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See Where The Sabine River Is
Also see
Confererate Gunboat UNCLE BEN
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, with Capt. 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 BILOXI 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.

See entire article

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 BELL.

See entire article

For more on the Sabine River see -

Capt. John G. White

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 don’t 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, I’d 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 Captain’s / 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 that’s 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:

Source for Neches Belle MP3: http://www.mysteryridge.com/muddyangelina.ivnu

Thanks, Mayme Kittman

See 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 “Cap’n” 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 Cap’n John can hear her whistle for the landing – though he’s a good 15 miles from the river. Generally four or five long Blasts—if there’s plenty of steam in the old boilers—low, resonant sounds—as 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 yo’d ever got the note in your heart,” he said, “you’d never forget it!”

Sabine River Steamboat Captain John G. White

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 it’s been 35 years since she and her sisters sailed.

Sometime when you’re on your way north and you’re crossing the historical bridge at Logansport, someone will show you the white bones – a little part of the rotting bottom-planking of the Neches Belle—lying in the shallow waters of the Sabine

T’is the story, if you care to listen to a tale of the rivers of east Texas concerning a man who wouldn’t 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 tale—the odors of wild flowers and the smell—the 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 Cap’n’s ken ran was once the boundary between Mexico, and then Texas, and the United States of America.

Cap’n 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 Cap’n 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 Cap’n tore a hawser, as he himself would put it. But you wouldn’t notice it, looking at him casual like. Cap’n 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. That’s his river, though he has sailed the Neches.

His introduction to Texas and her rivers was at old Niblett’s 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 Cap’n 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 Green’s Bluff. She lay at the old Bill Sword’s 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 Cap’n’s 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 Cap’n was one of the crew. A month later he was given charge of the men and several years slipped by.

ALONG in the mid-nineties the Cap’n had his mate’s 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 Cap’n 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 Cap’n 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 Cap’n 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 Cap’n. “She was seized by the law for some debt. I can’t 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 she’s there still. I was the first mate of the Belle and Will Loving—you know Captain Loving—-he was the pilot. and a good one.”

That left Cap’n 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 Dura 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 Texas’ story.

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 Cap’n can remember, some $800. He stepped in with a proposition, and began operating the Dura to “work her out.”

Dura was owned in Sabine county—more 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 Cap’n loaded “many a bale there.” He’d bring provisions up the stream, and as he’d unload them he’d pick up cotton. On his return trip it would be the same procedure.
Well, as Cap’n John tells it, “I worked her clear out of debt, but the coming of the railroads put a stop to steamboating. It doesn’t take much explanation to see what happened.”

Cap’n 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 dog’s back. He’ll 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; Snell’s landing, Godwin shoals, Sabine Town, most Important of them all; Pendleton, famous old East Hamilton, Snider’s landing, and then Logansport, the end of the voyage.

T'were few if any river tragedies in Cap’n John’s 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 the Bertha at the crossing of the Kansas City Southern north of Orange.

The Cap’n talks of the old Tennesaw, the Lark, 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.

He’ll tell you how they made the voyages from river mouth to river mouth—from 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 he’ll invariably come back to the Neches Belle!. She was undoubtedly his favorite—the 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 Cap’n loaded 550 on her decks on one memorable trip. He did this with the help of one Charley—Old Chancy—they 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. “We’d always blow long and loud for the landings,” said the Cap’n. “The old ladies, and sometimes the young ones, would nearly always come down to the bank to greet us. They’d 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 fruit—and anything else we thought they’d like. They enjoyed our coming because there weren’t 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 they’d play pranks on one another. Cap’n 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 songs—”I’m Coming to You Darling,” “I’ll See You By and By,” or “The Old Log Cabin.” They are mostly big, black fellows, and the Cap’n 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 they’d 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. He’d get the depth and call back is a sing-song to the pilot—”mark tow.” A little further, and he’d have three feet. He’d 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 call—”mark 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 Mississippi.

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 weren’t 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 can’t 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 glory …. 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 wasn’t 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,” Cap’n John said, “and I found out quickly that it couldn’t 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 railroads—but it appears that’s what’s going on now.”

The Cap’n can enlarge in great degree upon this story, and he’ll do it for you if you like… He’s the most accommodating storyteller, I believe I’ve ever run across. And then he’s accurate. He doesn’t spin bear stories, but he gives you the low-down on the boats and the rivers.

If you care to find him inquire for “Cap’n John” at the first filling station, 10 steps off the new gravel road as you reach the southern limits of Kountze. He’ll be there waiting for you. He’ll have his old steamboat cap on his head, and you’ll find the place just as ship-shape as was the deck of the Neches Belle when he had charge of her.

And another thing—don’t expect to find an old man with a bye-gone complex or an “I sailed her before you were born” fixation. He hasn’t got it.

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