The L’Anguille River arises west of Harrisburg (Poinsett County) from the confluence of several creeks and agricultural ditches and flows south, always on the western side of Crowley’s Ridge until it nears Marianna (Lee County), where it cuts east across the ridge and empties into the St. Francis River. In the twenty-first century, the L’Anguille River was designated an impaired watershed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to excessive siltation and pollution from agricultural runoff.
The area around the L’Anguille River has been the site of human habitation as far back as 10,000 BC. Among the many sites of prehistoric habitation along the river basin is the Lace site, a Dalton Period site located in Poinsett County. In fact, the Dalton Period expression of much of the Central Mississippi Valley is called the L’Anguille phase after the river. In the eighteenth century, French trappers operated along the river, naming it after the French word for “eel.” Friedrich Gerstäcker described the river basin as consisting of “swamps and thorns, creepers, wild vines, fallen trees, half or entirely rotted, deep and muddy water-courses, bushes so thick that you could hardly stick a knife into them, and, to complete the enjoyment, clouds of mosquitoes and gnats, not to mention snakes lying about on the edges of the water-courses.”
The largest city established along the L’Anguille River is Marianna, which was founded in 1848 as Walnut Ridge. Within ten years, however, it was relocated three miles downstream to where the river was navigable throughout the year, thus giving the settlement an important transportation corridor for goods. The Plow Boy was the first steamboat to venture up the L’Anguille. During the Civil War, a number of military events took place near the river, including the August 3, 1862, Skirmish at L’Anguille Ferry, and the May 12, 1863, Skirmish at Taylor’s Creek.
The L’Anguille River, like the Cache River to the west, proved to be a major obstacle for the construction of the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad; the gap in the line between the Cache and L’Anguille rivers was not completed until 1871. Like many other rivers in eastern Arkansas, which tend to be slow-moving streams, the L’Anguille is prone to flooding. During both the Flood of 1927 and the Flood of 1937, the river spilled out from its banks, inundating the surrounding farmland.
As with much of northeastern Arkansas, the L’Anguille River basin was the site of enormous timber harvests in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After the land was cleared, the area became home to large-scale agricultural enterprises, especially the rice farming that was emerging west of Crowley’s Ridge; indeed, rice and soybeans encompass nearly sixty percent of the land use in the L’Anguille River watershed—which covers 938 square miles—as of the early twenty-first century. Many of the channels feeding into the river have been straightened for agricultural use, which has increased soil erosion. This runoff, combined with the presence of fecal coliform bacteria, resulted in portions of the river being listed by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality as “not supporting aquatic life” in 1998. As of 2010, a number of projects are in the works for improving the water quality of the river.
For additional information:
Bennet, David. “Project Focuses on L’Anguille River Watershed.” Delta Farm Press. August 4, 2006. https://www.farmprogress.com/project-focuses-l-anguille-river-watershed (accessed February 22, 2022).
“TMDLS for Turbidity and Fecal Coliforms for L’Anguille River, AR.” Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.arkansaswater.org/Documents/tmdl/LAnguille_Turbidity_FecalColiform_Oct2001.pdf (accessed February 22, 2022).
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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