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San Jacinto River

Charles Christopher Jackson General Entry

The San Jacinto River rises at the San Jacinto Dam on the southern rim of Lake Houston in northeastern Harris County (at 29°55' N, 95°08' W) and flows southeast for twenty-eight miles to its mouth on Galveston Bay east of Houston (at 29°41' N, 94°59' W). Both Lake Houston, a 12,000 acre-feet municipal reservoir, and the river below it are formed by the confluence of the sixty-nine-mile-long East Fork and the ninety-mile-long West Fork of the San Jacinto rivers. The San Jacinto River drains an area of 3,976 square miles with almost two million acre-feet of runoff. Nearly level terrain is surfaced by clay and sand that support loblolly pine-sweetgum, loblolly pine-shortleaf pine, water oak-elm, pecan-elm, and willow oak-blackgum woods along the river's bank. The Houston Ship Channel, built in 1914 to link the Port of Houston with Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, runs through Buffalo Bayou and the lower course of the San Jacinto River. The river proper is navigable for about twenty miles above its mouth. Commercial shipping traffic in the main channel renders it unsuitable for recreational purposes, but nine-mile-long Lake Houston, a multiple-use reservoir constructed in 1953, is a major recreational facility. A number of suburban communities and industrial towns cluster along the river and have exhibited considerable, even dramatic, growth, much of it stimulated by the opening of the ship channel. Lying in a zone of perennial dispute between rival Spanish and French colonial empires, the San Jacinto River has had a lengthy history. By the early eighteenth century French traders from New Orleans had infiltrated the largely unexplored Spanish territory west of the Mississippi River as far as the San Jacinto, where they engaged in a lively commerce with the local Indians known as Orcoquiza. The San Jacinto was probably the river called the Aranzazu by Capt. Joaquín Orobio y Basterra, commandant of the Spanish garrison at La Bahía, who first explored the region for the governor of the Province of Texas in 1746. Between 1751 and 1772 priests from Nuestra Señora de la Luz del Orcoquisac Mission and the San Augustín de Ahumada Presidio near the mouth of the Trinity River widely explored this section of the Texas coast. From 1822 to 1823 American immigrants bound for Stephen F. Austin's colony established a short-lived settlement on the east bank of the San Jacinto about ten miles above its confluence with Buffalo Bayou. In 1824 the Anglo-American homesteaders along the river were officially incorporated into the Austin colony when its eastern boundary was extended from Chocolate Bayou to the San Jacinto. The river is best known as the site of the battle of San Jacinto, at which, on April 21, 1836, Texan forces led by Sam Houston defeated a Mexican army under the command of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, thus securing Texas's independence. The San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park is located on the south bank of Buffalo Bayou near its mouth on the river. There are two accounts of the origin of the name San Jacinto, the Spanish word for "hyacinth:" the channel may have been choked with the aquatic plants when it was first encountered by early explorers, or the river may have been discovered on St. Hyacinth's Day, August 17.

Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1925; rpts., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1949; New York: AMS Press, 1970). Herbert Eugene Bolton, Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1915; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970). Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Gene Kirkley, A Guide to Texas Rivers and Streams (Houston: Lone Star, 1983). Marilyn M. Sibley, The Port of Houston (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). WPA Writers Program, Houston (Houston: Anson Jones, 1942).


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Charles Christopher Jackson, “San Jacinto River,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 17, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: