Caddo Lake is impounded by Caddo Dam in the Cypress Creek basin in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, and extends into Harrison and Marion counties, Texas; the center of the lake is located twenty-nine miles northeast of Marshall (at 30°42' N, 97°20' W). The lake, named for the Caddo Indians, was one of the largest natural lakes in the South prior to the construction of the dam. According to Caddo legend the lake was formed by an earthquake caused by a Caddo chief's failure to obey the Great Spirit. The more prosaic explanation of the lake's origin is that it was formed behind a log jam in the Red River. In 1874 the United States government destroyed the log jam, or Red River Raft, as it was called (see RED RIVER).
In 1914 a dam was completed near Mooringsport, Louisiana. Construction was begun on a replacement dam in 1968 and completed in 1971. The dam is owned and operated by the Caddo Lake Levee District. The project was constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers for water-supply purposes. Caddo Lake is formed by an earthfill dam some 1,540 feet long and is used for recreation, wildlife preserves, and water conservation. The crest of the spillway is 170.5 feet above mean sea level, the conservation storage capacity is 69,200 acre-feet, and the surface area is 20,700 acres. The drainage area above the dam (including the drainage area of Lake O' the Pines) comprises 2,700 square miles. The lake is the heart of the 500-acre Caddo State Park, established in 1934; it is noted for its giant cypress trees, plentiful fish, and excellent duck and goose hunting. In 1993, in an attempt to block the construction of a barge canal through the lake, environmentalists secured recognition of Caddo Lake as an international wetlands site, the thirteenth such site in the United States.
Along the shores of Caddo Lake and Cypress Creek are to be found many towns and ghost towns dating back to the days of the Republic of Texas. Swanson's Landing on Broad Lake was near the place of the burning of the steamer Mittie Stevens in 1869, when some sixty persons were burned to death at night, not realizing that the shore was so close or the water so shallow. Farther up the bayou were Port Caddo, the port of entry for the Republic of Texas in the northeast, and Benton, from which much of the river freight was distributed to other parts of Texas before Jefferson became the head of navigation. A short distance inland from Port Caddo is the site of Macon, called the "Lost Colony" after its settlers moved to Port Caddo. Another point of historical interest is the government ditch that was dredged upstream toward Jefferson so that cotton could be shipped from Texas to New Orleans on the Red River.