environmentalists and water developers duel over the merits of preserving the
Neches River, the debate has largely overlooked the river’s history.|
Sometimes called East Texas’ last
wild river, the Neches has been flowing though eastern Texas longer than any of
the remnants of mankind, even the earliest Indians.
| || The
Neches River in Beaumont|
Postcard courtesy Cruse Aviation
near Colfax in eastern Van Zandt County
and winding 416 circuitous miles to the mouth of Sabine Lake on the Gulf Coast,
the river and its basin was the home of the 12,000-year-old Clovis culture. |
Indian culture reached its peak with the arrival of the Caddos about 780
The Caddos developed Mound Prairie in Cherokee
County, the southwesternmost example of the Mississippian mound-building culture.
Artifacts from this era can be seen at the Caddoan
Mounds State Historic Site, a few miles west of Alto.
When the first Europeans came to East
Texas in the sixteenth century, they found various tribes of Hasinai Indians
of the Caddo confederacy living along the stream, which they called the Snow River--presumably
for its white sand bars.
The river was supposedly given its currebt name
by Spanish explorer Alonso De Leon, who named it for the Neches Indians, one of
the Caddoan tribes he encountered.
On a later mission, De Leon was accompanied
by Fray Damian Massanet, who founded San
Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in East
Texas, near present-day Weches in Houston County.
Despite the efforts
of the Spanish to colonize the river basin, white settlers did not enter the region
until the l820s, When Mexican official General de Mier y Teran was sent to the
region in 1828, he found numerous Anglo-American settlers, who used hand-driven
ferries to cross the Neches and open the region to settlement.
Teran built a fort on a bluff of the Neches near present-day Rockland in Tyler
County to serve as a Mexican outpost in the region. The Mexicans supposedly operated
a lead mine on the bluff until the fort was abandoned. The exact site of the fort
On his first trip to Texas,
Stephen F. Austin wrote in 1821 that the Neches “affords tolerable keel boat navigation.”
Barges were used to float cotton and other farm produce to Sabine Bay in the l830s
and 1840s and steamboats began to travel up and down the waterway in the late
l840s. Some of the earliest steamers include the Angelina, Florida, Frankie,
Katy, Laura, Neches Belle, Pearl River and Star.
up and down the length of the river are remnants of history, including old river
ports, logging camps, sawmill
ghost towns, ferries, and Republic
of Texas landmarks.
| || Aerial
view of the Neches River and downtown Beaumont|
Postcard courtesy Cruse
|One of the basin’s
most significant historical sites is old Bevilport, which lies north of
Steinhagen Reservoir. The town, only a shell of its former self, was the seat
of government for the Bevil District and the county seat of Jasper County.|
The two also had some ties with Sam Houston. The general was given the town’s
first lot when it was incorporated by the Republic of Texas in 1837.
An entry in an old store ledger also shows the hero of San
Jacinto also bought a gallon of kerosene on credit there in the l830s -- and
never paid for it.