Texas Parks and Wildlife July 2007The Invisible Lake

The mystery, history and strange allure of Caddo Lake

By Barbara Rodriguez


Separating Caddo’s myth from its reality is equally difficult. Though consistently labeled the only natural lake in Texas, it’s not (although it is the largest and maybe the only one with public access). Unlike most Texas lakes it is a lake with a past, albeit one shaded by tall tales and time. Where and when did it all begin? As with all creation theories there is no consensus. Some say that in the beginning there were earthquakes. Others tell of a Great Flood borne of a Great Raft leading to a Big Bang — of sorts. Then there are those who claim it all began with the Fairy. The unknowable is central to the ongoing attraction of the vast wetland that is actually a maze of bayous, bogs, sloughs and backwaters sprawling along the border between Harrison and Marion counties in Texas and Caddo Parish in Louisiana.The Earthquakes

The Caddo, Native American mound-builders, believed the lake was birthed by floods swelled by earthquakes. Recorded history testifies that as recently as 1811 a series of earthquakes around New Madrid, Missouri, tumbled and twisted the earth as far as the Pineywoods, whip-cracking rivers into new courses. Even today plenty of lake dwellers believe these temblors pooled waters into Caddo Lake. The ancient cypresses that lend the lake its distinctive character know the full truth, but they’re offering only one hint: a cypress seed will only root in water. The age rings of the cypresses that wash their knees in the Caddo give witness to a primordial puddle here as long as 400-600 years ago.

The Flood

Many geologists believe that the modern lake is the result of a behemoth log jam on the Red River. The logs that bobbed, lolled and banged themselves into a mind-boggling 100-mile geometric construction known as the Great Raft were described by the government-commissioned Freeman-Custis exploratory expedition in 1806 — five years before the Madrid earthquakes. The fallen trees, wedged impossibly tight between the banks of the Red River near the present site of Shreveport, swelled all connected waterways. By the 1840s Big Cypress Creek was deep enough to invite serious navigation, and the brief but glorious era of steamships huffing from New Orleans to Jefferson began.

The fate of the log jam holds the most water in the tale of Caddo’s genesis. In 1873 the Army Corps of Engineers blew the raft to bits in a Big Bang that pulled the plug on Cypress Bayou. The lake left behind is seldom deeper than 4 to 6 feet and changes character from season to season. In the winter, it is window-glass clear as vegetation dies off and settles; in the summer, water that isn’t heavily traveled is carpeted in the shady greens of spatterdock, duckweed and hyacinth. Where sediment is suspended the water is the color of steeping tea.

The Fairy

But let us not forget one last contributor to our tale. Before the earthquakes and the Great Raft, there was the Fairy. Fairy Lake. On its glistening footprint, hundreds of years before quakes or raft, some say the Caddo was born when the Fairy and Sodo Lakes flooded (today less romantically known as the Ferry and Soda Lakes).

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