with ruins, while the sea, not content with tearing away a great
strip along the beach front, had piled the wreckage in one great
long mass from city end to city end. Beneath these masses of
broken buildings, in the streets, in the yards, in fence corners, in
cisterns, in the bay, far out across the waters on the mainland
shores, everywhere, in fact, were corpses. Galveston was a veritable
charnel-house. To bury the dead was a physical impossibility.
Added to the horror of so many corpses was the presence
of carcasses of thousands of horses, cattle, dogs and other domestic
To a people upon whom such a terrible calamity had been
visited, now devolved a duty the like of which a civilized people
had never been called to perform. To protect the living the dead
had to be gotten rid of with all speed, for with corpses on every
side, with carcasses by the thousands, and with a severe tropic
sun to hasten decomposition, pestilence in its most terrible form
threatened the living if the dead were not removed.
The tumbrels that rumbled over Paris streets with the gruesome
burdens that came from Robespierre's abattoir had little
work compared with the carts and wagons of Galveston in the
days that followed the awful storm. It was at first determined to
bury the dead at sea, but the procession of the dead seemed neverending,
and the cargoes that were taken to the deep and cast upon
the waters came back with the tides and littered the shores. Then
it was decided to burn the dead.
Ye who know not the horror of those days, who took no part
in the saddest spectacle that man ever witnessed, may well shed
tears of sympathy for those whose human tenement blazed on the
funeral pyre in street or avenue, or whose requiem was sung by
the waves that had brought death-but shed tears, too, for the
brave men who faced this most gruesome duty with a Spartan
courage the world has never known before.
The dead past has buried its dead.
For a week Galveston was under martial law. There was no
disorder. There was some robbing of the dead by ghouls. This
was checked by a punishment swift and sure.
Lester, Paul. The great Galveston disaster, containing a full and thrilling account of the most appalling calamity of modern times including vivid descriptions of the hurricane. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth26719/. Accessed September 30, 2014.