The Port of Catoosa, America's Most Inland Port
The Arkansas River has 18 locks and dams, 5 in Oklahoma and 13 in Arkansas, that drop the river level 420 feet before it reaches the Mississippi River. This navigable portion is roughly 444 miles from Catoosa, OK, to the Mississippi. That leaves a mere 599 miles of the Mississippi remaining before reaching the Gulf. I’ll leave that segment for another trip. If you count the entire river from the Colorado snow pack, it is 1,469 miles long. The Arkansas River is one of the five largest rivers in the U.S., and the longest tributary of the Lower Mississippi.
The first accounts of the Arkansas River come from the expedition journals of Spanish conquistador and explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. He lead an expedition north from Mexico between 1540 and 1542, and traveled through what would become Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The force he lead included 400 Europeans, 4 Franciscan monks, and up to 2,000 Mexican Indian allies. When he reached the Arkansas, he named it the St. Peter and St. Paul River. That horribly lengthy miscarriage was corrected by early French traders that renamed it the Akansa, after the American Indian tribes that lived along the river.
After the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty, the Arkansas River formed the boundary between the United States and Spanish Mexico. That border existed until the Mexican-American War of 1846 and the annexation of Texas. Later, the Santa Fe Trail ran west along the Arkansas River.
Through the 19th century, the Arkansas was rarely navigable above Fort Smith, Arkansas. During the 20th century, the water levels in the river continued to drop as water was drawn off by farmers along its course for irrigation purposes. To correct this problem, the creation of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System opened the river to navigation to the Port of Catoosa, near Tulsa, OK, making it the most inland commercial port in the United States. The waterway, named after the two Democratic Senators, one each from Oklahoma and Arkansas, who worked to advance the proposal through Congress. The waterway was to include the lower portion of the Verdigris River, the Arkansas, and a short segment of the White River before its confluence with the Mississippi. Construction was begun in 1963 and the waterway opened to commercial traffic in 1971.