Canadian River

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This article is about the river in the southwestern United States. For other uses, see Canadian River (disambiguation).
Coordinates: 35°27′12″N 95°01′58″W / 35.45333°N 95.03278°W / 35.45333; -95.03278
Canadian River Railroad Bridge Logan New Mexico 2010.jpg
Canadian River south of Logan, New Mexico.
Country United States
States Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas
Source Rocky Mountains
 - location Las Animas County, Colorado
 - elevation 2,900 m (9,514 ft)
 - coordinates 37°01′11″N 105°04′33″W / 37.01972°N 105.07583°W / 37.01972; -105.07583
Mouth Arkansas River
 - location Haskell County, Oklahoma
 - elevation 142 m (466 ft)
 - coordinates 35°27′12″N 95°01′58″W / 35.45333°N 95.03278°W / 35.45333; -95.03278
Length 906 mi (1,458 km)
Basin 47,576 sq mi (123,221 km2)
Discharge for Whitefield, Oklahoma
 - average 6,434 cu ft/s (182 m3/s)
 - max 281,000 cu ft/s (7,957 m3/s)
 - min 357 cu ft/s (10 m3/s)
Canadian River Watershed
Website: Handbook of Texas: Canadian River

The Canadian River (Pawnee: Kícpahat [1]) is the longest tributary of the Arkansas River. It is about 906 miles (1,458 km) long, starting in Colorado and traveling through New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and Oklahoma.

The Canadian is sometimes referred to as the South Canadian River to differentiate it from the North Canadian River that flows into it.


It is unclear why the river is called the Canadian. On John C. Fremont's route map of 1845 the river's name is listed as "Goo-al-pah or Canadian River" from the Comanche and Kiowa name for the river (Kiowa gúlvàu, (IPA: [gúdl-p'ɔː]) 'red river'). The name may have been given to the river by early French hunters and traders, especially the Mallet brothers, who came from Canada and who assumed the river flowed north to Canada, [2] since it does flow northeast through part of the Texas Panhandle. In 1929 Muriel H. Wright wrote that the Canadian River was named about 1820 by French traders who noted another group of traders from Canada had camped on the river near its confluence with the Arkansas River.[3]

According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Spanish explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries called it the Rio Buenaventura and the Magdalena.[2] The upper part was called Rio Colorado by the Spanish[citation needed].

The name could be of Spanish origin from the word cañada (meaning "glen"), as the Canadian River formed a steep canyon in northern New Mexico and a somewhat broad canyon in Texas. A few historical records document this explanation. Edward Hale, writing in 1929, considered the French origin of the name most probable.[4]

A more recent explanation comes from William Bright, who wrote that the name is "probably derived from Río Canadiano", a Spanish spelling of the Caddo word káyántinu, which was the Caddos' name for the nearby Red River.[5]


By the Treaty of Doak's Stand in 1820, the Canadian River was made the northern boundary of the Choctaw Nation. Early immigrants to California followed the south bank of the Canadian to Santa Fe. In 1845 the river was explored by Lieutenants James William Abert and William G. Peck of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Their journey was chronicled in the Journal of Lieutenant J.W. Abert from Bent’s Fort to St. Louis, first published in 1846. The Texas Ranger Division also was active in the area[citation needed].


The river rises on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, at approximately 9,600 ft (2,900 m),[6] in remote southwestern Las Animas County, Colorado, approximately 1.5 mi (2.5 km) north of the New Mexico border. It flows ESE across the border, then south, passing west of Raton, New Mexico. It forms a deep canyon south of Springer, New Mexico. At its first dam at Conchas Lake, the river turns eastward. It is also dammed at Logan, New Mexico, where it forms Ute Lake. From there it crosses the Texas Panhandle, dammed at Sanford, Texas, where it forms Lake Meredith. The canyon the river carves through eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle is the northern border of the Llano Estacado, separating it from the rest of the Great Plains. From Texas the Canadian continues eastward into Oklahoma, passing just south of Oklahoma City. At Eufaula, Oklahoma, it is dammed once again, forming Eufaula Lake, its largest. About 20 miles (32 km) downstream it joins the Arkansas River at Robert S. Kerr Reservoir, about 40 miles (64 km) west of the Arkansas border.

Much of the time the Canadian is a slow-moving waterway bounded by red mud flats and quicksand. When sufficient rain has fallen, the river can carry substantial amounts of water.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AISRI Dictionary Database Search--prototype version. "River", Southband Pawnee". American Indian Studies Research Institute. Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  2. ^ a b Everett, Dianna. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. "Canadian River." Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  3. ^ Wright, Muriel H. "Some Geographic Names of French Origin in Oklahoma", Chronicles of Oklahoma, 7(2):188-193, June 1929.
  4. ^ Hale, Edward E. "French Place-Names in New Mexico", French Review, 3(2):110-112, November 1929.
  5. ^ Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-8061-3598-4. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  6. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Canadian River

External links[edit]