The Neches River
Its History and Culture . . .
Originating springs start at an elevation 545 feet above sea level just east of Colfax in Van Zandt County. From here, 416 miles of winding river flows to the Gulf Coast It has a drainage area of approximately 10,011 square miles. (An analysis..., 1974). The Neches River gained its name from the Spanish who took the name from the Caddo word "Nachawi," meaning "wood of the bow," bois d'arc trees, that grew along its banks (Donovan, 2007).
The Caddo Indians reach the Neches about A.D. 780, bringing the American Indian population to its peak. When Hernando de Soto's expedition entered Texas looking for a route to Mexico in 1542, Spaniards were greeted with the word Tejas, meaning "friend." The Spanish concluded that was what the natives called themselves and therefore, called all of the land east of the Trinity River Tejas-later Texas (Donovan, 2007).
The first European settlement in Texas, the mission San Francisco de los Tejas, was build in 1690 near the mouth of San Pedro Creek where today's community of Weches exists. Spanish attempts to establish a permanent colony among the Neches Caddo failed, but in 1779 Antonio Gil Y' Barbo led a group of settlers back to the Nacogdoches and that settlement claims to be the oldest town in Texas (Donovan, 2007).
Twenty years following the Nacogdoches settlement, other Native American tribes began moving into the Caddo lands. Most were Cherokee, but Choctaw, Kickapoo, Shawnee, and Cherokee lived in these lands peacefully for at least 35 years. Mirabeau B. Lamar broke this peaceful existence when as the second President of the Republic of Texas decided to purge all Indians to make way for the Anglo settlers (Donovan, 2007).
Arriving Cherokees through 1820 received permission from the Spanish to settle on the land. Bureaucracy with Europe presented title transfer before the Mexican revolted and overthrew their Spanish controllers. Sam Houston, John Forbes and John Cameron hoped to keep the Indians neutral in the war with Mexico. A Treaty was signed in February, 1836, that gave the Cherokees and related tribes the title to all the lands between the Angelina and Sabine Rivers. Unfortunately, Santa Anna was defeated quickly at San Jacinto, and the Texas Senate did not ratify the treaty.
On that bluff they build a two-room log cabin with dog trot and mud chimney. Tevis cleared a twenty-acre field with com and sweet potatoes and planted peach and fig trees. He built a cattle pen for the domestic animals that he brought along with some wild cattle from the prairies. Their eight child was born here as probably the first while baby born in the Sabine-Neches area. The Tevis farm and the community that grew up around it became known as Tevis Bluff or the Neches River Settlement. In 1835, Nosh Tevis received formal title to this land of 2214 acres on the western margin of the Neches River (Rienstra and Walker, 2003).
Families started moving into the area settling on parcels of land to the north and south of Tevis Bluff. Notable was Joseph Grigsby who found a spot a few miles downriver of the Neches Community. There he established a plantation worked by several slaves. The announcement that follows appeared in the October 26, 1835, issue of the Telegraph and Texas Register in San Felipe de Austin (Rienstra and Walker, 2003):
Plans for the development of the town were halted by the oncoming Texas Revolution. Beaumont did form its own military company and later send 28 men to join the Third Company Infantry, Second Regiment Texas Volunteers. General Sam Houston's retreat eastward sent the wrong message to many Texans thinking that Santa Anna was going to be victorious in the war. Refugees poured into Beaumont and were forced to camp on the rain-gorged Neches. Some tried to fortify the area including a group south of Beaumont at Grigsby's Bluff. After the victory of April 21, 1836 at San Jacinto, citizens of Beaumont returned to normal life (Rienstra and Walker, 2003).
Businessmen Henry Millard, Joseph Pulsifer and Thomas Huling took Nancy Tevis and Joseph Grigsby in a partnership and created an agreement on a town to rest on the 200 acres that they combined. December 1837, the First Congress of the Republic of Texas established a county system extending the municipality of Jefferson to include Beaumont which has previously been in the Municipality of Liberty. The county seat previously located at Cow Bayou was moved to Beaumont by January 1, 1838. Beaumont was incorporated as a town on December 16, 1838 and its first elected officials were sworn into office August 8 1840: Mayor-Alexander Calder, Secretary-H.B. Littlefield, and aldermen-Henry Millard, Charles Swaine, and LF. Clark. The major concern was roads. Four roads met in Beaumont by 1840: one east by Ballew's Ferry to Louisiana, one south to Grigsby's Bluff, one north to Woodville and Town Bluff, and one the old Atascosito Trail west to Liberty (Rienstra and Walker, 2003
Guedry/Booth Family Tevis Feud
The next Native American presence came from the Attakapas migrating to Beaumont from Southwest Louisiana about two thousand years ago. They occupied the lower Sabine, Neches and Trinity Rivers along the coast. These short, stocky people with dark skin, coarse black hair, large heads, and general unpleasant appearance were named "attakapas" from the Choctaw language meaning man-eater (Rienstra and Walker, 2003). Some historians feel that there is little evidence of this and the Attakapas may have just practiced ritual cannibalism as a number of tribes in the Americas did. Early Spanish missionaries said that they lived entirely off the land and used alligator oil for mosquito repellent and lamp oil. Planter Joseph Grigsby leveled several of their mounds containing pottery and bones in the Beaumont area (Rienstra and Walker, 2003).
The first white man that appeared in Southeast Texas was Alvar Nunex Cabeza de Vaca who was a member of the Spanish 1528 expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez (Rienstra and Walker, 2003). The Narvaez group search for gold until their ships sunk in the Gulf during a hurricane. Spain continued to send expedition searching for rumored treasures. Hernando de Soto visited the area and later Luis Moscoso explored the East Texas woods on his way from Florida to Mexico in 1543 (Rienstra and Walker, 2003).
The first new of English interest in the area was when the Spanish learned of an English ship stranded at the mouth of the Neches River. A map drawn in 1777 showed a crude English settlement of mud huts located close to the area of Beaumont. It was following this period that Lafitte, the gentleman pirate, was the impetus of many legends in the area. Lafitte's end remands uncertain, but stories of buried treasure remain throughout the area (Rienstra and Walker, 2003).
The bloodless revolution in 1821 established the independence of Mexico. The stage was set for the Anglo-American ear in Texas and the emergence of Beaumont, Texas.
Neches River Steamboats:
Excursion voyages were a boon to steamboat owners. They provided employment for crews. Texas frontiersmen also worked hard and played hard. No other facility offered better accommodations for relaxation, dining, and dancing than the boats with provided a bar, musicians, and space for dancing (Block, 1995).
Steam boating's golden age only lasted until the Civil War on the Brazos River and until the 1873 on the Trinity. The lumber industry and late arrivals of the railroads kept steam boating on the Neches and Sabine Rivers going until 1900. A few excursion boats lasted through the early 1900s.
Steamboats traveled the Sabine and Trinity rivers by 1838. The first record of a Neches River voyage was in 1846 when the Angelina, build at Pattonia, began cotton-carrying trips to Sabine Pass. In 1840, Robert Patton began shipping cotton from Nacogdoches to Sabine Lake by keelboat, the TL Rusk. During the 1850s, the Neches River route reduced shipping costs to $3.50 a bale, less than half of the overland wagon route to the Red River at Natchitoches, Louisiana (Block, 1995).
Two of the largest steamboats were the 1800-bale Josiah H. Bell and the 220- foot Florilda that ferried iron rails, crossties, locomotives, locomotives, box cans and construction materials along the river. Both of these boats later served the Confederacy with distinction. The Neches River cotton trade revived after the Civil War. One boat, the Albert Gallatin, was built on the banks of Brake's Bayou at Beaumont. These later boats were packets and the Graham was able to travel Beaumont to Sabine Pass in 4.5 hours.
Floating logs in the river making river traffic uncertain and the availability of the railroad for shipping cotton lessoned the importance of the steamboat throughout southeast Texas (Block, 1995). Lumber steamers, many in the form of log tugs, continued on the Neches River for many more years. Although steamboats continued through 1910 the more efficient steam or naphtha-burning tug boats and rail transport replaced river shipping. Some say that the steamboat never did disappear, they simply evolved to long tows of lumber of barges on the river and later the diesel tows of petroleum barges that continue on the Neches.
Beaumont Salt Water Barrier
During 1934-1993, the saltwater barrier was installed in 26 of the years for periods ranging from 4 to 255 days. Prior to the BSW Barrier's construction a study was done by Chowdhury, Lacemell, McCauley and Freeman that projected an average industrial benefit of $140.7 million over 50 years. A permanent barriers cost was estimated at $74.7 million by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showing a clear benefit Chowdhury et aI. 1997.
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Block, W.T. (1995). Cotton Bales, Keelboats and Sternwheelers: A History of the Sabine
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River and Harbor Act of 1962, 76 Stat. 1173, 1175.
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