over it. As pioneers moved into southwest Arkansas in the 1820s, there was an outcry for the river to be made navigable. After study, the U.S. Army declared it impossible to clear the raft, but an entrepreneur named Henry Miller Shreve saw a golden opportunity. Shreve had built a prosperous transportation business, received a commission fighting in the War of 1812 and designed a steamboat that became the model for all western river steamboats all before the age of 30. In 1826, he was appointed the Superintendent of Western River Improvements and by 1832 had cleared all blockages on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. On April 11, 1833, he began the five-year task of destroying the massive Red River Raft using a special snagboat built to his own design. In 1836, he and his partners established a settlement called Shreve Town which overlooked the final section of the Raft to be dismantled. By the time the job was finished in 1839, the town was known as Shreveport.