Ouachita River

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Ouachita River
Ouachita River, Arkansas.jpg
Ouachita River in Ouachita County, Arkansas
Ouachita watershed.png
Map of the Ouachita River watershed. The Ouachita joins the Tensas River near Jonesville, Louisiana to form the Black River (Louisiana).
Country United States
State Arkansas, Louisiana
Cities Hot Springs, Arkansas, Camden, Arkansas, Monroe, Louisiana, West Monroe, Louisiana
Physical characteristics
  location Ouachita Mountains, Polk County, Arkansas
  coordinates 34°41′56″N94°19′57″W / 34.69889°N 94.33250°W / 34.69889; -94.33250
Mouth Black River
Catahoula Parish, near Jonesville, Louisiana
31°37′53″N91°48′25″W / 31.63139°N 91.80694°W / 31.63139; -91.80694 Coordinates: 31°37′53″N91°48′25″W / 31.63139°N 91.80694°W / 31.63139; -91.80694
Length605 mi (974 km)
Basin features
  left Little Missouri, Saline, Tensas
  right Caddo, Little
Blakely Mountain Dam on the Ouachita River in Garland County, Arkansas. The dam impounds Lake Ouachita. USACE Blakely Mountain Dam.jpg
Blakely Mountain Dam on the Ouachita River in Garland County, Arkansas. The dam impounds Lake Ouachita.
Columbia Lock and Dam on the Ouachita River USACE Columbia Lock Ouachita River.jpg
Columbia Lock and Dam on the Ouachita River

The Ouachita River ( /ˈwɑːʃɪtɑː/ WAH-shi-tah) is a 605-mile-long (974 km) [1] river that runs south and east through the U.S. states of Arkansas and Louisiana, joining the Tensas River to form the Black River near Jonesville, Louisiana. It is the 25th-longest river in the United States (by main stem).

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders. Four states use the term commonwealth rather than state in their full official names.



The Ouachita River begins in the Ouachita Mountains near Mena, Arkansas. It flows east into Lake Ouachita, a reservoir created by Blakely Mountain Dam. The North Fork and South Fork of the Ouachita flow into Lake Ouachita to join the main stream. Portions of the river in this region flow through the Ouachita National Forest. From the lake, the Ouachita flows south into Lake Hamilton, a reservoir created by Carpenter Dam, named after Flavius Josephus Carpenter. The city of Hot Springs lies on the north side of Lake Hamilton. Another reservoir, Lake Catherine, impounds the Ouachita just below Lake Hamilton. Below Lake Catherine, the river flows free through most of the rest of Arkansas.

Ouachita Mountains

The Ouachita Mountains, simply referred to as the Ouachitas, are a mountain range in western Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. They are formed by a thick succession of highly deformed Paleozoic strata constituting the Ouachita Fold and Thrust Belt, one of the important orogenic belts of North America. The Ouachitas continue in the subsurface to the southeast where they make a poorly understood connection with the Appalachians and to the southwest where they join with the Marathon area of West Texas. Together with the Ozark Plateaus, the Ouachitas form the U.S. Interior Highlands. The highest natural point is Mount Magazine at 2,753 feet.

Mena, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Mena is a city in Polk County, Arkansas, United States. It is also the county seat of Polk County. The population was 5,737 as of 2010 census.

Just below Lake Catherine, the river bends south near Malvern, and collects the Caddo River near Arkadelphia. Downstream, the Little Missouri River joins the Ouachita. After passing the city of Camden, shortly downstream from where dredging for navigational purposes begins, the river collects the waters of Smackover Creek and later the Ouachita's main tributary, the Saline River. South of the Saline, the Ouachita flows into Lake Jack Lee, a reservoir created by the Ouachita and Black River Project, just north of the Louisiana state line. The Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge encompasses the Ouachita from the Saline River to Lake Jack Lee's mouth.

Malvern, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Malvern is a city in and the county seat of Hot Spring County, Arkansas, United States. Founded as a railroad stop at the eastern edge of the Ouachita Mountains, the community's history and economy have been tied to available agricultural and mineral resources. The production of bricks from locally available clay has earned the city the nickname, "The Brick Capital of the World". The city had a population of 10,318 at the time of the 2010 census, and in 2015 the estimated population was 10,928.

Caddo River river in the United States of America

The Caddo River is a tributary of the Ouachita River in the U.S. state of Arkansas. The river is about 82 miles (132 km) long.

Arkadelphia, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Arkadelphia is a city in Clark County, Arkansas, United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 10,714. The city is the county seat of Clark County. It is situated at the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. Two universities, Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University, are located there. Arkadelphia was incorporated in 1857.

Below Lake Jack Lee, the Ouachita continues south into Louisiana. The river flows generally south through the state, collecting the tributary waters of Bayou Bartholomew, Bayou de Loutre, Bayou d'Arbonne, the Boeuf River, and the Tensas River.

Bayou Bartholomew bayou in Arkansas and Louisiana, United States of America

Bayou Bartholomew is the longest bayou in the world meandering approximately 364 miles (586 km) between the U.S. states of Arkansas and Louisiana. It contains over 100 aquatic species making it the second most diverse stream in North America. Known for its excellent bream, catfish, and crappie fishing, portions of the bayou are considered some of the best kept secrets of Arkansas anglers. It starts northwest of the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in the Hardin community, winds through parts of Jefferson, Lincoln, Desha, Drew, Chicot, and Ashley counties in Arkansas, and Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, and eventually dumps into the Ouachita River after passing by the northernmost tip of Ouachita Parish, near Sterlington, Louisiana. The bayou serves as the primary border separating the Arkansas Delta from the Arkansas Timberlands.

Boeuf River river in the United States of America

The Boeuf River is a tributary of the Ouachita River in the U.S. states of Arkansas and Louisiana. The river is about 216 miles (348 km) long.

Tensas River river in the United States of America

The Tensas River is a river in Louisiana in the United States. The river, known as Tensas Bayou in its upper reaches, begins in East Carroll Parish in the northeast corner of the state and runs roughly southwest for 177 miles (285 km) more or less in parallel with the Mississippi River. The Tensas River merges with the Ouachita River in Jonesville in Catahoula Parish to become the Black River, not to be confused with Black Lake in Natchitoches Parish in north central Louisiana.

The Ouachita has five locks and dams along its length, located at Camden, Calion, and Felsenthal, Arkansas, and in Columbia and Jonesville, Louisiana.

Lock (water navigation) Device for raising and lowering boats or ships

A lock is a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways. The distinguishing feature of a lock is a fixed chamber in which the water level can be varied; whereas in a caisson lock, a boat lift, or on a canal inclined plane, it is the chamber itself that rises and falls.

Dam A barrier that stops or restricts the flow of surface or underground streams

A dam is a barrier that stops or restricts the flow of water or underground streams. Reservoirs created by dams not only suppress floods but also provide water for activities such as irrigation, human consumption, industrial use, aquaculture, and navigability. Hydropower is often used in conjunction with dams to generate electricity. A dam can also be used to collect water or for storage of water which can be evenly distributed between locations. Dams generally serve the primary purpose of retaining water, while other structures such as floodgates or levees are used to manage or prevent water flow into specific land regions. The earliest known dam is the Jawa Dam in Jordan, dating to 3,000 BC.

Camden, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Camden is a city in and the county seat of Ouachita County in the south-central part of the U.S. state of Arkansas. Located on a bluff overlooking the Ouachita River, Camden is a city rich in Civil War history. The city is located around 100 miles (160 km) from Little Rock and 50 miles (80 km) miles north of Louisiana. First known as a French trading post called Ecore à Fabri, its history has been closely tied to the river and it was called the “Queen City” of the Ouachita during the steamboat era. In 1864, Camden became the unintended focus of the Red River Campaign, a major Civil War effort resulting in several significant battles.

Black River

The river below the junction with the Tensas at 31°16′22″N91°50′01″W / 31.27278°N 91.83361°W / 31.27278; -91.83361 is called the Black River and flows for 41.6 miles (66.9 km) [2] in Catahoula and Concordia parishes until it joins the Red River, which flows into both the Atchafalaya River and the Mississippi River, via the Old River Control Structure.

Catahoula Parish, Louisiana Parish in the United States

Catahoula Parish is a parish in the U.S. state of Louisiana. As of the 2010 census, the population was 10,407. Its seat is Harrisonburg, on the Ouachita River. The parish was formed in 1808, shortly after the United States acquired this territory in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

Concordia Parish, Louisiana Parish in the United States

Concordia Parish borders the Mississippi River in eastern central Louisiana. As of the 2010 census, the population was 20,822. The parish seat is Vidalia. The parish was formed in 1807.

Red River of the South major tributary of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers in the southern United States

The Red River, or sometimes the Red River of the South, is a major river in the southern United States of America. It was named for the red-bed country of its watershed. It is one of several rivers with that name. Although it was once a tributary of the Mississippi River, the Red River is now a tributary of the Atchafalaya River, a distributary of the Mississippi that flows separately into the Gulf of Mexico. It is connected to the Mississippi River by the Old River Control Structure.


The river is named for the Ouachita tribe, one of several historic tribes who lived along it. Others included the Caddo, Osage Nation, Tensa, Chickasaw, and Choctaw. The historian Muriel Hazel Wright suggested that word Ouachita owa chito is a Choctaw phrase meaning "hunt big" or "good hunting grounds". [3] [4]

Before the rise of the historic tribes, their indigenous ancestors lived along the river for thousands of years. In the Lower Mississippi Valley, they began building monumental earthwork mounds in the Middle Archaic period (6000–2000 BC in Louisiana). [5] The earliest construction was Watson Brake, an 11-mound complex built about 3500 BC by hunter gatherers in present-day Louisiana. The discovery and dating of several such early sites in northern Louisiana has changed the traditional model, which associated mound building with sedentary, agricultural societies, but these cultures did not develop for thousands of years.

The largest such prehistoric mound was destroyed in the 20th century during construction of a bridge at Jonesville, Louisiana. Likely built by the Mississippian culture, which rose about 1000 AD on the Mississippi and its tributaries, this mound was reported in use as late as 1540 by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. On his expedition through this area, he encountered Indians occupying the site. A lightning strike destroyed the temple on the mound that year, which was seen as a bad omen by the tribe. They never rebuilt the temple, and were recorded as abandoning the site in 1736.

During the late 1700s, when the area was controlled by the Spanish and French, the river served as a route for early colonists, and for land speculators such as the self-styled Baron de Bastrop. [6] The "Bastrop lands" later passed into the hands of another speculator, former Vice President Aaron Burr. He saw potential for big profits in the event of a war with Spain following the Louisiana Purchase. Burr and many of his associates were arrested for treason, before their band of armed settlers reached the Ouachita.

During the 1830s, the Ouachita River Valley attracted land speculators from New York and southeastern cities. Its rich soil and accessibility due to the country's elaborate river steamboat network made it desirable. Developers cultivated land for large cotton plantations; dependent on slave labor, cotton production supported new planter wealth in the ante-bellum years. Steamboats ran scheduled trips between Camden, Arkansas and New Orleans, for example. A person could travel from any eastern city to the Ouachita River without touching land, except to transfer from one steamboat to another.

One of the investors from the east was Meriwether Lewis Randolph, the youngest grandson of Thomas Jefferson. He was building a home on the Ouachita River in what is now Clark County, Arkansas, when he died of malaria in 1837. He had been appointed Secretary of the Arkansas Territory by President Andrew Jackson in 1835, and had relinquished his commission when Arkansas became a state in 1836.

Skirmishes took place near the Ouachita River during the American Civil War. On September 1, 1863, forces of the Seventeenth Wisconsin led by Brig. Gen. M. M. Crocker crossed from Natchez, Mississippi to Vidalia, the seat of Concordia Parish, and moved toward the lower Ouachita in the section called the Black River. That night the Confederate steamer Rinaldo was captured by Union forces after a short artillery duel and was destroyed. Crocker fought with the few troops stationed on the Black River and moved toward Harrisonburg, seat of Catahoula Parish. [7]

A 337-mile-long "Ouachita-Black Rivers Navigation Project" began in 1902, to create a navigable waterway from Camden, Arkansas to Jonesville, Louisiana, and when completed in 1924 included six locks and dams that were 84 feet wide and 600 feet in length, having from 3 to 5 tainter gates. Including the Black River the total navigable length is 351 miles. [8] The Ouachita-Black Rivers Navigation Project has less than a million tons of shipping annually which has the likely prospect of the future withdrawal of federal support. The project's system of dams and locks enhances the river's recreational use and regional water supply. [9]

Natural history

A floating camp on the Ouachita River in Louisiana Floating camp on the Ouachita River.jpg
A floating camp on the Ouachita River in Louisiana

The river continues to be utilized for commercial navigation on a smaller scale than during its "steamboat" days. [10] It is fed by numerous small creeks containing endemic native fish such as killifish. Fishing remains popular in the river for black bass, white bass, bream, freshwater drum, and gar. Concerns about airborne mercury contamination in some areas discourage consumption of the fish for food. Fishing for rainbow trout is popular in the tailwaters of Lakes Ouachita, Hamilton and Catherine in and around Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The river is commercially navigable from Camden, Arkansas, to its terminal point in Jonesville in Catahoula Parish in eastern Louisiana. Upstream of Camden, the river receives substantial recreational use.

The Ouachita is lined for most of its length with deep woods, including substantial wetlands. It has a scenic quality representative of the southwestern Arkansas and northern Louisiana region.


Major towns along the river are:

See also

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Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge

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  1. Howard Perlman, USGS (2012-10-31). "Lengths of major rivers, from USGS Water-Science School". Ga.water.usgs.gov. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  2. U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed June 3, 2011
  3. Sandy Nestor (29 November 2004). Indian Placenames in America. McFarland. p. 1. ISBN   978-0-7864-7167-6.
  4. Deborah Bouziden (1 May 2015). Oklahoma Off the Beaten Path®: A Guide to Unique Places. Globe Pequot Press. pp. 61–. ISBN   978-1-4930-1849-9.
  5. Cathy Corder. "Louisiana History". Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2018-04-19.
  6. Chamberlain, Charles; Faber, Lo. "Spanish Colonial Louisiana". Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  7. John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963, ISBN   0-8071-0834-0, pp. 302–303
  8. Ouachita-Black River navigation- Retrieved 2017-03-05
  9. Bolden, Bonnie. (May 28, 2018). "What if the Ouachita River dried up?" The News Star. (Monroe, LA). News Star website Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  10. "Ouachita River Steamboats". Ouachita River Foundation. Retrieved April 19, 2018.