Cotton Bales, Keelboats, and Sternwheelers

A History of The Sabine River and Trinity River Cotton Trades, 1837-1900.

Soft Cover, 256 pages, 24 photographs, old marine advertisements, indexed, Dogwood Press.

by W. T. Block,

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A book that utilizes primary sources to trace the steamboat cotton trades

of the Sabine and Trinity rivers has been long overdue, and Cotton Bales, Keelboats, and Sternwheelers does just that. Beginning in October, 1837, when the 3rd U. S. Infantry blew up and cleared the Sabine River of logjams and obstructions, the first sternwheeler, the 133-foot Velocipede, steamed all the way to Pendleton, Sabine County, and back without suffering any mishap. During the 63 years between 1837 and 1900, Cotton Bales traces the voyages of 84 steamers, many of which eventually sank in the Sabine's murky depths.

The most famous of them, the Uncle Ben, was also a cottonclad Confederate gunboat at the Battle of Sabine Pass, and Cotton Bales explains all activities of the Sabine's Confederate fleet. In 1857, the Uncle Ben traveled the 800 river miles to Belzora, near Tyler, Texas, and brought down 3 loads of 1,000 bales of cotton on each voyage. The gunboat Josiah Bell was scuttled by the Confederates south of Orange, but its powerful engine powered equipment in Lutcher and Moore's Upper Sawmill for 50 years thereafter.

Perhaps of especial interest to the descendents living in the Orange vicinity today were the steamboats Dura, Capt. Tom J. Davis; R. E. Lee, Capt. J. J. Jordan; Una, Capt. Wiley Phillips; Charles Lee, Capt. Charles Davis; L. Q. C. Lamar, Capt. H. T. Davis; and the Emily P., Capt. W. D. Bettis. The book also includes many steamers used only in the logging industry. The boats sailed interchangeably in both the Neches and Sabine Rivers.

Steamboating on the Trinity spanned a much shorter time period than that on the Sabine, but the cotton bale volume was greater. As many as fifteen steamers at one time scoured the Trinity River landings for cotton in 1871-72, but the trade ended abruptly in 1874 due to rail competition. Cotton Bales covers the voyages of 104 sternwheelers on the Trinity from 1838 to 1894, including two voyages of the H. A. Harvey and Job Boat No. 1, each of which went all the way to Dallas. The L. Q. C. Lamar, mentioned earlier, was the last large sternwheeler to sink in the Trinity in 1892, nine miles south of Liberty.

Cotton Bales truly recovers a memorable time span in East Texas history, when rural settlers, upon hearing the boat's whistle around the bend, knew that mail, passengers, and new merchandise were arriving in town and honeymooners would soon be sailing for Galveston.

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Copyright 1998-2023 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, the material published on this site is copyrighted by William T. Block.
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