1870 Survey: Little Red River

St. Louis, Missouri, January 19, 1871.
   SIR: I most respectfully submit herewith the report on the examination of Little Red River, in Arkansas, compiled from the field-notes of Captain John S. Tennyson. Little Red River is a tributary of White River, and empties into the latter, thirty miles below Augusta.
   Having been ordered, at that time, to succeed Mr. A. Livermore in charge of the examination of rivers in the. State of Arkansas, I proceeded to Little Red River, in order to meet Captain Tennyson on the field of operations.
   By doing so, I had the opportunity to judge of the condition of the river from the mouth upwards to West Point myself, whereby I found that Captain Tennyson’s notes fully coincided with my own observations. The examination of the upper part, that is from Searcy Landing to West Point, was made by Captain Tennyson alone, who had finished the same before my arrival on the river.
   Searcy Landing being regarded as the head of navigation on Little Red River, the examination of this stream was commenced at that point and conducted to its mouth. The river can be divided into two sections, entirely different in their features, and they will be therefore treated separately. The upper section reaches from Searcy Landing to West Point, eighteen miles; the lower, from that place to the mouth, thirty miles in length.

Section I.Searcy Landing to West Point.
   The bottom of the river from the upper Searcy Landing, called Merchants’ Landing, is rocky throughout, and has several shoal places between these two points.
   The first shoals are half a mile below Merchants’ Landing, 115 feet long, and extend 211 feet from the right shore into the river. The channel is 55 feet wide and 5 inches deep at low water, with 1.1 feet fall.
   The next shoal place is in front of lower Searcy Landing. These shoals are nearer to the left bank, one mile and a half long, and 200 feet wide. The width of the channel is 63 feet at the narrowest point, with 8 inches of water, and 0.8 feet fall.
   Rock Island Shoals, 3 miles below Searcy Landing, are 300 feet long. The width of the channel is 61 feet; depth at low water, 9 inches; fall, 0.75 feet.
   From these last shoals to Prospect Shoals, a distance of four miles and a half, there is hardly any visible current in the river. The bottom consists of loose rocks with the exception of about 500 feet, where sand is prevalent. The width of the river is in this part 275 feet on an average between banks, and has from 2 to 7 feet water in the channel.
   Prospect Shoals are a half a mile above the town of Prospect Bluffs. The river-bed is covered with small rooky islands, which are from 2 to 5 feet above, low' water. The channel lies very nearly in the middle of the river, and is 57 feet wide, with 3 inches depth. On the right shore is a chain of loose rocks, which have been taken out of the channel and piled up in the shape of a dam. The length of these shoals is 600 feet, with 2.30 feet fall.
   The left bank along this part of the river is from 25 to 35 feet high, consists of common clay and is covered with timber. There are but a few cultivated fields along this shore. The caving and crashing out of the banks amounts to very little.
   The right shore is high upland. The bluffs are from 50 to 60 feet high, and consist of clay, with rooks cropping out half way upon the bank. These bluffs reach their utmost height three miles below Searcy Landing, in a hill 150 feet high, which is composed of rocks clear up to the top.   
   From Prospect Bluff, sandy bottom is prevalent for a distance of five miles; the average width of the river is 300 feet between banks, which are low and subject to overflow; the depth of the channel is from 2 to 16 feet.
   Best’s Shoals, five miles below Prospect Bluffs, consist of two chains of loose rocks. On the upper chain, 130 feet long, the channel lies nearer to the left shore, is 65 feet wide, with 6 inches of water and 2.05 feet fall. The lower chain, 50 feet long, is close to the left shore, has 7 inches of water in the channel, which is 57 feet wide. Fall 0.75 feet. The loose rocks on both of these chains have been piled up in form of dams.
   There is rocky bottom for the next two miles below Best’s Shoals, with from 10 inches to 3 feet water in the channel. Three miles above West Point there are piles of loose rocks scattered along the left shore and extending half way into the river.
   The average width of the river from Best’s Shoals to West Point is 300 feet between banks. The channel is 100 feet wide and 10 inches deep.
   The right bank along this part is, on an average, 45 feet high, the left one low and subject to overflow; both are covered with heavy timber.

Section II.—From West Point to the mouth.
   The river assumes more the character of a natural canal. The width is almost uniform, and varies between 250 and 300 feet. The banks are nearly of the same height, (about 25 feet,) slope at an angle of 45°, and are covered with timber from low- water edge up. The adjacent country is, during high water, subject-to overflow, and there are but few spaces of cleared land in this section. The depth in the channel in this part is, at the lowest stage of water, 2 feet and over.

Low Water
occurs during the months of July, August, and September. The depth in the channel at low water has been described at the different localities above.

High Water
takes place first during the month of May, sometimes as early as the end of April. This is called the spring rise, and does not last very long.
   The fall, and winter-rise from the head-waters is also of short duration. The river may rise from 15 to 20feet within twelve hours, and fall again to the former, stage within the next twelve hours.
   The only rise for any length of time to depend on is the back-water from White River, when the latter is high. Arise of 15 feet in White River will make 4 feet water in Little Red River, clear, through-to Searcy Landing.
   The highest water known was in 1867, when the high-water mark showed 39.30, feet at Searcy Landing, 32.6 feet at Prospect Bluffs, and 29.3 feet at West Point.

Obstructions, Snags, and Leaning Trees
   From Searcy Landing to West Point there, are 588 snags, and 6,203leaning trees. The latter are seen only in two bends and close together,
   From West Point to the mouth are 588 snags and 6,203 trees, 5,332 of which are less than one foot in diameter.
   In regard to the improvement of the river it is evident that the scarcity of water between Searcy Landing and West Point, and the condition of the stream, will not justify any other expense than that absolutely necessary to remove the snags and leaning timber. The removal of the loose rocks from the bed of the river will be of no benefit to navigation, as there is not water enough during the dry season to give sufficient depth for the passage of boats were the obstructions removed.
   The rise from the head-waters disappears as suddenly as it comes on, and whenever steamboats have ventured to go further up during a head-rise, in most cases they have been obliged to turn back before reaching Prospect Bluffs, the rise having entirely disappeared. The only rise to depend on is the back-water from White River, and whenever this takes place, there is sufficient depth of water for navigation to Searcy Landing.
   The improvement in this lower part of the river will be the removing of snags and the cutting of the leaning timber on both shores.

General Remarks.
The improvement of this stream, to the commerce of the country, will perhaps be best shown from the fact, that the White River Packet Company send their boats as far into the Little Red as practicable every time they ascend White River; thus, two boats a week reach West Point from White River during about nine months in the year, and during three months these boats reach Searcy Landing ; and when the water is too low to permit the large White River boats to ascend the Little Red, a small boat is kept on hand to do the business between West Point and the mouth, connecting at that place with the boats on White River.
   These facts give some idea of the amount of commerce on the river; no data could be obtained as to the amount of cotton or other produce shipped.
   The above is enough to show that the improvement is one of great importance to that section of country.
I am, most respectfully, colonel, your obedient servant,
Justin Straszer,
Civil Engineer.
Lieutenant Colonel W. F. Raynolds,
Corps of Engineers, U. S. A., St. Louis, Missouri.

     1871 Chief’s Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers to the Secretary of War for the Year 1871. Page 362 – 364. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16021coll6/id/1832. Accessed 07 July, 2019. 

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