The Mighty Red River

Linda pubpixMen have fought rivers all the way back to Biblical days but none more so than the Red River that creates a natural boundary line between Texas and Oklahoma. It’s very long at 1,360 miles and can get very wide in places and is the southernmost major river system in the Great Plains.

Seasoned cattlemen and drovers of those trail drives feared and cursed the crossing as well as those living in towns along its length. It was a roaring, growling beast. The currents were unpredictable and fast moving and, especially when it flooded, you took your life in your own hands crossing it. Many people (and cattle) died in the attempt. The river demanded respect (and got it) and earned the name The Mighty Red. Quicksand also added to the danger.

It begins not far from where I now live in the Texas Panhandle and winds its way to the Mississippi River. It’s notorious for severe flooding even today, despite that the river usually doesn’t contain but a trickle of water. In an effort to control the flood damage, levees and dams were built along the length.

I always feel very sad whenever I drive across it now and see little or no water. I feel we’ve lost part of our history.

red-river-movieThis waterway has been the subject of many books and movies. Howard Hawks directed and produced the blockbuster Red River in 1948, starring John Wayne. It was filmed in Arizona and the San Pedro stood in for the Red River.

Tidbit: John Wayne gave the producers extensive advice about the possible location and logistical problems associated with making Westerns and insisted Howard Hawks hire real cowhands and trained stunt professionals instead of the amateurs he had lined up. The director ended up signing 70 real cowboys for the job. He also contracted to have dozens of horses represent the hundreds required by the story and about a thousand head of cattle at $10 per day each stand in for Dunson’s herd of 10,000. Wayne said once it was clear Hawks was taking his advice seriously and the budget would be increased, he agreed to do the picture.

Another tidbit: Most of the cattle were actually Herefords because they couldn’t find but about two dozen longhorns. They strategically placed the longhorns during the filming to make it appear the herd was comprised solely of these. And the 10,000 strong herd was actually only about a third of that. Camera angles and other tricks were used.

Joanne Dru was the author of the book Red River that they adapted this movie from.

Often a river, town or other place becomes a character. That’s the case with the Red River. I wrote a scene in Heart of a Texas Cowboy (Book 2 of Men of Legend) of Houston Legend driving 2,000 longhorns across it.

Do you know other rivers that cause big problems, maybe where you live? Comment to enter the drawing for one copy (print or ebook) of To Love a Texas Ranger.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

38 thoughts on “The Mighty Red River”

  1. We have the Mad River which is normally very small but can be quite rough. And in 1955 the Naugatuck River flooded and did an incredible amount of damage. Then there is a lovely restaurant that gets flooded regularly by the Connecticut River.

    • Good morning, Debra……Thank you for coming. Rivers can be raging beasts at times. They contain so much power. But, when they’re tame, they can provide much enjoyment.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  2. My husband and I drove up to see the Red River when it flooded really bad a couple years ago. We saw one area where it had taken out a bridge too. I have never seen a river with such force as this one was at the time.

    • Good morning, Janine…….Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you liked my post. I used to live in Wichita Falls, Texas and it floods pretty often from the Wichita River which is a branch of the mighty Red. Looking at the Red on a regular day, it’s hard to envision the large river that caused the cattlemen and others such problems.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  3. Red River is one of my all time favorite westerns. Love the characters and the dialogue. Thank you so much for the interesting tidbits! Rivers were challenging back in the day. The place I just moved from was originally one of the only fords for the Humboldt River, along which the California-Applegate trail ran. Great blog, Linda!

    • Good Morning, Jeannie……..I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Making of the movie was such a huge undertaking back then but Howard Hawks accomplished a feat that still demands admiration. The Red River ranks in the top 50 of the best westerns of all time. I think I’ll watch it again. Nevada has some big rivers and so does Montana. I know you’re missing your Nevada place but soon Montana will steal your heart. I’d give anything to live there.

      Big hugs!

  4. I live near the Arkansas River. It’s been tamed, much like the Red River, with flood control devices, but I remember when I was younger how it used to flood. As a teen, I helped fill sand bags once when a disastrous flood was expected.

    • Good Morning, Vickie……..You’re absolutely right. The Arkansas River could be a monster and probably still can if the conditions are right. Maybe you can tell me why Oklahoma and Texas have long fought over the Red River? In one instance, it went all the way to the Supreme Court. 🙂

      Have a good day, my friend!

  5. I live in Pittsburgh and we are known for our 3 rivers (although there are really 4). It’s how we came to be – the ability for transportation put us on the map. We also have more bridges than any other city lol.

  6. I live near Houston and the closest rivers are the Brazos an the Trinity. I have seen the good a few times. It is awful seeing people and animals trying to get out of the water.

    • Hi Connie……I’ve always thought the Brazos is a pretty river. It can really be a scary one too. It floods quite frequently. I see those people down there trying to get out of the water and it’s very heartbreaking to hear of drownings.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  7. We have a lot of dry river beds in my area… when the monsoons come, they can fill up and block roads or flood the areas. It is amazing how many times on the news you hear about people getting stranded in their cars because they tried to cross it.

    • Hi Colleen……Arizona is notorious for flash floods. Water rushes down those river beds and catches people by surprised. I see it on the news all the time.

      Good Luck in the drawing!

  8. Very interesting blog, Linda! River crossings really add drama in western books and movies. I enjoyed the action sequences in To Love a Texas Ranger. It was a 5-star read for me! When will the next 2 books come out?

    • Hi Cheryl C……I’m so happy that you enjoyed To Love a Texas Ranger and thank you for the five stars. That’s wonderful. I think I did put more action sequences into this book than any other. The story just seemed to call for a lot of twists and turns and excitement. Book #2 – HEART OF A TEXAS RANGER – will be out in May. This one is about Houston and he goes on a cattle drive to try to save the Lone Star Ranch. Book #3 will follow in November next year. By the way Heart of a Texas Cowboy is available for preorder.

      Have a great day!

  9. I live in South Bend, Indiana, which got it’s name because it sits near the southernmost bend of the St. Joseph River (St. Joe River to the locals). Back in the day, the river played an integral part in South Bend’s industrial development which included Studebaker Corporation and the Oliver Chilled Plow Company. Today there are many walking paths that you can take along the river. You’ll see people fishing and sometimes you’ll see the University of Notre Dame rowing team practicing. The river is known to rise only when we have excessive rains, but that doesn’t happen very often. So, when I read westerns where there are river crossings with cattle and all, I envision a river much larger than the St. Joe.

    • Hi Dali…..Thanks for coming. It sounds like you live in a great place. It must be really pretty. Rivers play a huge part in cities and can add to the importance of the area. Just imagine thousands of cattle trying to swim across a wide body of water. There’s chaos, panicked animals are trampling others, and they’re not very good swimmers. It was a not a good situation.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  10. Rivers are something else. They move around, cut into land, cause flooding. Our business is actually located in Red River County as is our ranch and that Mighty Red is not far away from us at all.

    • Hi Melanie…..I’m glad to see you. Sounds like you and the Red are well acquainted. I’ve always been amazed at how powerful water is. It can cut through solid rock and land and goes wherever it wants.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  11. Linda – Enjoyed your post about the Red River. I live around White River, here in Indiana it does flood a lot sometimes & it ruins peoples lives, property & etc.
    Love reading your books. Thanks for a chance to win a copy of your new book.

    • Hi Lois….Thank you so much for the kind words about my books. I’m glad you like what I write. Maybe you’ll win a copy of my new one. The White River sounds nice. I’ll bet it’s a pretty body of water.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  12. The Mississippi River does its share of damage. The Red River does lots of damage in the Dakotas. The Colorado River does its share. Really, as this year has shown, any river can flood and cause serious damage if enough rain falls fast enough.
    No need to put my name in the drawing.

    • Hi Patricia B……Thanks for coming to join the conversation. You’re absolutely right. Any river can become a raging beast if the conditions are right. The only thing is, the Red River was rarely ever docile. Cattlemen hated crossing it. Have a wonderful day.

  13. Linda,

    The South Platte River runs along the north side of Fort Morgan, Colorado, which is my hometown (moved away years ago, though). The South Platte was notorious for being a calm, not more than a wading stream river most of the time, but when there was a lot of snowmelt from the mountains 100 miles to the west, we’d get the brunt of the flood waters.

    • Hi Kay……Thank you for coming. I love seeing you. The South Platte River sounds scary when those snows melted. I’ll bet the water charged down the river like an angry bull.

      Good luck in the drawing!

  14. Linda, as always a wonderful subject. I grew up only 35 miles from the Brazos River. Sad thing about it, is I’ve lost several friends due to its undercurrents. I now live in Kansas and the Cimarron River is only 20 miles from me. I’ve been up here 22 years and this was the 1st year I ever seen it flow. It held water for 3 months and it was absolutely beautiful. The night Red River, now that’s a river, I cross over it every time I go back home to Texas to see my family. I agree it’s so sad to see it just set there dried up. If she could talk what wonderful stories she could tell. I loved this topic. I read everyone’s comments and was amazed at all the rivers & that are in our great country.

    • Hi Tonya……So happy to see you! Those undercurrents are really bad on the Brazos. I’m so sorry you’ve lost friends. That’s horrible. I agree that it would be great if these rivers could talk. What stories they could tell. I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog.

      Big hugs, sister friend!

  15. I don’t live anywhere near a river but we do have a good sized creek that runs though town and during heavy rains it does tend to run over it’s banks and flooding occurs.

    Cindy W.

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