deep in the woodlands bordering the Neches River are the last remains
of what may be the earliest fort built in East
Texas. And, perhaps, a buried treasure.
Unlike the forts Texas built to protect settlers from Indians, Fort
Teran was established by Mexico in 1831 to control the flow of smugglers
and illegal immigrants into Texas. The
site was sometimes referred to as the "pass to the South."
Three important trails -- the Coushatta Trace, the Alabama Trace and
the Nacogdoches-Oroquisac road --crossed the Neches River near where
the fort was built, underscoring the significance of the site.
The fort was named for General Manuel de Mier y Teran, commandant
general of the eastern division of Mexican Texas. Teran made an inspection
tour of Texas
in 1829 and observed that Americans were sneaking into Texas
by using the Indian trails. When he returned to Mexico, he helped
draft a law in 1830 forbidding Americans from settling in Texas.
The responsibility for enforcing the law was assigned to Teran, as
a director of colonization, and his program included the construction
of garrisons on the Neches and several other East
Peter Ellis Bean, a colonel in the Mexican army, was chosen to build
Fort Teran. He left Nacogdoches
for the Neches River on September 25, 1831, but work on the fort moved
slowly. When the garrison was finally finished, it had ten wooden
cabins to provide housing for Bean and his troops.
The site in what is now Tyler County lies about three miles west of
Rockland on the river's south banks. The river crossing provided access
across the Kisatchie Wold, a ridge running from the Mississippi River
to the Rio Grande valley. At the time, the ridge was considered a
formidable obstacle to travel for north-south travel. In northern
Tyler County, the ridge reaches heights of 400 to 450 feet above sea
level at several peaks and has forced the Neches to run eastward along
the county's northern boundary.
Fort Teran was abandoned when the Mexican government found it was
unable to support its Texas forts adequately. In 1834, the last of
the Fort Teran troops were transferred from the river, leaving about
a dozen civilians at the site.
Samuel T. Belt opened a trading post and a post office functioned
there between 1856 and 1866. Steamboats used the river until the railroads
came to East
in the 1880s.
A ferry also operated at the site. It was known at different times
as Belt's Ferry, Boone's Ferry and Duncan Ferry. When a highway was
completed east of the site in 1917, the ferry went out of business.
Fort Teran today is both difficult to find and controversial. A logging
road leads to the site and a state historical marker erected during
the Texas Centennial in 1936 stands on a bluff known as Money Hill.
The site was named because of rumors that Mexican troops had buried
in the river's mud a cannon filled with gold coins. Another story
claims the fortune was hidden in a cave excavated in the river banks.
A more reasonable explanation is that the cave was only a salt mine.
In recent years, there has been some speculation that the Centennial
monument may have been placed at the wrong place on the river, perhaps
even in the wrong county. Decades ago, a Lufkin historian wrote that
Fort Teran really stood on the north bank of the Neches in Angelina
15-21 , 2004 column
syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
(All Things Historical is a service of the East Texas Historical
Association. Bob Bowman is the author of 30 books on East Texas and
a former president of the association.)