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Rafting on the River

November 28, 2001

Historian's Notes

The Red River Raft was such an odd story that I felt more people should hear about it. When I first read about it I thought that it was a hoax or some kind of mythical object reported on by early day scouts, but it was all true. How odd!! All material for this topic came from the Chronicles of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State University Library has a full run of this publication, as does the State Historical Society and it is hard to not find something interesting in each issue.


Chronicles of Oklahoma (Autumn 1941). 19 (3).

Almanac Transcript

Rafting on the river this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, Iím Steven Kite.

The Red River plays an important part in Oklahomaís history. Not only does the river form the southern boundary of our state, but the actual water itself is important to agriculture and livestock operations. Before the advent of railroads and trucking, the river was important in terms of shipping, commerce and land development. The Red River was seen as one of the chief methods by which the region of southern Oklahoma would be developed. Literally standing in the way of such ambitions was the Red River Raft a solid mass of wood, plants and other organic material that clogged up the river for miles. The existence of the raft was noted first in the early 1800s and by the 1820s the raft was measured to a length of over 150 miles. The federal government other than measuring it paid little attention to the raft until the 1830s when it was learned that removing the raft would better facilitate the relocation of eastern Indian tribes.

Work began on the raft in the early 1830s and substantial progress occurred, but lack of government funding allowed the raft to return to its former state. The raft itself was described by some as a giant serpent slowing making itsí way upstream. As the downstream end of the raft slowly broke apart and moved towards the Mississippi, the current supplied fresh material to the upstream end. The age of the raft was unknown, but early army surveyors noted the existence of what they called sizable trees growing on the material blocking the river. It was in this week of 1872 that frustrated with the inability to fully exploit the Red River Region the US Army embarked upon a plan to destroy the raft forever. Crane boats moved up the river to the raft as demolition experts used nitroglycerin to loosen large chunks of the mass. Teams of soldiers utilized steam powered saws cutting up stumps and trees for transfer down the river.

Eight years after beginning the Red River Raft Removal Team finished the job. It was in 1880 for the first time that steamboats could safely navigate the river bringing goods, people, money and development to what is now north Texas and southern Oklahoma. Alas, the clearing of the river came at a time when railroads were assuming most of the transportation duties in the country and the full potential of the river as a commerce route never materialized.

Rivers, rafts and railroads, this week on the Almanac.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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