Texas Almanac, 1988-1989 Page: 36
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36 TEXAS ALMANAC 1988-1989
extended westward from Houston to Columbus. A year
later, the telegraph was extended to St. Mary's, .Corpus
Christi and Brownsville and then :provided the first
United States connection with Mexico. With the tele-
graph came a U.S. Army Signal Corps weather bureau
station in Indianola. A second station on the Texas coast
was operated at Galveston.
Indianola flourished, keenly competing with Gal-
veston as the state's top port. But disaster struck with a
great hurricane that ravaged the western Gulf city on
Sept. 15-16, 1875. Three-quarters of the buildings of the
town were destroyed, and the rest were damaged. At
least 300 people died, and many bodies were never
found. (For more on storms that struck Indianola see
the next section, "Disaster."),
Indlanola rebuilt, but its fate was probably already
decided. Plans were to move the townsite to the edge of
Power Horn Lake, where ground was higher and ships
could be protected if the lake were dredged. But the
Morgan Line flatly refused to spend any money on relo-
cation. So the new town was rebuilt on the same site as
Railroad construction north of the Gulf also was
putting Indianola at a commercial disadvantage. In
February 1877, the Galveston, Hairisburg-and San Ant-
onio Railroad reached San Antonio, giving the city its
long-awaited tie to the Gulf. Much of the Western Texas
trade that had come to Indianola could use the new line
that made a -transcontinental connection with the
Southern Pacific at the Pecos River in 1883. Galveston
reached into Indianola'stradearea, and there was little
the Matagorda port could do about the competition.
Like other coast cities, Indianola looked.to develop
tourismduring the 1880sto diversify itseconomy. But in
1886 a second hurricane struck, destroying the town a
second - and final - time. In November, the county
seat was moved to Port Lavaca by voters, and Indianola
all but ceased to exist. A special train was run to the
ruins "to enable those who feel so inclined to inspect the
ruins of that once prosperous city"; the train was sold
out. The post office was closed in 1887.
Victoria's fortunes rose, especially after 1882. That
summer, a rail line from the Rosenberg Junction on the
New York, Texas and Mexico Railroad tied the city into
transcontinental routes and made it a cattle center.
. During the year in which Indianola suffered its first
staggering setback, Corpus Christi solved a iman-made
problem. Since the Civil War, Mexican bandits had
preyed on settlers and cattle herds in the notorious
Nueces Strip between the Nueces River and the Rio
Grande. The" legendary Juan Cortina, who often
claimed to be defending Mexicans against American
injustice, led raids as far north as Refugio County.
Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy began fencing their
ranches in an attempt to cut losses to the rustlers. The
roads to the Rio Grande were unsafe, and the rustlers
were bold. In retaliation, Nueces Countlans formed
"minute companies" to fight the raiders; and the vigi-
lante groups were often as brutal and rambunctious as
the Mexican bandits.
Finally after a raid by outlaws on Nuecestown in
March 1875, Gov. Richard Coke sent Capt. L. H. McNelly
and a special company of Texas Rangers to Corpus
Christi. The Rangers first disbanded the vigilante
groups and then began to deal with the bandits. On one
occasion in Brownsville, he-lined up on the square the
bodies of more than a dozen bandits killed during a
cattle raid to send a message to Cortina. The Rangers
soon had the trouble under control.
With the bandits subdued, construction on the Cor-
pus Christi, San Diego and Rio Grande Railway, char-
tered n 1873, began in 1876. Five years later, the nar-
row-gauge line reached Laredo .and linked with the
National Mexican Railway. Uriah Loft, a Corpus Christi
businessman, promoted the railroad.
Corpus Christi received its first steamer, the Mor-
gan Line's Gussie, in 1874. The vessel used the newly
dredged channel between Aransas and Corpus Christi
bays: Previously steamers had to stop at the bar to be
unloaded by lighters.
Texans on the Gulf Coast were dealing with prob-
lems within their control about as well as possible. But
nature failed to cooperate and punctuated the history
of the region with terrible disasters for the next quar-
Nature seldom allows beauty, serenity or utility of
its handiworks to exist without exacting a price. On
Texas' Gulf Coast, that price is the periodic storms that
rake the region. The storms account in part for the
sparse population of Indians that Europeans found in
the 16th century. Spain, too, Ignored the coast, except to
keep other nations from gaining a foothold.
Hurricanes have buffeted the region since records
have been kept. Serious storms lashed the thinly popu-
lated region'in 1818 and 1837. It was not until the Anglo-
American colonization increased its population that
coastal storms could clama high toll in life and proper-
At least two communities - Indianola in Calhoun
County and St. Mary's in Refugio County - have suf-
fered death at the hands of serious Gulf storms, and the
growth. of a third - Galveston - was severelycurtailed.
in the last quarter of the 19th century, Indianola was
a thriving port, serving Western Texas; New- Mexico
and Arizona. Its population stood at an estimated 6,000
in 1875, and citizens saw no limit to its potential. Not 50
miles away, St. Mary's on Copano Bay faced similar
In September 1875, both communities suffered a
near-fatal storm. It was the Worst hurricane to strike
the coast since the U.S. Weather Bureau, then a branch
of the Army Signal Corps, began keeping records. But
that was not long. The bureau had been created by Con-
gressin 1870, and thechief signal officer was directed to
warn stations of weather changes that could affect ship-
ping, commerce and agriculture. A series of weather
stations was created around the nation and linked by
telegraph to .report atmospheric conditions. Two
weather stations were opened on the, Texas coast, one at
Galveston in 1871 and the other at 'lndianola in 1872.
The first signs of the 1875 storm occurred on the
night of Sept. 14 when a wind change to the north resem-
bling an ordinary norther took place. For 24 hours, the
wind grew in intensity and pushed water inland. By the
morning of Sept. 16, the water level was higher than the
previous record at lndianola and eventually reached 15
feet above normal high tide. Water flooded the low-
lying streets, and by noon, the wharves were being torn
apart by wind. More people that usual were in town,
many attending a spectacular murder trial. These peo-
ple were trapped as water made roads impassable, and
railroad schedules were canceled as high water under-
The high winds pushed water as far as 20 miles in-
land. Then after midnight, the eye of the hurricane
reached Indianola, and an eerie calm descended. As the
eye passed, however, the intensity of the storm in-
creased, and it entered its most destructive phase. The
wind changed to the northwest, pushing the water back
to the Gulf, and gravity increased the force of the flow
of water. Water driven inland in 18 hours returned to
the Gulf in lust six. Millions of tons'of water (salt water
weighs 1,638 pounds per cubic yard) wreaked havoc on
As dawn broke cool and cloudy on Sept. 17, the dev-
astation was clearly visible. 'Three quarters of all build-
Ings had simply vanished. Most of the others were
knocked off their foundations and were damaged. In
one 13-block stretch, 116 buildings.were completely
washed away, :90 were critically damaged, and only 36
were reparable. Throughout the.town, only 12 buildings
survived intact, and they were all located on higher
No one is sure how many died. Reports at the time
said 270 bodies were recovered, but many victims were
never found. Probably more than 300 lives were
claimed by the storm, Many others were injured.
The. Signal Corps devised new cautionary flags
after the storm. An eight-by-10 foot red flag with a black
rectangle in the middle was to signal approaching
storms. But the flag was flown in November and De-
cember, causing a mild panic in Indianola, although
only cold fronts were coming. So another flag, white
with a red center, was added to denote a coming cold
Indianola rebuilt, albeit on a reduced scale. But life
returned to near normal, residents apparently thinking
that they had suffered a once-in a-lifetime disaster.
They were wrong.
North Texas suffered a devastating drought in 1886,
and weather on the coast had been unusually hot and
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Texas Almanac, 1988-1989, book, 1987; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth113819/m1/39/: accessed November 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.