20 Interesting Facts about the Red River of the South

The Red River of the South is also known as Red River in short. There are several other rivers around the world with the same name. Therefore, a geographic indicator, “of the south”, was added to its name to differentiate it from the rest.

The Red River locates in the United States. More specifically, it flows through the Southern Great Plains: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. 

Now, let’s look at some interesting facts about the river:

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The Red River of the South is borderline between Texas and Oklahoma.

When you cross the red river from the territory of Texas, you entering into Oklahoma and vise-versa. 

The Red River was once tributary of the Mississippi river, but not anymore. 

After the construction of the Flood-Control system on the Old River, the Red River no longer became the tributary of the Mississippi River. 

Now, the river is a tributary of the Atchafalaya River, which is also the distributary of the Mississippi River.  

People call it the Red River because…

The Red River Facts
The Red River of the South/ Credit: Wikipedia

It has red-colored water, at least certain times of a year. 

The river carries a large volume of red soil, which ads the shades of red to its water.

It gets even redder especially during the flooding seasons as a flood washes more soil into the river.  

It is the second-largest river basin in the Southern Great Plains.

Southern Great Plains includes the States Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

The Plains area has a unique whether pattern. The area gets tornados, rainstorms, hailstorms, and other harsh weather conditions quite often.

The length of the red river is 1,290 miles (2,080 km). 

About half of its length flows through between Texas and Oklahoma. 

More specifically, about 680 miles (1,094 km) of it flows in Texas territory or along its boundary.

Also, that portion serves as a boundary between Texas and Oklahoma. 

The red river is navigable.

Smaller industrial and civil ships, fishing boats, kayaks, and canoes navigate in it freely now. 

However, in the past, a gigantic log jam known as Great Raft clogged the river and kept it unnavigable.

The Great Raft in the Red River
The Great Raft-The Red River

In 1830, Henry Miller Shreve, a captain and steamboat builder, built his first snag boat to clear out the Raft so that boats can freely navigate in the river.

Currently, taking the boat ride in the river can grant memorable moments as its bank hosts a variety of interesting sites.

In 1852, George B. McClellan identified the Prairie Dog Town Fork as the mainstream of the red river. 

Facts about the Red River of the South
Prairie Dog Town Fork / Credit: Wikimedia

The river flows Southeast through Texas and Louisiana to northwest of Baton Rouge. 

There, it enters the Atchafalaya River, which flows south to the Atchafalaya Bay.

The River of the South has several tributaries.

Those tributaries include the Kiamichi, the North Fork of the Red, Little, Black (Ouachita), Pease, Wichita, Sulphur, and Washita rivers.

It also has two major bayous called Bodcau and Cypress.

The river poses a threat to residences. 

The flooding is the primary threat for the residences living in the Red River Basin. 

Development activities around the Red River depleted portions of vegetation, which in turn, increased the chance of flooding.

Riverbank erosion and caving also threaten fertile farming fields, highways, railroads, powerlines, and other infrastructures built near the river. 

Throughout history, the Red River was recognized with several names.

For instance, the Spanish called it “Rio Rojo”. 

Early American settlers named it “the red river of the Cadodacho” since the Caddo Indians were predominant populations around the river.

However, by the 1830s, the official maps simply labeled it as the Red River. 

There is another Red River in the United States but it locates in the northern part of the US.

The Red River of the North flows into the Winnipeg Lake and its length is about 550 miles (885km), which is a lot shorter than the length of the Red River of the South. 

Another difference is that the northern Red River is an international river since some of its section also crosses the parts of Canada.   

In history, the Red River was not only controlled by the United States but also by French and Spanish. 

For example, during the early eighteenth century, French traders navigated in the river to exchange goods with Caddo Indians and their associated tribes. 

Spanish also organized expeditions and built forts in this area. However, after the Louisiana purchase, the US firmed its grip in the regions and started controlling the Red River. 

In the summer of 1874, the war erupted between the US Federal forces and Native Indians.

The armed conflict became known as the Red River War of 1874

The primary purpose of the war was to remove Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and Southern Cheyenne Indians from the region and relocate them into reservations of Indian territories. 

The war officially ended in June 1875, when Quanah Parker and his band of Quahadi Comanche surrendered. 

From that point on, the Native Indians could not freely roam the territories of the Buffalo Plains.

The Red River provides a rich habitat for species such as blue catfish and striped bass.

Red River region is not only home to marine life, but one can also see various mammals, lizards, and birds in this area.

Animals: Black-tailed Jackrabbit, white-tailed deer, western diamondback rattlesnakes, etc.

Birds: Mourning doves, Rio-Grande Turkey, bobwhite quail, migrant songbirds, waterfowl, red-headed woodpecker, and others. 

Several lakes emerged around the Red River, and Caddo Lake is one of them.

A picture of Caddo Lake
Cado Lake -Cypress Forest / Credit: Wikimedia

Caddo lake is more famously known for its dense cypress forest. 

The lake locates at the border between Texas and Louisiana (Northern part of Harrison County and Southern Marion County).

It was named after the Caddo Indians who lived in the area until the 19th century. 

Primary occupants of the lake are fish, river otters, alligators, frogs, beavers, snakes, bobcats, owls, and eagles. 

Some people claim that they have sighted Bigfoot around the lake. 

Although it can be a perfect place for Bigfoot to hide, there is no solid evidence for such claims.

President Thomas Jefferson organized an expedition to the Red River in 1806 after the Louisiana Purchase.

The expedition became known as “the Red River Expedition of 1806” or “Freeman-Custis Expedition”.

The primary purpose of the expedition was to explore the newly acquired lands of Louisiana, study the routes of the Red River, set boundaries, and to contact with Native Americans for trading opportunities.  

During the American Civil war, the Red River valleys hosted series battles. 

Those battles were part of the Red River Campaign, which was initiated by the Union Army. 

During the Red River Campaign, about 30,000 Union troops, commanded by Nathaniel P. Banks, fought against 6000-15000 troops strong Confederate forces.

In the end, the Campaign ended with the Union failure. It did not bring any progress to the Civil War. Instead, it lengthened the war. 

After the retreat, Nathaniel P. Banks ended his military career and suffered political defeat.

The Confederate side suffered casualties and lost their valuable commanders, Alfred Mouton, and Thomas Green. 

The Red River occupies about 93,000 square miles (241,000 square kilometers) of area.

Several reservoirs and dams were built along the river and on its tributaries as part of the river development and flood-control projects. 

The major one among them is Denison Dam. When the U.S Army Corps of Engineers completed its construction in 1944, it became the World’s largest rolled-earth fill dam. 

Picture of Denison Dam
Denison Dam / Credit: Wikimedia

Denison Dam generates about 250,000-megawatt hours of electricity per year. 

 Also, thanks to the Dam, Lake Texoma started to exist between Oklahoma and Texas. The lake attracts about 6 million visitors per year. 

The Red River of the South is economically important for the locals and the nation as a whole. 

The Red River is a good place to held recreational activities for tourists and visitors. 

For example fishing, kayaking, canoeing, riverside picnics, and camping are some of the outdoor activities.

The river also led to the emergence of grazing lands for livestock, and fields for crops. 

Upper regions of the red river host agricultural lands for growing wheat, corn, and cotton. 

Additionally, the river facilitates several hydropower stations and serves as a transportation corridor. 

The hydrological cycle of the red river is extremely irregular and the river is fed by rain.

Overview picture of the Red River of the South
Red River of the South / Credit: Wikimedia

The Red River begins in the Texas Panhandle and it ends in Louisiana where the river empties its water into the Atchafalaya River in Simmesport, Louisiana. 

More specifically, with the confluence of Palo Duro Creek and Tierra Blanca Creek, Praire Dog Town Fork was formed in Texas Panhandle. And that Fork is now the primary origin of the Red River of the South. 

By Arslan Batyrovich

Founder of
Writer, Researcher, Fact-finder, and All-in-one
Loves nature, Likes history, and Adores anything interesting
To get tailored writing or to work with, contact at [email protected]

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