From time eternal there has been Caddo.
Through out history and even thousands of years before the ability to record the happenings and events of our earth there has been Caddo Lake.
Caddo Lake as we know her today is relatively new. In the latter part of 1799 a set of natural events occurred that formed and shaped Caddo Lake into her present day form. Since 1799 there has been some influences by man that has helped shaped the way Caddo is today, but, most of the credit by far has to be given to mother nature for providing us this natural wonder for us to enjoy and marvel at.
For thousands of years before Caddo as we know her today existed the flood plain area that encompasses the Cypress basin. During that period the Caddo Lake area was a series of bayous, creeks, ponds and low lying areas that flooded often and held water for sustained periods of time during the rainy seasons. Often with sustained heavy rain falls the cypress valley tributaries merging into one, (Big Cypress Bayou) would flood the whole entire area covering miles and thousands of acres. The flora and fauna adapted to these seasonal changes and carried on in the cycle of life.
The Big Change
In the latter part of 1799 a chain of natural events that had been slowly taking place over many years changed the landscape of the cypress valley and created in some respect what we know as Caddo lake today. The Red River and a natural occurrence, a huge log jam that was called the (The Great Raft) is what created the modern Caddo lake. The Red is a major river that creates much of the boundaries dividing Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas and then runs south through Louisiana until in a round about way it merges with the mighty Mississippi. The Big Cypress Bayou is the main tributary that feeds Caddo. After it leaves Caddo the Big Cypress Bayou flows into the Red River where they merge in North Louisiana. The point where these two tributaries meet was blocked by this huge log jam known as the Great Raft in the latter part of 1799, thus the new face of Caddo Lake emerged.
The New Frontier
The year 1835 was the year that much change came about in the cypress valley due to man. This was the year that the white man essentially made his debut in this wild wilderness. The Caddo Indians were basically the only humans to inhabit this area and they had done so for hundreds and thousands of years, this was their lands and their home. The white man and the US government, hungry with desire to acquire more lands had made a push coming up from New Orleans through the rivers, and arrived, armed with the will and great desire to tame and settle this wilderness, The wilderness that was once only known by the Caddo's, but, there was one big obstacle in their way in doing this, it was the Great Raft. The US government commissioned a man, Henry Shreve to remove the huge log jam. Shreve was a steam boat captain and builder, and a inventor of sorts. Many of the government engineers deemed the removal of the Great Raft not feasible or even possible. Shreve took on the challenge and by 1835 had removed enough of the log jam that it opened up the way for steamboats to enter into the Cypress bayou and then into Caddo Lake and beyond. With the ability to travel by water into this area the stage was set for the settling of this new frontier, but there was still one more obstacle in the way, the Caddo's. The Caddo's knowing that the white man was coming and there wasn't much they could do about it, and, due to the ravages of hunger and disease decided to sell there lands to the US government. A new era had begun and pioneers came in search of a new home and a new life that waited in the wilderness once owned by the Caddo's.
With the opening of the log jam (The Great raft) came the river boat traffic.
Various ports and landings were soon established along the water ways along the Big Cypress Bayou and Caddo Lake. Along with the steamboats came prosperity and hope for those that came. Cotton became an important commodity and was shipped by boat to eventually wind up in New Orleans and other destinations. In 1845 some business men got together and decided to establish a port as far up stream on the Big Cypress Bayou as could be possible for navigation. This vision of the business men soon came to be known as Jefferson Texas. Jefferson flourished and quickly became a major port and was only second in commerce that was shipped from Texas, second only to Galveston.
The Caddo Lake area along upstream to Jefferson was booming and things were good but that was soon to change. In 1873 the log jam that created Caddo and the good fortune for those that came was finally and totally removed. The Great Raft was removed from the Red river after many years worth of effort. It was the intention to open up the Red for navigation, but there were other motives as well ,or so it has been said, some were political, and some were for greed. With the removal of the log jam the water levels slowly fell to a level that made steamboat passage impossible. With the removal of the log jam and the arrival of the rail road, the good fortune of those that were on the water route was soon lost.
Although Caddo never went totally dry because of sediments that gathered on the lower end of the lake that created a bowl effect it did get very low and certainly was not navigable by larger boats. The US government realized how much they hurt the economy of the Caddo Lake region with the removal of the Great Raft so in the 1870s they passed a water navigation improvement project that was designed to restore navigation back through Caddo Lake. A few dredging projects were done and there were plans to build a dam on Caddo with locks that would allow passage of large boats but somehow it seemed to fall through the bureaucratic cracks. In 1914 there was finally a crude earthen dam, (with no locks) built on Caddo that help raise the water back to levels near where they were it when the log jam served as the dam.
Caddo Lake has had more than one dam. The first was natural and the one we have now built in the 1970s is man made. Somehow Caddo never went totally dry even when it went several years without anything that could be called a dam, natural or not. Due to sediments that were deposited on the lower end of the lake it created a bit of a bowl effect and was most likely the reason Caddo never dried up. Though Caddo has went through many changes, some that were great threats to her existence she has somehow endured. Even today she faces threats, some man made, some natural, and some that are most likely her greatest threats ever. We have to believe that Caddo will survive and maybe with mans help this natural wonder, Caddo Lake will be here for time eternity.