If you accept the creation story of Caddo Lake as told by the Caddo Indians, our 28,000 acre lake was born in its entirety just prior to the War of 1812. According to Indian legend, "the earth trembled, and had chills and fever in the night, and waters rushed over the lands." The tribe was saved by believing the visions of a beloved chief, when all the Caddo clans followed him to higher ground the day before the flood.
Our first settlers knew of the great New Madrid earthquake of 1811 in Missouri and its creation of Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee. It seemed logical for them to link the Indian creation story and the fact of America's first recorded great earthquake -- thus the settler's explanation of Caddo Lake.
Alas, too easy! Historians and geologists have since proven that the Indian legend was a more accurate explanation than the New Madrid earthquake with Caddo being formed around 1800, perhaps suddenly. Natural log jams covering many miles along the Red River formed a "bottle" -- Caddo's flood pool -- and a collapsing river bank just east of our present day lake supplied the "cap", inspiring the great flood legend of Indian lore.
Caddo Lake and Jefferson were decimated by Henry Shreve (Shreveport) and the Corps of Engineers in the 1870's by the dynamiting of the "Great Raft" on the Red River which resulted in a slow draining of the lake. Jefferson politicians were able to persuade Congress and the Corps of Engineers to reestablish the lake with a dam in 1914. Popular support for the project was based on restoring water trade, but the dam was rebuilt without locks during the age of railroads.
Why, then, was Caddo Lake recreated? Certainly not for water transit, as ships need locks to bypass dams. More realistically, a developing oil industry might have found it useful both for business and pleasure. If for pleasure, it was a successful project. Caddo's beauty, mystery, legends, mystique, and recreations are not duplicated on any of Texas' man-made reservoirs.
Visitors to our lake need to know that Caddo is a collective term for a series of lakes, sloughs, and bayous separated by cypress "breaks", islands, and peninsulas. Even the dominant body of water is called Big, not Caddo Lake. Alligator Thicket, Whistleberry Slough, Red Belly, Old Folks Playground, Hayrake, and Whiskey Slough -- are only a few of the colorful place names that comprise Caddo Lake.
Canoe trail maps of Caddo Lake are available at Pine Needle Lodge.
p.s. Please say CAD-oh, not CADE-oh Lake!
For reservations or further information, call
(903) 665-2911 or write
400 PR7805, Jefferson, TX 75657
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