A Little Bit of Texas History – The ONLY Natural Lake in Texas: A Major Seaport (and, the rest of the story)

13 February 2015

Discover the natural beauty of Caddo Lake, the only natural lake in all of Texas
Discover the natural beauty of Caddo Lake, the only natural lake in all of Texas

“On this day [February 13] in 1869, sixty-one men, women, and children died when the side-wheel steamboat Mittie Stephens caught fire on Caddo Lake during a run from New Orleans to Jefferson, Texas. The boat had been plying the New Orleans-Red River route since 1866. At that time Jefferson was the head of navigation via Caddo Lake due to the great log raft that obstructed traffic on the Red River. The Mittie Stephens had left New Orleans on February 5 with 107 passengers and crew and a cargo that included 274 bales of hay. On the night of the twelfth, a breeze blew a spark to the hay from the torch baskets that lighted the bows of the boat, and the resulting fire could not be contained. The boat headed for the shore, 300 yards away, but grounded in three feet of water near Swanson’s Landing. The pilot and the engineer kept the wheels running in an attempt to force the boat to shore; the action of the wheels pulled the people struggling in the water into them and killed most of them. The Mittie Stephens burned to the water line, and parts of the wreck could be seen above the water until the early twentieth century. Jefferson remained the principal riverport of Texas until the logjam was removed in 1874.” TSHA online

Caddo Lake is the ONLY natural lake in Texas. All other Texas lakes you know are man made reservoirs. This one natural lake isn’t very old. Nothing ancient at all.

The name comes from Caddo Indians who lived in the area until their expulsion. Best information tells us Caddo Lake was formed by a 100-mile log jam on the Red River, a consequence of the 1812 New Madrid Earthquake in Missouri.

Three Texas ports, Jefferson, Port Caddo and Swanson’s Landing enjoyed brisk maritime business exporting cotton and receiving passengers who traveled between Jefferson and New Orleans. Flat bottom steam-powered riverboats were prone to fires, steam explosions and sinking. “Snag” boats regularly patrolled the waterway to clear it of log “snags”, submerged logs that could puncture the thin wooden bottoms of riverboats.

When thinking of offshore oil rigs, one thinks of the Gulf of Mexico, but the FIRST offshore oil rig wasn’t out in the Gulf, it was set up on Caddo Lake under which were vast oil reserves. In 1911 the Gulf Refining Company (later known as Gulf Oil, and now as Chevron) set up Ferry Lake No. 1 offshore rig that drilled to a depth of 2,185 feet. This well produced 450 barrels of oil per day for quite some time.

Today, Caddo Lake is home to giant cypress, alligators and paddle fish. Learn more about modern features of this wonderful resource from the Marshall, Texas visitors information website:http://www.visitmarshalltexas.org/…/caddo-lake/facts-about…/

God bless Texas!

John White

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