Drought Unveils WWI Ships in Neches River : Low water in the Neches River in East Texas reveals five sunken ships. They’re emergency commercial ships from WWI. Due to metal shortages during the war, these ships were made from Texas wood. After the war, they were left in the Neches River near Beaumont. The finding highlights the state’s historic and prehistoric sites, revealed during droughts.
Born and raised on the Neches River, Bill Milner found the wrecks on August 18 near Beaumont. After documenting the bones, Milner informed Susan Kilcrease of the Ice House Museum about his findings. Kilcrease contacted Amy Borgens, the state marine archaeologist for the Texas Historical Commission. Borgens confirmed boats with GPS data.
“The ships in the Neches lost their purpose after the war ended,” Borgens said on Texas Standard. Due to being wooden, they were difficult to sell, and some were sold for just $1,000 to scrap yards. About 40 of these ships remain sunken in East Texas rivers, making it a major site for abandoned items in the U.S.Borgens said the finding was important, but the ships should stay put due to the high removal and maintenance costs.
In an August 24 news release, the Texas Historical Commission stated that the wreck, visible to boaters and river users, is one of many ships abandoned after World War I. Archaeologists found wrecked ships in a five-mile stretch of the Neches in 2019.
The Neches River was a major route between the Gulf of Mexico and East Texas. The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates a severe drought has significantly reduced river water flow. “It’s decreased significantly,” said Michael Banks, Friends of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge co-chair. Even though the river is low, ancient things have been found there.
Low water levels in Texas have revealed its secret past before. In 2011, a drought in Lake Travis revealed Anderson Mill’s historic remains. Archaeologists have learned about underwater places.On August 19, Kilcrease shared the find on Ice House Museum’s Facebook page, reaching over 330,000 people. She urged people to contact their local historical boards if they discovered similar items.
It’s best if people didn’t bother them. The Texas Historical Commission advises contacting the local county historical commission if you find sunken ships or other historical artifacts. They can send info to the correct agency.The ongoing drought highlights climate change’s impact on history and challenges water management and habitat protection.