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Area’s greatest archeological site was ruined

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday May 1, 1999.

NEDERLAND—Early Indians spent 15 centuries building Texas’ greatest archeological treasure at Port Neches. Pioneer settlers needed only 75 years to demolish it.

The only complete Indian vase ever found anywhere within 30 miles was dated by Louisiana State University as belonging to the "Marksville Culture," or about 500 A. D. Hence it is the writer’s opinion that it took the Attakapas, Karankawa and other predecessor tribes 1,500 years to build the six large burial mounds where Midcounty’s present rubber industry is located.

In 1830, while keelboating his first load of Nacogdoches cotton to the coast, T. F. McKinney tied up at present-day Port Neches, where he quickly discovered the six large Indian mounds. A year later, he was issued the county’s first Mexican land grant there in April, 1831. Later he sold the east two-thirds of the grant, containing the mounds, to Joseph Grigsby, Port Neches’ first settler.

In 1841 the first description of the burial mounds on Grigsby’s Plantation was published in a Houston newspaper. The mounds were described as each being "...20 feet high, 60 feet wide, and 100 yards long..." Thousands of skeletons and Indian artifacts filled the mounds; they were covered with tons of oyster, clam and conch (hermit crab) shells, the refuse from the shellfish carried in dugouts from Sabine Lake to the Indian village for a millennium or two.

In 1835 Joseph Grigsby’s slaves leveled one mound while preparing foundations for the Grigsby home and for several slave cabins. In Oct., 1862, following the capture of Sabine Pass by the Union Navy, a second mound was destroyed by Confederate engineers while building nearby Fort Grigsby out of logs and oyster shell, where two 24-pound gun batteries were installed.

Between 1865-1895, Neches steamboat captains utilized their cotton-shipping "off season" to carry loads of shell from the mounds for Beaumont’s roads, industries, and the beds of railroad rights-of-way, thus destroying 3 more mounds.

One steamer captain, Jack Caswell, worked for years in that capacity, as he reported in Galveston Daily News of Dec. 28, 1896, as follows:

"...We found several perfect skeletons buried in the mounds, and the people that lived in them must have been 7 feet tall. We took a lower leg one and placed it beside Capt. (W. P.) Rabb, who is 6 feet tall, and the bone was 6 inches too long for him... The skull from about 1 inch above the eye turned straight back and was as flat as a pancake clear to the rear of the head..."

"...There were clay pots, utensils, pan-shaped shells,... that left the signs of fire visible. The steamer W. P. Rabb carried several shell cargoes up to Beaumont..."

Florence Stratton’s Story of Beaumont confirmed that during the 1880s Beaumont’s July 4th picnickers visited the mounds often in search of arrowheads and trinkets.

In 1893, William Kennedy, the state geologist, visited the last mound and reported that:

"...The mound at Grigsby’s Bluff (Port Neches)... is 150 yards long, from 15 to 20 yards wide, and from 10 to 15 yards high. It contains skeletons and the remains of human workmanship like broken pottery, arrow points, etc..."

The last mound was destroyed by Central Asphalt and Refining Company in 1902 while building its nearby refinery.

Hence the age, that believed "the only good Indian was a dead Indian," held little or no respect for an Indian burial ground, thus destroying the greatest archeological treasure that Jefferson County ever possessed.

W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author.

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