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Map of the River Sabine…

This manuscript map, in three pieces, is the product of a three-year survey conducted along Texas’ eastern border with the United States. When assembled end-to-end, the map reaches an impressive 168 inches, or 14 feet in length, and maps the Sabine River from the Gulf of Mexico to Logan’s Ferry (present-day Logansport, Louisiana).[1]

A.B. Gray, Map of the River Sabine from its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico in the Sea to Logan’s Ferry in Latitude 31° 58’ 24” North, Joint Boundary Commission, ca. 1842, Map #81750, 81751, 81752 [Digital composite available, Map #1744], Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
The mouth of the Sabine River, where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico south of the City of Sabine, was the starting point for the Joint Boundary Commission’s survey.

Although the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty established the boundary between Spain and the United States beginning at the mouth of the Sabine River, it had never been officially mapped.[2] It was not until the establishment of the Joint Boundary Commission, led by Memucan Hunt for Texas and John H. Overton for the United States, that the eastern border of Texas was formally set.[3]

A United States Custom House was situated northeast across the river from its Texas counterpart.

During early negotiations between the Republic of Texas and the United States, there was concern among the Texans that the United States government would attempt to claim territory up to the Neches River, rather than the Sabine as specified in the Adams-Onís Treaty.[4]Then, in evidence of the storied history of wrangling with semantics regarding the English language, another problem also emerged: what, exactly, was meant by the “mouth” of the river? Before the Joint Boundary Commission began its work, it was decided that the boundary river was the Sabine, and that its mouth was, in fact, on the Gulf of Mexico (and not, as Texas hoped to claim, north of Sabine Lake).[5]

The Neches River meets the Sabine at Sabine Lake. Texans were concerned that the United States would attempt to claim the Neches as the boundary line.

Beginning in the southern area of the map where the Joint Boundary Commission began its work, the mouth of the Sabine River is charted as it emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of this survey, the United States’ boundary included everything up to the west bank of the river, as indicated by red shading on the Texan side.[6] A Texan Custom House is noted south of the City of Sabine, with its counterpart U.S. Custom House on the opposite bank, northeast of the city. Depths of the river, as well as Sabine Lake, are included in this portion of the map.

An intricate compass rose indicates north.

Proceeding northward, the Neches River is shown entering Sabine Lake, and numerous named bayous and creeks are labeled. The next town shown on the Texas side is Salem, with a road shown heading east to Opelousas.

The title block occupies a large portion of the inland section of the center of the map. It provides extensive information regarding the boundary commission, its methodology, and the scale at which the map was drawn. Below this, an intricately drawn lone star-themed compass rose indicates north.

[left] A Coushatta Crossing is located near New Columbia, alongside a road connecting Zavalla[12] and Opelousas. [right] Hickman’s Ferry and Bevil’s Ferry allowed travelers to cross the Sabine.
The path of the Great Natchez Tornado, the second deadliest tornado in American history, is drawn.

Proceeding upriver, another road to Opelousas, including a “Coushatta Crossing,” is placed near New Columbia.[7] Hickman’s Ferry, operated by Theophilus Hickman, a local recipient of an original Texas land grant, is stationed at the river crossing of a road from Jasper to Alexandria.[8] Further north, another land grant recipient, John Bevil, operated his ferry near Magraw.[9]

The map terminates at Logan’s Ferry (Logansport, LA).

Near the midpoint of the river, a note appears on the map indicating the “Direction of Hurricane of May 7th 1840.” This is in reference to the “Great Natchez Tornado,” the second deadliest tornado in American history. The storm devastated Natchez, Mississippi and Vidalia, Louisiana (site of James Bowie’s infamous Sandbar Fight), leaving an estimated 317 dead.[10]

The only known international boundary marker within the United States is located about ten miles southeast of presnt-day Deadwood, TX on Farm-to-Market Road 31. Image courtesy AtlasObscura.com.

Mapping of the river continues north, including numerous roads, ferries, and settlements. Latitudes and longitudes are noted by observation, and the map terminates at Logan’s Ferry. The marker placed two miles and 1,998 feet north of the Sabine River (about ten miles southeast of present-day Deadwood, TX on Farm-to-Market Road 31) is the only surviving marker from the expedition and the only known international boundary marker within the United States.[11]

Conservation funded in 2006 by Friends of the Texas General Land Office.

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[1] From Logansport to Sabine Lake is a distance of 265 miles, and Sabine Lake is 14 miles long, for a total distance of 279 river miles appearing in the map. http://www.sratx.org/basin/overview.asp; https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ros01

[2] The treaty fixed the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase as beginning at the mouth of the Sabine River and running along its south and west bank to the thirty-second parallel and thence directly north to the Río Roxo, or Red River, “then following the course of the Río Roxo westward to the degree of longitude 100 west from London and 23 from Washington; then, crossing the said Red River, and running thence, by a line due north, to the river Arkansas; thence, following the course of the southern bank of the Arkansas to its source, in latitude 42 north; and thence by that parallel of latitude to the South Sea. Handbook of Texas Online, Evelyn Turk, “Adams-Onís Treaty,” accessed July 26, 2017, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/nba01. Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Modified on March 21, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[3] Bunyan H. Andrew, “Some Queries Concerning the Texas-Louisiana Sabine Boundary,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. 53, no. 1, 1949, pp. 1–18. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30240685.

[4] A claim with little documentary support but advanced by land speculators in the U.S. Handbook of Texas Online, “Neches River Boundary Claim,” accessed August 02, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/nbn01.

[5] Andrew, pp. 5–7.

[6] The boundary designation was changed to the middle of the Sabine River in 1848. The governor of Louisiana challenged this in 1941, 100 years after the original survey was done. The issue was finally resolved by the United States Supreme Court in March 1973, when that body decided that the geographic middle of the Sabine River was the boundary. Handbook of Texas Online, “Boundaries,” accessed July 26, 2017, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mgb02. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[7] Better known as the Coushatta Trace, an important east-west trade route for the Coushatta Indians and early settlers to Texas <https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/exc05>

[8] Land Grant to Theophilus Hickman, 22 December 1845, Jasper 1–000076, Texas Land Grant Records, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. Handbook of Texas Online, “Hickman Creek (Newton County),” accessed July 26, 2017, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rbh55. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[9] Land Grant to John Bevil, 29 October 1834, Box 54, Folder 3, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX. Handbook of Texas Online, Robert Wooster, “Bevil, John,” accessed July 26, 2017, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbe69. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[10]http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/almanac/arc2005/alm05may.htm; http://www.natchez.ms.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/128

[11] http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/last-remaining-boundary-marker-for-the-republic-of-texas

[12] The proper spelling for the settlement name was Zavala, named in honor of Lorenzo de Zavala, first Vice-President of the Republic of Texas, but after his death in 1836, unfamiliar Texans at times inserted an extra “L” into his last name. A search of the GLO online map database finds twenty-one uses of “Zavalla” in old GLO maps. Handbook of Texas Online, Robert Wooster, “Zavala, TX,” accessed August 01, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvz06. The settlement of Zavala appears on this 1839 map of Jasper County, Map #3711. And when the maps were later printed by the American contingent of the Joint Boundary Commission, the town of Zavala, aka Zavalla, was now spelled Zavella on the printed maps. See GLO Map #94006.

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