Sabine Lake

By: Robert Wooster

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: February 5, 2019

Sabine Lake is on the Louisiana-Texas boundary in eastern Orange and Jefferson counties, Texas, and western Cameron Parish, Louisiana. The lake, some fourteen miles long and seven miles wide, is formed by the confluence of the Neches and Sabine rivers. Through its five-mile-long tidal outlet, Sabine Pass, it drains some 50,000 square miles of Texas and Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico. The area around the salty lake has been inhabited by man for more than 1,500 years. Dominant Indian tribes included the Atakapas. Intensive European activity came in 1777, when an English party led by Capt. George Gauld mapped the lake. A Spanish expedition under Antonio Gil Ibarvo followed shortly thereafter, and José Antonio de Evia charted the Sabine Lake area in 1785. Though shallow bars at its mouth prevented large oceangoing vessels from sailing upriver, Sabine Lake became an important avenue for trade during the 1800s. Jean Laffite smuggled slaves into Louisiana via the lake in 1810, and legends that he left caches of gold along the shores have attracted interest for many years. During the late 1830s the lake again became a notorious avenue for contraband, predominantly slaves. Large numbers of cotton steamers also plied its waters in the antebellum period, and lumbermen rafted logs down the lake both before and after the Civil War. Some of the lake has been channeled as part of the Sabine-Neches Waterway and Sabine Pass Ship Channel system. By the 1940s the Humble (later Exxon Company, U.S.A), Shell, and Gulf oil companies had leased the Louisiana half of Sabine Lake for oil exploration.

W. T. Block, "The Romance of Sabine Lake, 1777–1846: Scene of Slaving, Smuggling, Steamboating, Border Conflict, and Cotton Commerce under the Texas Republic," Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record 9 (1973). Shannon Tompkins, "The Forgotten Bay: Sabine Lake," Texas Parks and Wildlife, October 1987.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert Wooster, “Sabine Lake,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 5, 2019