Where The Sabine River Is
Confererate Gunboat UNCLE
About Neches River Steamboats
Our thanks to the Newton
County, Texas Web Site for these excerpts. .
Sabine River - Newton County - Texas
The Sabine River continues to be of importance. From before
Newton County became an independent county, the river has
controlled a part of its destiny.
In the fall of 1843 the steamboat SABINE,
John Clemmons at the helm, made the first trip on the
Sabine River. Being a sturdy craft, she made several trips
up and down the river successfully.
"Often the steamboats were small compared
to present-day standards, which ran on the East Texas Rivers
were not new having been bought from the Mississippi trade
where five years was the usual life of a boat. There competition
was keen and the traffic rough on the boats. Transportation
on the Mississippi was big business and the owners could afford
the best. These secondhand boats, when kept in repair might
have many good years left in them when run on smaller rivers.
About 1858, a steamboat bearing the name of
came up the Sabine from Biloxi, Mississippi, and unloaded
several dozen slaves. The landing where they unloaded became
known as Biloxi. For awhile it prospered. Then it became a
ghost town and vanished, as many of the river towns did when
the railroads came and the steamboat era ended.
Burr's Ferry was a shipping point for the surrounding
area as far west as Burkeville, Texas, and as far east as
Leesville. It had a gin, warehouses, and a watermill, and
it was also the home of Captain
John M. Liles, master and part owner of the NECHES
For more on the Sabine River see -
JOSIAH H. BELL and
Capt. John G. White
The NECHES BELLE
Hi Riverboat Dave,
I would very much like to have
you add some history to your site regarding John G. White,
a captain of the Neches Belle, the Minnie and of the Dura.
He was married to my Grand Aunt,
Rachel Ellen (Smith) White.
This was transcribed from a yellowed
newsprint (which I still have) from the The Enterprise, dated
Sunday, May 29, 1932.
The picture is of him. I dont
know what the rights to reprint are from The Enterprise (assuming
this was the Beaumont, Texas Enterprise). Hey, it was published
in 32? Gotta be ok, Id guess!
I have a love of history and
would love to see this article re-published so that these
times and people that took us there are not forgotten
I appreciate your site!!!
From your site, you show one
of the Captains / owners as John M. Liles. In the article
below, it shows that John G. White worked for Alladice and
Lyles, who owned the steamboat. The article also refers to
Captain Sam Allidice, assuming thats the Alladice in
Alladice and Lyles.
Please respond and let me know
what you can do with the contents.
Including also something for
a little fun that I had found, a clip of the whistle from
the Neches Belle. Please provide credit where credit is due,
I got the whistle sound from this site:
for Neches Belle MP3: http://www.mysteryridge.com/muddyangelina.ivnu
Thanks, Mayme Kittman
Where The Sabine River Is
From The (Beaumont, Texas) Enterprise,
dated Sunday, May 29, 1932.
Reign of Steamboats on Sabine Full of Romance
Old-time Glory of Cotton Carriers of 40 Years
Ago Told by Capn John White
Advent of Railroad System Causes Passing of
Freighters; Sailings of Neches
Belle are Recalled
By Dean Tevis
On a day when the wind is in the east Capn
John can hear her whistle for the landing though hes
a good 15 miles from the river. Generally four or five long
Blastsif theres plenty of steam in the old boilerslow,
resonant soundsas though someone in a little patch of
woods at some distance drew a well-resined bow slowly across
the G string of an old violin.
If yod ever got the note in your
heart, he said, youd never forget it!
Captain John G. White, who
skippered the Neches Belle on the Sabine, and who tells the
story of the closing days of the steamboats on the rivers
of southeastern Texas.
But in reality the captain never hears the whistle
of the Neches Belle, one of the very last of the Ladies of
the River, proud cotton carriers of a day past and gone, for
its been 35 years since she and her sisters sailed.
Sometime when youre on your way north
and youre crossing the historical bridge at Logansport,
someone will show you the white bones a little part
of the rotting bottom-planking of the Neches
Bellelying in the shallow waters of the Sabine
Tis the story, if you care to listen to
a tale of the rivers of east Texas concerning a man who wouldnt
admit that the railroads could beat the river steamboats as
carriers of freight, but who found it out when he was one
of the last men tossing a lead into some shallows In the Sabine
to test the depth.
About the tale is the rhythm of the rivers of
the far south, with semi-tropical vegetation along their banks,
and great green pines on their often steep banks. There are
odors about the talethe odors of wild flowers and the
smellthe rich peaceful smell of the wild woods. There
is music in the story, the music of nature and the little
removed song of the darkies. Through it runs strains of Suzanna,
coming from the Louisiana bank of the Sabine, and a Texas
melody from the western bank. Where the Neches
Belle and other boats of the Capns ken
ran was once the boundary between Mexico, and then Texas,
and the United States of America.
Capn John G. White has lived at Kountze
for a quarter of a century. When you meet him you fix his
age at perhaps 55. Some might say 60. But the fact is that
come July the Capn will be 73. He always has been
and is now a husky young fellow. But one
day, not so long ago, he tried to crank a little car. He thought
he knew the car. Long association does that even with men
and machinery. The Capn tore a hawser, as he himself
would put it. But you wouldnt notice it, looking at
him casual like. Capn John was first mate, and then
captain of the Neches Belle,
and skipper and mate of other steamers. His river days were
spent largely on the Sabine. Thats his river, though
he has sailed the Neches.
His introduction to Texas and her rivers was
at old Nibletts Bluff on the Sabine when he was 7. He
came west from Lexington, Ky., then. During the years that
followed he worked at pushing husky pine and hardwood logs
down the bank to send them on their weary way down the river.
In those days the forests were virtually untouched. The chief
things a log went for were shingles. And then it was that
Capn saw some of the earlier sternwheelers, built, for
the most part, at some big port on the Mississippi, though
later a shipyard on the lower Sabine turned out several.
SOME years passed and the boy went to Orange
and sewed sacks and coopered barrels for Alladice and Lyles.
He was 16. They owned the Neches
Belle and she was under repair when he dropped
down the stream to the place they then called Greens
Bluff. She lay at the old Bill Swords shipyard. The
boy did a little caulking. He was under the tutorship of a
man named Livingston, whom he lovingly refers to as Old Man
Livingston. Those were the days, incidentally, when J. E.
Broussard of Beaumont ran a meat market at Orange.
The Capns next step up was under
General Slaughter. The general, it appears, was a hold-over
in the south from the war. He had been a federal and was a
war department engineer assigned to clean out
the Sabine. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of logs,
called sinkers, had slipped to the bottom of the
river. The Sabine then was looked upon as not only highly
navigable, but of as much importance as a traffic lane as
the main line of a transcontinental railroad is today. When
the steamer which the general commanded chugged north on her
cleaning up cruise the Capn was one of the crew. A month
later he was given charge of the men and several years slipped
ALONG in the mid-nineties the Capn had
his mates papers, but in 1897 he got his license as
master, which presented the information beneath a seal to
all and sundry that John G. White, having proved himself capable,
etc., was licensed by the government of the United States
to navigate the rivers of east Texas. During this chapter
of his story he ran some with Capt.
Tom Davis on the Minnie
and the Dura. The
Capn was an all-around steamboater for at times he held
the post of engineer, and on other occasions he was a pilot.
In other words Capn John knew the turns and the bends,
the shallows, and the deep pools of the Sabine. And, therefore,
there is perhaps not a man left who can better spin the tale
of that river, during the years just before the railroads
robbed it of Its meat and Its glory. He got in early enough,
too, to learn the romance of the stream. He knows the spot
where the Lafitte schooner lies and he knows where the Indian
villages were along its banks.
The bulk of the Sabine boats, as Capn
John put it, went out in about 1893, but some of them stayed
on. He sailed out of Orange during the latter nineties with
the Neches Belle for Logansport
to build a new bridge for the H. B. and W. T., the railroad
from Shreveport to Houston. But she never came out,
said the Capn. She was seized by the law for some
debt. I cant recall just now what it was. We tied her
up and left her. That was in a time of fairly high water.
Soon the stream fell and the Neches
Belle turned over. I saw part of her wreck in the river
bed four years ago, and I have no doubt shes there still.
I was the first mate of the Belle and Will
Lovingyou know Captain Loving-he was the pilot.
and a good one.
That left Capn John out of a job. So it
was pretty handy, the way things turned out, When Captain
George Wolford of Orange brought the little sternwheeler
up the twists and bends and tied her to the bank at Logansport.
Logansport, while a Louisiana town, really belongs in the
east Texas picture, for it has played a continuous part in
The Dura was a small steamboat. Her dimensions
are quoted as 70 by .14. She carried about a hundred bales
on her deck. The Dura, like the fated Neches Belle, was also
seized for some debt. She owed, as best the Capn can
remember, some $800. He stepped in with a proposition, and
began operating the Dura to work her out.
Dura was owned in Sabine countymore an
upriver boat than a member of the downstream company. Sabine
Town, probably the greatest of all the lost river ports of
both the Sabine and the Neches, was still something of a landing
then, and the Capn loaded many a bale there.
Hed bring provisions up the stream, and as hed
unload them hed pick up cotton. On his return trip it
would be the same procedure.
Well, as Capn John tells it, I worked her clear
out of debt, but the coming of the railroads put a stop to
steamboating. It doesnt take much explanation to see
Capn John can close his eyes and see the
Sabine in all Its old-time glory, when the pines were tan
and thick as hair on a dogs back. Hell tell you
about Youngblood landing, where they unloaded goods for old
Burkeville. That was where Captain
Sam Allidice lived. Then, winding north, there
was Haddon ferry, one of the oldest on the stream and still
in operation today; Snells landing, Godwin shoals, Sabine
Town, most Important of them all; Pendleton, famous old East
Hamilton, Sniders landing, and then Logansport, the
end of the voyage.
T'were few if any river tragedies in Capn
Johns river experience. It is a peaceful tale he tells,
o happy days and nights, of singing black darkies. Of course,
they went aground sometimes, and there were bits of trouble
here and there, but he never lost a steamboat nor was on one
which sunk or burned. He tells, however, of the burning of
at the crossing of the Kansas City Southern north of Orange.
The Capn talks of the old Tennesaw,
and many other of the boats which plied near to the end of
the steamboating days. Then, too, he can go back If you like
and tell you stories of the older boats.
Hell tell you how they made the voyages
from river mouth to river mouthfrom the Sabine around
through the gulf to the Neches, and perhaps from the Neches
to the Trinity. They nearly always made these voyages at night.
But when you talk river boats, sternwheelers
and brooked streams to him hell invariably come back
to the Neches Belle!. She was
undoubtedly his favoritethe lass of the river he loved
best. An Interesting fact is that she was built in Beaumont.
Her engines and all her machinery came from the old steamer
Vicksburg. The Neches Belle was built to handle 500 bales
of cotton. The Capn loaded 550 on her decks on one memorable
trip. He did this with the help of one CharleyOld Chancythey
called him, who was wise in the way of beats and niggers,
who bossed the crew of blacks, and who knew how to get the
cotton in. His last name was Pollock. Ah, but those were gracious,
happy, friendly days those river days. Wed
always blow long and loud for the landings, said the
Capn. The old ladies, and sometimes the young
ones, would nearly always come down to the bank to greet us.
Theyd bring greens, butter, milk, eggs, and anything
else they had handy. And they were always presents to us.
. . - And you can bet your life we never forgot our friends,
We always brought them candy or fruitand anything else
we thought theyd like. They enjoyed our coming because
there werent many visitors along the river In those
days. The roads were mud trails and few traveled them. They
only saw their own kith and kin.
The officers and crew had to have their fun
and theyd play pranks on one another. Capn John
tells of the night they landed at Possum Bluff, now Deweyville.
They stuffed a fox hide with cotton, and then proceeded
to take the engineer on a fox hunt. He was so sick over
it he went to bed. When the steamboat was under way
the crew took it pretty easy. Only the pilot and the engineer
and the fireman has much to do. Of course the latter were
hard at it all the time, and the captan stayed on the job
as long as the gangplank was in. The mate had little to do
and more often than not he had his feet on the rail and an
old black pipe between his teeth. Out on the forward deck
the niggers chanted old songsIm Coming to
You Darling, Ill See You By and By,
or The Old Log Cabin. They are mostly big, black
fellows, and the Capn will tell you that many of them
could carry a 500-pound box of meat on his shoulder. Once
in a while there would be a fight, or some little incident
to relieve the monotony, and once in a while the crew would
see a deer, and in the older days, a bear, on the bank. As
theyd run into the shallows the mate, or perhaps one
of the wiser members of the black crew would begin gauging
for depth. The Neches Belle needed two and a half feet of
water when she was light or six feet loaded. They liked a
full seven feet of water for her to run in when she had a
full load of cotton or provisions. Moving slowly, cautiously,
the man with the lead would cast it. Hed get the depth
and call back is a sing-song to the pilotmark
tow. A little further, and hed have three feet.
Hed call that back, possibly relaying It to the captain
on the deck. When they had a full depth of water the man with
the lead would callmark twain. That,
incidentally, was how Samuel Clemmons got his name. The steamboat
boys were popular at the landings and ofter the folks
in the villages held dances for them.
Steamboating on the Sabine and the Neches was
pretty much after the fashion of the greater packets on the
The country, however, and the streams themselves
presented a strange contrast to anyone who had steamboated
Old Man River. Here were narrow streams, as against a broad,
broad old river. And there werent the dangers on the
east Texas streams that one encountered on the Mississippi.
And then there was a more homely atmosphere at the landings.
And the banks themselves; they were tree lined, and often
they were steep, and always lonesome.
To know and appreciate the old east Texas setting,
through the sixties and the seventies, and on to about the
middle of the last decade of the old century, it is necessary
to know the old river towns and the ferries. In some few cases
they hang on, but for the most part you cant find where
the general store stood, though it often was a brick building.
Most of the old men have gone who knew them in their real
. You see the roads all led to these landings,
these important towns. Forget, for the moment, that there
was ever such a thing as a railroad, or even a highway. There
wasnt then, and the rivers were the roads. They grew
the cotton in those days just as they do now, and they had
to get it out. So by oxen and mule it went down the roads
to the steamboat landings, and there it was picked up.
I tried to beat the railroads, Capn
John said, and I found out quickly that it couldnt
be done. I never dreamed the rails would beat the steamboats,
and then for years I never dreamed that any other mode of
transportation could beat the railroadsbut it appears
thats whats going on now.
The Capn can enlarge in great degree upon
this story, and hell do it for you if you like
Hes the most accommodating storyteller, I believe Ive
ever run across. And then hes accurate. He doesnt
spin bear stories, but he gives you the low-down on the boats
and the rivers.
If you care to find him inquire for Capn
John at the first filling station, 10 steps off the
new gravel road as you reach the southern limits of Kountze.
Hell be there waiting for you. Hell have his old
steamboat cap on his head, and youll find the place
just as ship-shape as was the deck of the Neches Belle when
he had charge of her.
And another thingdont expect to
find an old man with a bye-gone complex or an I sailed
her before you were born fixation. He hasnt got
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