View of Indianola by Helmuth Holtz, 1860, from aboard the Barque Texana. Courtesy The San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston. (Click to enlarge)
Tucked into the rigging of the barque Texana, Helmuth Holtz sketched for us his view of Indianola, Texas.
Behind the town lies Powderhorn Lake. A tangle of bayous traces the beach front, hinting at future roads. The variety of vessels spread across the water is impressive, as are the wharves built to accomodate them.
To the left lies the Morgan Steamship Company wharf. By 1850, just a year after Indian Point became Indianola, Morgan’s company supported three sailings a week from Galveston and two from New Orleans. By 1860, the company had secured a monopoly on coastal shipping in Texas, and could provide everything a new town required: lumber and liquor from New Orleans; garden seeds from Long Island; dressmaking supplies from Baltimore.
Writing in Charles Morgan and the Development of Southern Transportation, James P. Baughman says:
The prospects of Texas continued to impress business men. Her vast hinterland, her numerous natural harbors, and her navigable rivers gave her special attractions to settlers and trade.
The commerce of the western Gulf was steadily increasing and diversifying. Receipts of cotton at the Texas ports jumped from 39,744 bales to 62,433 in the four years after 1848. By 1856 this figure climbed to 116,078 bales, and the 193,963 bales received in 1860 set an ante bellum record.
Besides cotton, Texas was producing and exporting increasing quantities of sugar, cattle and hides, lumber, pecans, and wool. Morgan, having firmly established himself as master of the New Orleans-Texas trade by 1850, increased his service in proportion to this new prosperity. (p. 86)
A decade before Holtz recorded his 1860 view of things, the port was bustling. An 1852 publication, Texas in 1850, makes clear that Indianola had taken root.
The population is about five hundred. The town is increasing rapidly with every prospect and facility of future importance.
The United States Government, after very thorough examination, has removed all its business to this place from Port Lavacca. The government stores intended for San Antonio, Austin, Fredericsburg, Paso del Norte, and the upper frontier posts are now landed at Indianola. A large amount of shipping is done through its wharves to New Orleans and other ports.
Indianola, from its fine and accessible position on the main land, is destined to be one of the first commercial towns in Texas.
But more than commerce was at stake. According to the 1850 census, 95 percent of Texans lived in the eastern two-fifths of the state. By 1860, the state’s population had nearly tripled, but the overwhelming majority still lived in that region. The need for a gateway to the interior of sparsely-settled western Texas was clear, and Indianola, with its increasingly vibrant economy and increasing numbers of immigrants, seemed poised to fill that need.
The story of Indianola’s contribution to Texas settlement began, of course, with the Germans: the first group of European immigrants to reach Matagorda Bay in significant numbers. After the German brig Johann Dethardt reached Galveston on November 23, 1844, she sailed on to Pass Cavallo, the entrance to Matagorda and Lavaca Bays. Additional ships followed in her wake, arriving at Matagorda on December 8, December 14 and December 20.
Naming the settlement Carlshafen in honor of Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, General Commissioner of the Adelsverein (Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas) was a reasonable first step. Unfortunately, Prince Carl was more compelling as a romantic visionary than he was effective as an administrator.
Lands believed to have been purchased for settlement were denied. Funds promised by the Verein never arrived from Germany. Accomodations weren’t merely inadequate, they were nonexistent. The Germans’ long journey toward a new and better life began to devolve into a heart-rending journey toward disaster.
Prince Carl agreed to lead the first wagon train from Indianola into the interior of Texas, but he chose to take leave of the settlers in Victoria. Before long, he resigned his position as head of the Verein and returned to Germany, leaving his replacement, Baron Otfried von Meusebach of Potsdam, to carry on.
When Von Meusebach arrived in Texas in the summer of 1845, his first task was to locate suitable land for settlement. Having helped to establish the new town of Fredericksburg, he returned to New Braunfels, only to receive news that thousands of additional immigrants were arriving in Galveston, prepared to move on to Indianola. Dr. Ferdinand Roemer, in Texas to document its geology at the behest of the Verein, had a keen eye for more than rocks. He noted the compounding problems in his Texas: 1845-1847:
The spring of 1846 arrived, and with it the heat of a semi-tropical climate. About three thousand of the poor immigrants lay crowded on the sandy coast, without an adequate water supply and fuel, living in sod houses or tents which afforded no protection against the rain nor against the hot rays of the sun… Malaria, bilious fever and dysentery soon became general, and the mortality increased with alarming rapidity.
Attempts to resettle the immigrants away from the coast were complicated by several factors: poor weather, lack of money, and war with Mexico, which led to the military requisitioning carts and oxen which might otherwise have been used by the Germans.
Eventually, the rigors of coastal life, frustration, and sheer desperation set them on their way. For thousands, it ended tragically. Writing in the Galveston Weekly News on November 12, 1877, a survivor of that terrible trek from Indianola to New Braunfels recounted the experience.
When Baron Meusebach returned to the coast, he found that ships carrying 6,000 immigrants had unloaded at Indianola, for whose reception and transportation not the slightest preparation had been made. With no other shelter, these unfortunate victims lived in holes they had excavated in the ground, without roofs and without any drinking water except that that fell from heaven.
Meusebach had contracted with teamsters to take the immigrants inland to New Braunfels. Instead, the teamsters ran away to earn more money working for the U. S. Army. Their principal food was fish and wild ducks because none of them had brought guns capable of killing larger game.
For weeks the rains came, and for miles the marsh prairies were covered with knee-deep water. Immigrants suffered at first from malarial fever, and later, a kind of flux or dysentery which resembled cholera [thinned] their ranks. Hundreds of corpses were buried, only to be dug up by the wolves, and their bones were left dotting the prairie.
Finally the roads became passable, and those who were able started for New Braunfels on foot, leaving behind not only their weather-beaten household goods, but also their sick relatives. The route from Indianola to New Braunfels was strewn with the bones of these immigrants.
[Of special note] was a large, loaded wagon stuck in the mud. The bones of the oxen were still under the yoke, as were those of the driver and his family, scattered about on all sides of the wagon. Of the 6,000 immigrants who reached Indianola during that period of 1845-1846, no more than 1,500 ever reached New Braunfels, and fifty percent or more of the victims had died miserable deaths from starvation and disease.
Although figures vary among accounts, Dr. Roemer agreed with the scale of the disaster:
It is certain that in the few summer months of the year 1846, more than one thousand out of four thousand German immigrants, who had come to Texas in the fall of 1845 under the protection of the Mainzer Verein, died, and not more than one thousand two hundred actually settled upon the land secured by the Verein. German immigration has not been able to recover from this terrible blow, and the number of immigrants from Germany has since been very small.
In time, conditions improved, and immigration increased. By 1900, 157,000 Germans resided in Texas. many of whom had traveled the “Old Cart Road” between Indianola and San Antonio.
The road took its name from the ox-carts which carried freight, immigrants, and military supplies through Texas for almost two centuries. Made entirely of wood and fastened with wooden pegs, the carts were long, as much as fifteen feet in length, and their wheels stood taller than a man. In those pre-silicon days, drivers greased their carts’ wheel hubs with prickly pear pads, to quiet the deafening squeak.
Today, the Cart Road is strewn with more than German names. Reminders of early French and Spanish territorial ambitions and settlements abound, their missions and forts evoking a rich and storied past.
Near Goliad, the mission known as Nuestra Señora del Espiritu Santo de Zuñiga has a travel history of its own. Established on Matagorda Bay in 1722, when that body of water still was known as La Bahía del Espíritu Santo, the Mission honored Báltasar de Zúñiga, viceroy of New Spain. Its presidio, or fort — Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía — was built on the ruins of the settlement established by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.
Mission la Bahía and Presidio la Bahía remained at their original sites near Indianola for about four years, before being relocated in 1726 to the Guadalupe River. In 1749, they were relocated again, to the banks of the San Antonio. Even there, in the midst of hackberry, cedar and oak, the walls of the mission evoke her earliest days near the waves of Espiritu Santo Bay.
Not everyone traveling the Cart Road was a German immigrant, of course.
Angelina Bell Peyton and her husband Jonathan, Tennessee natives, arrived on the shores of Matagorda Bay in 1822, long before the days of Indianola’s founding. Traveling from New Orleans aboard the aptly-named Good Intent, they moved inland to San Felipe, unofficial capital of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, where they operated an inn and tavern.
After Jonathan’s death in 1834, Angelina found herself in Columbia, where she married a widower named Jabob Eberly. After their move to Austin, Angelina established another boarding house. One of her guests at Eberly House was Sam Houston, who refused to move into his official residence after being elected to a second term as president of the Republic of Texas.
Houston was no fan of Austin, which he described as “the most unfortunate site on earth for a seat of government.” During his first term as president, he blocked plans to establish the capital there, but after Mirabeau B. Lamar replaced Houston as president in 1839, the central Texas plan was approved. Forty wagons carried government archives from Houston to Austin, setting the stage for Angelina Eberly’s role in the so-called Archives War.
After re-election, Houston found his opportunity to move the capital back to the coast. According to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission:
The Mexican army invaded Texas and took control of San Antonio, Goliad, and Victoria. The president called a special session of Congress to meet in Houston, arguing that Austin was defenseless against Mexican attack. He also ordered the secretary of state to remove the archives back to Houston.
The citizens of Austin were determined to prevent the move. They formed a vigilante “Committee of Safety” and warned the heads of government in Austin that any attempts to move the official papers would be met with armed resistance.
In December 1842, Houston decreed Austin no longer would serve as capital, and ordered Colonel Thomas I. Smith and Captain Eli Chandler to remove the archives from the town. When the rangers appeared with twenty men to do Houston’s bidding, the Austin vigilantes were unprepared. The archives were loaded into wagons and driven away, but not before Mrs. Eberly saw what was happening and fired a cannon, alerting her fellow citizens to the theft.
Smith and Chandler fled, but on January 1, 1843, Captain Mark B. Lewis overtook the wagons at Brushy Creek, north of Austin. Chandler and Smith surrendered at gunpoint. The archives were returned to Austin, where they remained. Once the smoke had cleared, Austinites celebrated in true Austin style: with a New Year’s party. And today, Angelina Eberly’s statue stands on an Austin street as a reminder of one of the quirkier episodes in Texas history.
Angelina Eberly, innkeeper and heroine of the 1842 Texas Archive War. The statue, by Pat Oliphant, is located on Congress Avenue near 6th Street in downtown Austin. Photo by Carlos Lowry.
By 1846, Jacob Eberly had died, and Angelina once again was on the move. Traveling first to Port Lavaca, she leased Edward Clegg’s Tavern House, trading her cannon for the quieter joys of innkeeping. By 1851, she had retraced her steps to Matagorda Bay, where she kept a hotel at Indianola until her death on August 15, 1860.
Today, her marker stands at the edge of the tiny fishing community Indianola has become.
While the phrase “archives war” might pique a reader’s interest, the note that “her burial place and marker were destroyed in a flood in 1875” made me laugh. Though true enough, it’s also one of the more significant understatements in the history of historical markers. Given events of 1875, you might as well say, “As goes Angelina Eberly, so goes Indianola.”
But that’s another chapter, for another time.
(to be continued…)