A Brief History of Coates Bluff by Jon Soul
“It’s unfortunate that the story of Coates Bluff is not known in greater detail,” wrote local historian Dale Jennings, for the Ark-La-Tex Geological Association in 2009. The following is a brief summary. For a more detailed and in-depth study, please see a compilation of his work at Coates Bluff History by Susan Keith. Ms. Keith, a former teacher at Caddo Magnet High School, is also responsible for the historical marker commemorating Coates Bluff (located at the corner of Olive St. and Youree Dr.).
Like many settlements and cities throughout history, Coates Bluff and Shreveport can trace their roots back to a river, in this case, the Red River of the South. Our river begins in eastern New Mexico, flows east along the Texas-Oklahoma border, runs briefly between Texas and Arkansas, and then turns abruptly south before flowing into Louisiana where it eventually empties into the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico. The river’s total length is 1,360 miles. It is a shallow, meandering river with highly erodible banks that gets its color and name from the red-clay it transports.
Sometime around 1100 AD, perhaps during a spring flood, the river ate away at its bank and dropped one or more large trees into itself. These became lodged on a downstream sandbar. Subsequent floods and trees were added until one of the longest logjams on the North American continent began reshaping the landscape and influencing regional culture beginning with the Caddo Indians. At its zenith, the Great Raft (a name it received in the 1830’s) extended approximately 160 miles and was said to be up to 25 feet thick. This in turn forced all navigation by boat onto the parallel channels and lakes that it also helped create.
Caddo, Bisteneau, Bodcau, Wallace, Silver, Black, Soda, and Cross lakes, as well as, bayous Loggy and Pierre (and several others) were formed when waters from the river backed up and spilled over its banks as a result of the logjam. Within a wide floodplain, the displaced water followed older channels and made new ones ultimately creating a system of waterways referred to as the Old River. Bayou Pierre followed the western boundary of this floodplain and for centuries was the main channel and preferred detour around the Great Raft (some 100 miles from present day Grand Ecore to a line of bluffs just below present day downtown Shreveport, today known as Coates Bluff).
Given its view of the river basin and proximity to the terminus of the detour, the bluffs have been a place of prominence for hundreds of years. The Caddo Indians had a prominent village just to the west around Caddo Lake. Mounds Plantation, the largest Caddoan ceremonial center in Louisiana, was located less than 10 miles to the north. In the 1860’s the bluffs were also the site of Fort Turnbull, later renamed Fort Humbug (and serving today as Shreveport’s V.A. Hospital), which was built by the Confederate Army to defend Shreveport from Union forces. Within sight of here is the former location of the Coates Bluff settlement.
Coates Bluff was named after James Coates who settled here illegally in 1817 and soon began a Caddo Indian trading post. Preceding him in 1803 was Larkin Edwards, the first non-Indian to settle and establish relations. And even though a series of events began to erode its future soon thereafter —including the establishment of the Cane-Bennet Trading Post in 1832 on an upstream bluff (and the future site of downtown Shreveport); the arrival in 1833 of Captain Henry Miller Shreve who began dismantling the Raft and straightening the river channel (eventually leaving Coates Bluff “high and dry”); and the treaty of 1835 in which the Caddos ceded their land to the U.S. government – New Orleans newspapers announced steamer trade to the river port of Coates Bluff, LA in 1836 and the first post office in our area was located here in April of 1838. A life-sized replica of that post office can be seen inside Shreveport’s main post office located at 2400 Texas Ave.
The bluff is also the site of one of Shreveport’s oldest African American cemeteries, the Hopewell Cemetery. “Burials had begun at the old church site at least as early as 1898, as evidenced by its earliest known grave marker,” writes Dale Jennings. For more information about this cemetery and the land surrounding Coates Bluff, including Wright Island, please see Ms. Keith’s compilation of Mr. Jenning’s work.