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Sabine River (Texas-Louisiana)


Sabine River (Texas-Louisiana)

Sabine River
Country United States
States Texas, Louisiana
Source Iron Bridge Dam
 - location Lake Tawakoni, Van Zandt County, Texas
 - elevation 423 ft (129 m) [1]
 - coordinates 48|29|N|95|55|14|W|type:river_region:US-TX name=

}} [2]

Mouth Sabine Lake
 - location Texas–Louisiana border, near Port Arthur, Orange County, Texas
and Cameron Parish, Louisiana
 - elevation 0 ft (0 m) [2]
 - coordinates 59|08|N|93|47|26|W|type:river_region:US-TX name=

}} [2]

Length 510 mi (821 km) [3]
Basin 9,756 sq mi (25,268 km2) [4]
 - average 8,400 cu ft/s (238 m3/s) [4]
Sabine River (right) and Neches River (left)
Location of the mouth of the Sabine River in Texas

The Sabine River (/səˈbn/; Alibamu: Sabìina, Sabìnka [5]) is a river, 510 miles (820 km) long,[6] in the U.S. states of Texas and Louisiana.[3] In its lower course, it forms part of the boundary between the two states and empties into Sabine Lake, an estuary of the Gulf of Mexico. The river formed part of the United States-Mexican as well as the United States-Republic of Texas international boundary during the early 19th century. The upper reaches of the river flow through the prairie country of northeast Texas. Along much of its lower reaches, it flows through pine forests along the Texas-Louisiana border, and the bayou country near the Gulf Coast. The river drains an area of 9,756 square miles (25,270 km2),[4] of which 7,426 square miles (19,230 km2) is in Texas and 2,330 square miles (6,000 km2) in Louisiana.[7] It flows through an area of abundant rainfall and discharges the largest volume of any river in Texas.[7] The name Sabine (Sp: Río de Sabinas) comes from the Spanish word for cypress, in reference to the extensive growth of Bald cypresses along the lower river. The river flows through an important petroleum-producing region, and the lower river near the Gulf is among the most industrialized areas of the southeastern United States. The river was often described as the dividing line between the Old South and the New Southwest.


The Sabine rises in northeast Texas by the union of three branches: the Cowleech Fork, Caddo Fork, and South Fork. The Cowleech Fork rises in northwestern Hunt County and flows southeast for 49.2 miles (79.2 km).[6] The Caddo Fork, shown as "Caddo Creek" on federal maps, rises in two tributary forks, the East Caddo Fork and the West Caddo Fork, in northwestern Hunt County. The South Fork rises in the southwestern corner of Hunt County and flows east for 28.3 miles (45.5 km),[6] joining the Caddo Fork and Cowleech Fork in southeastern Hunt County. The confluence of the forks is now submerged in the Lake Tawakoni reservoir. The combined river flows southeast across northeast Texas and is joined by a fourth branch, Lake Fork Creek, 70.0 miles (112.7 km) downstream from the reservoir.[6]

In northeast Texas, the river flows past Mineola, Gladewater, Big Sandy, and Longview, the largest city on the river, to southwest of Shreveport at the 32nd parallel north, where it establishes the Texas-Louisiana boundary. It flows south, forming the state line for the remainder of its course. It is impounded 10 miles (16 km) west of Leesville, Louisiana, to form the 70-mile-long (110 km) Toledo Bend Reservoir, with the Sabine National Forest along its western bank. South of the reservoir it passes through the bayou country, surrounded by wetlands, as well as widespread industrial areas near the Gulf Coast. Approximately 10 miles (16 km) south of Orange, Texas, it meets the Neches River from the west to form the 17-mile-long (27 km) and 7-mile-wide (11 km) Sabine Lake, which drains through Sabine Pass to the Gulf of Mexico. The city of Port Arthur, Texas, sits along the western shore of Sabine Lake.


Archeological evidence indicates the valley of the river was inhabited as far back as 12,000 years ago. Starting in the 8th century the Caddo inhabited the area, building extensive mounds. The Caddo culture flourished until the late 13th century, but remnants of the Caddo were living along the river when the first European explorers arrived in the 16th century.

The river was given its name in 1716 by Domingo Ramón and appeared as Río de Sabinas on a 1721 map. The river was used by French traders, and at various times, the river was claimed by both Spain and France. After the acquisition by Spain of the French territory of Louisiana in 1763, the capital of the Spanish province of Texas was established on the east side of the river, near present-day Robeline, Louisiana.

River transportation

The Sabine River was too deep to ford, proving to be navigable, and by the 1840s steamboats were traveling from Logansport to Sabine Lake. Early travelers and settlers would have to swim the river on horseback and cattle would have to be driven into the river to swim across.


Recorded ferry use began 1794, when Louis Chabinan (Sharben), his wife Margarite LaFleur, and their four children settled on the east bank of the Sabine River on land purchased from Vicinte Michele. Louis built a ferry on the river where, called Paso del Chaland, near where Louisiana State Highway 6 (La 6) and Texas State Highway 121 now meet, at the site of the present day Pendleton Bridge. In 1796, Louis was drowned after being kicked by a horse and falling into the Sabine. Michel Crow married his widow and ran the ferry, until he sold it to James Gaines circa 1819, and was renamed Gaines Ferry. This ferry was in service until replaced by the Pendleton bridge in 1937. Crow also operated a ferry he started farther north, a 120 foot crossing started in 1796, on what became known as Carter's Ferry Road that is now Texas FM 276. Carter's ferry was 25 miles from San Augustine and 15 miles from Many. Crow sold the ferry to Carter. Farther north, and just above Bayou Lanan was Williamson Ferry.[8] Other ferries on the Sabine River:

  • Hadden's ferry (Bevil's crossing)[9]
  • Ballew's ferry:
  • Sabinetown (Sabine Town) ferry:[10]
  • Carter's ferry: (Located SSE of La 191 after crossing hwy 1215; Still known as Carter's ferry road)[12]
  • Chamber's ferry: (2.5 miles SSE of East Hamilton and 11.6 miles NNW of Sabinetown)[13]
  • Cline's ferry: (Bivens 10.3 miles S)
  • Gilcrease Ferry: (Sabinetown 2.4 miles WNW, same location as Godwin's Ferry[14]
  • Darnell Ferry: (East Hamilton, Tx. 1.9 miles SW)[15]
  • Thompson's ferry:[16]
  • Loftin ferry (Circa 1894): On the Sabine just west of Evans, Louisiana, that is a few miles north of Burr's ferry.[17]

The main Sabine River crossings were the El Camino Real (King’s Highway) from Natchitoches, or “Upper Route” from Shreveport and the “Lower” Route, from Opelousas called “The Old Beef Trail”. It was used to drive thousands of cattle from Texas to Alexandria for shipment to cities such as New Orleans. Hickman Ferry was a shipping point for areas as far west as Burkeville. Sabine River Ports from Sabine Pass in river mileage were "Belgrade", 171 miles; "Stark’s Landing" 191 miles; "Loftin Ferry" and "Bayou Lanacoco" 220 miles; "Hickman’s Ferry" 252 miles; "Burnham’s Landing" 261 miles; and "Burr’s Ferry" 281 miles.[18]

The area's geography remained one of the least understood in the region, with various Spanish maps containing errors in the naming of the Sabine and Neches, and sometimes showed them flowing independently into the Gulf of Mexico. After the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803, this indefinite nature of the boundary between the U.S. and Spain led to an agreement on November 6, 1806, negotiated by Gen. James Wilkinson[19] and Lt. Col. Simón de Herrera,[20] to establish a neutral territory on both sides of the river.

The indefinite boundary was resolved by the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, which established the river as the boundary from the Gulf to the 32nd parallel. The Spanish delay in the ratification of the treaty, as well as the 1821 independence of Mexico, re-ignited the boundary dispute. The United States claimed for a while that the names of the Sabine and Neches had been reversed, and thus claimed the treaty established the boundary at the Neches. The first American settlers began arriving in the region in the 1820s, soon outnumbering the Mexicans by 10 to 1. After the independence of the Republic of Texas from Mexico in 1836, the boundary between the U.S. and Texas was firmly established at the Sabine in accordance with the Adams-Onís Treaty. The river served as the western boundary of the United States until the Texas Annexation in 1845.


In 1843, Capt. John Clemmons made the first trip up the Sabine in the steamboat Sabine. Steamboats carried passengers, as well as commodities such as cotton, from as far north as Logansport down to Sabine Pass.

Jean Lafitte made many trips up the Sabine and reportedly started the colony of Shacklefoot on the Texas side of the Sabine River, south of Carter's ferry up Bayou Patroon.[21][22]

During the American Civil War, on September 8, 1863, a small Confederate force thwarted a Union invasion of Texas at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass, fought at the mouth of the river.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the middle course of the river became the scene of widespread logging. The discovery of petroleum at nearby Spindletop led to the river basin becoming the scene of widespread oil drilling. The lower river saw the development of many oil refineries and chemical plants, leading to a degradation of the water quality, which in turn led to on-going efforts to restore the quality of the river.

The lower river south of Orange, Texas, to Sabine Lake forms part of the Intracoastal Waterway, carrying barge traffic.

As a young man, Captain Bill McDonald of the Texas Rangers operated a small store at Brown's Bluff (modern-day Elderville, Texas) on the Sabine in Gregg County, Texas.[23]

Toledo Bend reservoir

Hadden's ferry was the site of the ground breaking ceremony held on October 5, 1961 for the 181,600 acre Toledo Bend Reservoir. Dedicated October 11, 1969, the reservoir is the largest man-made lake in the south and inundated all of the ferry sites within its boundary.[24]

In literature and music

Joe R. Lansdale, who grew up in East Texas, often features the river in his work.

Gerald Duff, novelist and short story writer, has set several of his works in the territory of the Sabine, including the stories "Texas Wherever You Look," "The Way a Blind Man Tracks Light," and "Redemption". His novels Graveyard Working and Coasters are centered geographically and metaphorically along the Sabine. His novel Blue Sabine (2012) was chosen by the Texas State History Museum as a book of the month for discussion of the light it sheds on the valley of the Sabine and its people.

In Jack Kerouac's 1955 novel, On The Road, the book's narrator Sal Paradise and other prominent character Dean Moriarty (an alias of Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady) encounter the Sabine River. It is recorded as an "evil old river," and "the mansion of the snake...we could almost hear the slither of a million copperheads." A novel in which the theme rests heavily on familiarity with the American continent, it is interesting that Kerouac labels the region as "a manuscript of the night we couldn't read."

Blues singer Alger "Texas" Alexander wrote a song called the "Sabine River Blues".

January 2010 oil spill

Up to around 450,000 gallons (about 11,000 bls) of crude oil spilled over the Sabine River when the tanker Eagle Otome which was carrying the shipment struck two chemical-carrying barges due to loss of engine power on January 24, 2010, at 10 AM local time.[25]

See also

  • List of longest rivers of the United States (by main stem)


Works cited

  • Benke, Arthur C., ed., and Cushing, Colbert E., ed.; Dahm, Clifford N.; Edwards, Robert J., and Gelwick, Frances P. (2005). "Chapter 5: Gulf Coast Rivers of the Southwestern United States" in Rivers of North America. Burlington, Massachusetts: Elsevier Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-088253-1.

External links

  • Handbook of Texas Online
  • Sabine River Authority of Texas
  • Sabine River History: Newton County, Texas
  • Historic photos of Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam projects on the Sabine, 1910-20s
  • Regional tourism web site
  • Partnership of Southeast Texas regional economic development site
  • First page of Willie Brown Biography
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