Sabine River (Texas-Louisiana)

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The Sabine River is shown highlighted, along with the Neches River
The Sabine River is shown highlighted, along with the Neches River

The Sabine River is a river, 555 miles (893 km) long, in the U.S. states of Texas and Louisiana. In its lower course, it forms part of the boundary between the two states and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river formed part of the United States-Mexican 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), of which 7,426 square miles (19,230 km²) is in Texas and the remainder in Louisiana. It flows through an area of abundant rainfall and discharges the largest volume of any river in Texas. The name Sabine (Sp: Río de Sabinas) comes from the Spanish word for cypress, in reference to the extensive growth of such trees (here 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.



It rises in northeast Texas by the union of three branches: the Cowleech Fork, Caddo Fork, and South Fork. The Cowleetch Fork rises in northwestern Hunt County and flows southeast for 35 miles (56 km). The Caddo Fork 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 18 miles (29 km), 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, the Lake Fork 40 mi (64 km) downstream from the reservoir.

In northeast Texas, the river flows past Mineola, Gladewater, and Longview, the largest city on the river to southwest of Shreveport at the 32nd parallel, where it establishes the Texas-Louisiana boundary. It flows south, forming the state line for the remainder of its course. It is impounded 10 mi (16 km) west of Leesville, Louisiana to form the 70 mi (112 km) long 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 mi (15 km) south of Orange, Texas, it meets the Neches River from the west to form the 17 mi (27 km) long and 7 mi (11 km) wide 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 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.

The geography area remained one of the least understood in the region, with various Spaish maps containing errors in the naming of the Sabine and Neches, and sometimes showed them flowing independently in the Gulf of Mexico. After the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1805, indefinite nature of the boundary between the U.S. and Spain led to an agreement on November 6, 1806, negotiated by Gen. James Wilkinson and Lt. Col. Simón de Herrera, 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-established 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 the 1840s, river boats began navigating the river. 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, as well as 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.

See also

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