Bayou Bodcau’s History
|The Times: 09 Jan 1949|
Ezekiel Calhoun Long purchased property on both sides of the bayou in 1839 to operate a ferry. Long built a cabin on the land and since there was not yet a Bossier Parish Courthouse, the Police Jury met at his home for their July 1843 meeting. Newsome Durden and his family moved to Bossier Parish from Georgia around 1851. Durden purchased the Long ferry and cabin, which eventually burned down. It was rebuilt in 1925 by Newsome’s grandson, Ben Durden, and still standing today.
Benjamin Fort wrote in an 1881 Bossier Banner column that Bayou Bodcau should be studied regarding navigation and drainage. He examined the Bayou at a dozen different points and was convinced that making the channel more navigable from Loggy Bayou to Bellevue would not cost more than five hundred dollars. Fort said that the work required was to “chop out and blow out” any cypress stumps in the channel at very low water and clear away overhanging trees. If this work were to be done annually, the channel would deepen and have a greater drainage power. Once this occurred, Fort envisioned a permanent saw mill business on the bayou.
Although an act of the legislature passed to permit navigation as far as the Arkansas line, the area above Durden’s ferry was never cleared. Other reliable means of transportation came into the picture. The Shed Road that ran from Red Chute to Bossier City, allowed for all-weather travel and put an end to muddy wagon trips. The combination of new railroads and the 1890 relocation of the Bossier Parish Courthouse from Bellevue to Benton led the Durden’s ferry to cease operation.
Record floods washed over the region in 1905, 1930, and 1933, when fifty to sixty thousand acres below the proposed dam site were covered with water. Damage in each of these floods totaled over a million dollars. Many lesser floods hit the same bottomlands, wrecking the highly cultivated and valuable lands. In May of 1944, high flood waters left levees crumpled near Buckhall, Brownlee, and the Beene plantations. A solution to these frequent floods was urgently needed.
The US Army Corps of Engineers brainstormed for a coordinated Red River Valley flood control program. Local government agencies backed these federal efforts to reduce flooding. The first step to address regional flood control was the construction of Denison or Lake Texoma Dam, next was the Wallace Lake Dam below Shreveport. The third step would be the Bodcau Dam, followed by the Texarkana Dam and Reservoir, now known as Wright Patman Lake to honor a longtime East Texas congressman.
In 1945, the Bossier Parish Levee Board and the Red River Valley Improvement Association unanimously approved the federally-financed flood control project at Bayou Bodcau. The initial project was estimated to cost nearly three million dollars. Senator John Overton and Representative Overton Brooks offered their full support for the project. The dam would regulate water, releasing it gradually into Red Chute and Loggy Bayous. During flood periods, a forty-mile-long pool would fill to protect over 72 thousand fertile acres below in the Red River bottoms. It would also help shield Barksdale Field from floodwater, as well as the highways and railroads entering Bossier Parish from the east. The ground-breaking ceremony for the dam was held on 9 April 1947 with Volney Voss Whittington, president of the Bossier Levee Board, serving as master of ceremonies. Construction began in May of 1947.
The Federal government bought out the lands for the reservoir area. Ben Durden, whose cabin was mentioned earlier, did not want to move from his five acres of land and flat out refused. Construction of the dam was already underway. The US government chose to purchase his property and gave Durden a free lease while the home was in the family. The small Durden cemetery was included in this agreement. Carrie Cunningham was the last of the Durden family to hold the property. She signed the five acres back to the government circa 1996. The Corps of Engineers renovated the building for use in environmental education, and this reuse allows the historically significant home to be accessible to the public.
The Shreveport Times featured an article in January of 1949 titled, “Big Bossier Dam Rising From Earth!!” and included photographs of the construction progress. Costs had ballooned to five million dollars, two million above the estimate. The dam did not have gates to open and close; rather, the earthen embankment had two long outlet tubes. The reinforced concrete tubes were designed to release flood water at a controlled rate. A long concrete spillway sits at the north end of the dam. Should excessive flooding occur, water could flow over the spillway to protect the top of the earth dam from erosion.
When the dam neared completion, the Corps of Engineers advertised that most land was still suitable for timber, plus some farming and grazing in the upper regions. The land could be leased for these purposes, with the former owner or tenant offered first crack at the lease. Seventy-five percent of the rent from these leases was to be returned to the state for expenditures on public schools and roads.
The US Army Corps of Engineers continues to operate the Bayou Bodcau Dam and Reservoir for flood management, environmental stewardship, and recreation. Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries leases the property for its wildlife management area. One of the largest remaining expanses of bottomland hardwoods in northwest Louisiana is found here. For birdwatchers, Bayou Bodcau is a treasure. It’s located within the nesting range of the bald eagle and you can spot them during the winter months, along with over 140 other bird species.
Visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center to learn more about the bayous and flood control projects in our parish. We are open M-Th 10-8, Fri 10-6, and Sat 10-5. Our phone number is 318-746-7717 and our email is firstname.lastname@example.org