Winds of Change, Part III – Waving Goodbye

Indianola, Texas ~ December 2014

Six months before the German brig Johann Dethardt dropped anchor in Matagorda Bay, leaving its complement of immigrant passengers to fend for themselves, Samuel Morse was in Washington, D.C., sending the first public telegraph message to Alfred Vail, in Baltimore.

The message, chosen for Morse by Annie Ellsworth, daughter of the Governor of Connecticut, read, “What hath God wrought?” It was a question residents of Indianola surely would ask themselves, before it all was over.

Even as Indian Point changed its name to Indianola, and Indianola’s growth as a commercial port brought it into direct competition with Galveston, Morse’s technology was spreading across the nation. Introduced in 1844, the telegraph quickly was adopted by the developing railroads, the military, and commerce.

It certainly caught the attention of weather forecasters. The possibility of collecting, plotting and analyzing weather observations in a central location led Joseph Henry, Secretary of the newly-established Smithsonian Institution, to suggest “a system of observation which shall extend as far as possible over the North American continent.”

The plan was approved in 1848. By the end of 1849, 150 volunteers across America were telegraphing weather observations to the Smithsonian  By 1860, five hundred stations furnished daily reports to the Washington Evening Star.

At 7:35 a.m. on November 1, 1870, reports taken by observers at 24 stations were transmitted simultaneously to the central office in Washington. It was the beginning of the Signal Service, the precursor to todays National Weather Service.

Signal Service Office in Washington, D.C., which served from 1870-1887 as headquarters for meteorological operations.

By 1878, Signal Service field stations had increased to 284, and a routine had been established.

Three times daily (usually 7:35 a.m., 4:35 p.m., and 11:35 p.m.), each station telegraphed an observation to Washington, D.C. These observations consisted of:
Barometric pressure and its change since the last report
Temperature and its 24-hour change
Relative humidity
Wind velocity
Pressure of the wind in pounds per square foot
Amount of clouds
State of the weather

In the late 1800s, weather-related proverbs and folk sayings hadn’t yet been displaced by scientific observation when it came to forecasting.  A list of useful bits of folk wisdom compiled by Signal Service officers omitted one of the most useful (Run from water; hide from wind) but the list does include several whose truth coastal Texans still recognize:

A red sun has water in his eye.
When the walls are more than unusually damp, rain is expected.
Anvil-shaped clouds are very likely to be followed by a gale of wind.
If rain falls during an east wind, it will continue a full day.
A light yellow sky at sunset presages wind. A pale yellow sky at sunset presages rain.

The new Signal Service also published specific guidelines for its various stations. The guidance offered for Indianola, Texas in the late 1800s would do just as well today:

“Northers” are preceded by protracted southeast winds, rapid rise of barometer from four to six hours in advance of storm, high humidity, with cirrus clouds moving from the west.

In time, Signal Service forecasts gained accuracy and acceptance: so much so that a strong supporter of the Service expressed remarkable confidence in their usefulness.

While scientists cannot tell at what hours to carry an umbrella, they can tell when great storms and waves of intense heat or cold are coming, so as to be of great value to all the industries of the land.
All the discomforts of the weather cannot be avoided, but the great disasters can be anticipated and obviated.

Except, of course, when they can’t.

Browsing through Brownson Malsch’s Indianola: The Mother of Western Texas, or David Roth’s National Weather Service compilation,Texas Hurricane History, reminds any reader that naming Indianola by combining the Indian of Indian Point with ola, the Spanish word for wave, was apt. Every town clinging to life along the shores of Matagorda Bay was buffeted by the forces of nature, but wind and waves affected Indianola disproportionately.

It began early. On June 27th, 1850, a “severe squall” caused damage to ships anchored near Indianola. The Palmetto was torn from her anchorage and driven aground; the lighter Jerry Smith suffered extensive damage.

The following year, in 1851, a hurricane contaminated the water supply at Saluria with salt, and destroyed every wharf in Port Lavaca. The government wharf and bayfront buildings at Indianola suffered wave damage, but effects from the storm surge were negligible, and residents became even more confident that building their town on the lowest spit of land for the sake of convenience had been reasonable.

Three years later, that confidence was tested. In September, 1854, wind, waves, and storm surge leveled the town of Matagorda, destroyed every vessel and wharf on Matagorda Bay, and deepened the channel by two feet. Due to significant flooding, yellow fever took hold at Indianola, then spread to surrounding towns.

Helmut Holtz’s “View of Indianola” ~ Looking west, with the Morgan Wharf on the left (1860)
Indianola ~ Looking east, toward the bay, with the Morgan wharf on the right (1886)

Even after an 1869 hurricane demolished Indianola’s Episcopal church, tore the roofs from several buildings, capsized boats along the waterfront, and sent a foot-deep storm surge through the town, confidence remained high. Townspeople congratulated themselves on “the obvious security of [their] little city,” apparently willing to believe, along with at least one supporter of the Signal Service, that:

All the discomforts of the weather cannot be avoided, but the great disasters can be anticipated and obviated.

Except, of course, when they can’t.

On September 29, 1875, just two weeks after yet another devastating storm, Eliza Fisher wrote to her son, Samuel Fisher, recounting the storm’s effects in Matagorda.

No pen can describe all the horrors of such a storm & I will not attempt it. I little expected to live to go through another storm such as we had in 1854, but I have done so – for though we have not lost our house – my sufferings mentally were greater. Having passed through one, I knew what to expect – hour after hour, we faced death, not knowing what moment would be our last..
…About 9 o’clock at night, we went out & faced the pitiless storm. We could not keep our feet, but by holding to each other, were blown along & managed to get over to the next house & found a number huddled together in the kitchen. We only staid a few minutes there, when the windows & doors of the main house blew in & we had to go out again.
Fred & Nettie were afraid to go into another house & more over it blew & rained so awfully that we could not walk against it, so we decided to come into our own yard again & go into the chicken house. So 14 of us, seven grown persons & seven little children, crowded into it. We had hardly gotten out of that house when the whole side to the north east was blown off.
What horrors we can go through & yet live! It makes me shudder even to write about it, & yet dear son our sufferings & danger was nothing compared to those on the Peninsula & at Indianola, where they had the water to contend with; whole families drowned & hundreds getting off with only their lives, every thing they owned lost!
Eliza Ophelia Smith Fisher (1823-1877) ~ Courtesy Daughters of the Republic of Texas

Whatever Mrs. Fisher knew or imagined about the state of things at Indianola, the reality was far worse. A news account published in Galveston on September 21 made clear the scope of the disaster:

The steamship Harlan came into port this morning with her colors at half-mast. A large crowd gathered on the wharf to learn the fate of Indianola. The destruction there was almost complete… [and] the following note has been received:
(Indianola, September 20) To the Editors of The News:
We are destitute. The town is gone. One quarter of the people are gone. Dead bodies are strewn for twenty miles along the bay. Nine-tenths of the houses are destroyed. Send us help, for God’s sake.
(signed) D.W. Crain, District Attorney

Two days later, an account published by The New-Orleans Times provided additional information, gleaned from eyewitnesses to the storm:

The storm began on Wednesday evening and increased in violence until Thursday morning, when the gale burst upon the town with all its fury, the water in the bay rising rapidly, but did not create and general feeling of alarm until late Thursday morning, when it began to swell rapidly, rising Over Six Feet in Two Hours and rapidly neared the flood mark of 1867.
And yet the horror stricken people, almost paralysed with fear, did not seem to realize their danger, none of them making efforts to escape. In fact they could hardly have done so as the wind was then blowing a hurricane.
An hour later the water rose above the flood mark, and at four o’clock that afternoon the wind was driving it through the streets at the rate of Twelve or Fifteen Miles an Hour, the velocity of the wind, at the same time being eighty-eight miles an hour named.
It was then that the citizens of the place saw that there was no means of escape, for back of the city was a large open plain covered with water for three or four miles and to the depth of from Four to Eight Feet, and huge breakers washing from the bay inland as far as the eye could see…
The gale, said our informants, seemed to increase during the night, the barometer at one time falling to 28:95, and on the following morning a scene presented itself that beggars description. In every direction could be seen houses, some crushed entirely, while others had been carried by the Wind and Waves blocks away.
Others too were moved across the street and lay careened and half-full of sand, their occupants having either been drowned in their dwellings or had sought safety in the waves, and seized shutters, doors, or pieces of furniture, and were carried by the heavy seas against the houses, in which way many were killed, while again others torn and bruised, were carried out of the city into the plain, only to meet death by drowning.

General Adolphus Washington Greely, Chief Signal Officer of the Weather Bureau and Signal Corps, visited Indianola six months after the storm. Writing in the November, 1900 issue of National Geographic, he affirmed the impressions offered in earlier reports:

The hurricane began by a northeasterly gale, which set in on the 15th. The wind increased steadily in force with a falling barometer, until 5 p.m. of the 16th, when it stood at 28.90. The northeast wind of 82 miles per hour rose to a velocity of 88 miles at 5:15 p.m., but later, as it steadily increased, its velocity at midnight must have reached 100 miles per hour.

Signal Officer Sargeant C. A. Smith continued the narrative in his official report:

Soon after midnight, a change in the tide was noticed. It rose several inches for a few minutes, and then began setting seaward rapidly [while] the wind gradually backed to the north and northwest.
The tide now swept out toward the bay with terrific force, the wind having but slightly abated. It was at this time that the greatest destruction of life and property occurred. The buildings remaining had been so loosened and racked  by northeast wind and tide that the moment the tremendous force was changed in a cross-direction, dozens of them toppled in ruins and were swept into the bay.
It is a noteworthy fact that the immense volume of water, which for eighteen hours poured over the beach at Matagorda Bay, until for twenty miles the back country of prairie was an open sea, occupied but the short space of six hours to completely recede on the wind changing to the northwest.

Despite the terrible devastation, the deaths, and the decision of some townspeople to head inland, away from coastal storms and surges, the people of Indianola were not to be denied their place in history. They began to rebuild.

The fifth hurricane of the 1886 Atlantic hurricane season made landfall at Indianola on August 20. One of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the United States, and the strongest to strike between 1851 and 1910, it carried maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour and a fifteen foot storm surge.

Though shorter in duration than the 1875 storm, its intensity was greater.  By the time it moved inland and dissipated, much of Indianola had been swept away in its flood.  More than lumber, cattle, houses and wharves were washed into the sea by that terrible surge. A town’s dreams of recovering, rebuilding, and reclaiming the hopes of early settlers were swept away as well: never to be recovered.

At the height of the storm, the Signal Station office collapsed and several people, including Signal Service officer Captain Isaac A. Reed, were killed.  In the midst of the chaos, a falling lantern ignited the collapsed wooden structure. Despite the rain and because of the winds, the fire spread, engulfing a large portion of the town.

The August Frank warehouse, which survived the 1886 hurricane and fire

After the 1886 storm, no one attempted to rebuild. Most survivors moved away, taking with them any houses that could be salvaged. Disassembled board by board, numbered, and loaded onto wagons, the homes and their residents traveled inland to towns like Victoria and  Cuero, hoping to start anew.

Three months after the storm, residents voted to return the county seat to Port Lavaca, from whence it had come. In May of 1887, the post office closed. A month later the last passenger train departed. One of the most hopeful, and most harrowing, chapters in Texas history was over.

Remains of the Calhoun County Courthouse, on the shores of Matagorda Bay
Though the courthouse ruins lie beneath the bay, this marker remains. It reads: “Calhoun County Courthouse, Edward Beaumont, Artchitect, 1859. During the storms of 1875 and 1886, precious lives were saved within its walls of shell, concrete and lime. Abandoned, 1886.”

But if Indianola was gone, it wasn’t forgotten. In 1904, Jeff McLemore published an elegy for the ravaged town in his Indianola and Other Poems:

So, Indianola, has it been with thee,
Thou once fair city by the moonlit sea!
Thy fame is ended and thy beauty fled –
Bleak memory calls thee from the silent dead.
Thy streets are nameless, and the sea-weeds grow
Along thy walks where life was wont to flow.
Forever dead! fore’er thy dream is o’er!
Thou liv’st alone on Memory’s barren shore.
The sun that sets, yet sets to rise again,
Will smile the same, yet smile on thee in vain;
While moonbeams dancing as the billows roar,
Will seem as bright, yet dance on thee no more.

On a cloudless day, washed with sunlight and soothed by breezes wayward as the drifting sand, the rise and fall of bay tides continues: effortless as breath.  Memories tumble along the edge of consciousness, drifting fragments of the past delicate as any shell.

Lulled to inattention, the shore-bound hardly notice the water’s gentle rise. Silently, inexorably it moves: up the beach, toward the road, over the bayou banks, into the pasture, swirling its warning for those who remember, those who have seen, those who have learned the hard lessons of the coast.

And for those who fail to remember; those who have not yet learned; those who refuse to acknowledge the powers that surround them? For them, there whispers a voice from the past, a whispered warning that dares recall an ages-old exhortation born of experience and pain.

Run from water; hide from wind.

For Part I, “Winds of Change: That Prescient Wave,” click here.
For Part II, “Winds of Change: The Travelers,” click here.
Comments are welcome, always.

105 thoughts on “Winds of Change, Part III – Waving Goodbye

    1. Thanks, Janet. There are so many stories hidden away in our history that deserve attention, and my visit to Indianola just after Christmas certainly caught mine.

      The truth is, Galveston not only supplanted Indianola as a port, she’s supplanted her in the annals of hurricane history, too. The great irony is that Indianola had lessons to teach that might have saved Galveston some trouble in 1900. But, hindsight, and all that.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  1. The 1886 storms were really ferocious and wreaked havoc. It is no wonder they gave up on the place.

    I found the Signal Service information interesting. I’ve always enjoyed an interest in meteorology. Weather has fascinated me since I was a kid on the IL farm. Today, we have so many great ways of gathering and analyzing the weather. Forecasts out to 8 days ahead are routinely pretty accurate. Not so then.

    Excellent series.

    1. Knowing your interest in weather, Jim, I thought you would enjoy this. The Signal Service was all new to me. If you follow the link to its history, there’s a good bit more about assorted conflicts in that agency that finally led to the establishment of the NWS. That was beyond of the scope of this post, of course, but it certainly kept me fascinated for a time.

      Today’s meteorologists do have wonderful tools. Of course, they also have to contend with a public that imagines forecasts are static, as well as politicians and media that simply adore being able to scare people to death with hyperbole. Somewhere between the plight of Indianola and Snowpocalypse XVI, we ought to be able to accept a forecast for what it is, prepare as we can, and cope with what comes — even if it wasn’t predicted!

      1. The hype during the past week or two has been amazing. I watched The Daily Show episode from right after the Juno storm in the northeast. He had a series of clips from local TV broadcasts that said everyone was going to die. Incredible.

  2. That was quite a violent end to both the town and to your historical triptych. It’s been an interesting tale.

    Having been born and raised along the shores and tributaries of the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays of the Atlantic coast I am well schooled in the stealthy swiftness of storm surges. I much prefer my current location next to a large, but mostly well behaved inland lake in the Pacific Northwest.

    1. I had to stop every now and then while writing this, Tom, just to re-focus on Indianola. The similarities between the Indianola storms, particularly 1875, and Hurricane Ike were just too obvious. Reading about the surge then, I couldn’t help seeing our Bolivar Peninsula a few years ago, wiped clean of everything by water returning to the sea.

      I edited out one portion from General Greely’s report about the physical changes wrought by the 1875 storm. Twelve new bayous were formed as the water receded. The power of a storm surge truly is amazing.

      I have a friend who grew up in Minnesota, and despite her love of the Gulf coast, she’s expressed the same fondness for those mostly-well behaved inland lakes.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed the series.

      Linda

  3. The information researched for this series certainly exceed those used by the Encyclopedia Britannica’s staff. I had never seen such a detailed narration of factual historial events.

    I was aware of the large population of German immigrants when I read a book about the biography of LBJ. He mentioned the traditions of these communities in Texas. What I was not aware was the large number of Germans who died after arriving in the United States.

    I tip my hat to an ardous and thorough investigation on the history of Texas.

    Congratulation on a research excellently performed.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    1. One thing I didn’t realize, Omar, was how many good, contemporary accounts now are available online. Historical newspapers were invaluable. More than a few evenings were spent just reading the news: everything from accounts of the founding and naming of Indianola, to the first-hand accounts of storm damage.

      One newspaper, the Victoria Advocate, even included a report from the first city-wide gathering to collect aid for the victims of the 1875 storm. It was touching to see that, of the $543.50 gathered, a full $448.50. was in coin rather than currency.

      The names of all donors were listed, too. Most were individuals, but there were groups listed that provided interesting insights into the makeup of the community: the German Catholic church, the Hebrew Benefit Society, the Coletto Schutzen Verein. I noticed that a certain M. Schwartz gave $20 in currency. The first house at Indian Point was built by a Schwartz.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the series. I’m happy with it, myself. I wasn’t sure I could distill so much information into something that was readable, but it worked out well.

  4. Fascinating to learn about the development of the Signal Service. And, yes, we are always so confident we can control our environments. Sometimes we only seem to learn the hard way.

    1. It doesn’t make any difference what form it takes, Gallivanta. When nature decides to get our attention, the results can range from dramatic to devastating: as you know.

      Flood, blizzard, hurricane, earthquake, drought: all are beyond our control. Certainly, we can channel rivers, provide hurricane, blizzard, and tsunami warnings, devise building codes for earthquakes and so on. But in the end, the planet is living, and not always amenable to human control.

      We do have wonderful forecasting tools, but we’d do well to remember that they’re more descriptive and predictive than they are prescriptive.

        1. I agree. And it’s also true that the NYC events were complicated by people seeking to use a simple snowstorm for self-aggrandizement, political advantage, and distraction from other, more pressing issues.

          When I was growing up, and even when I was a young adult, it snowed. We coped. No one got upset, kids shoveled old Mrs. Harrison’s driveway and walk, and then we went skating. Spare me the hysteria. :-)

          1. Indeed. These days it seems we have made our default setting ‘apocalypse’ instead of ‘common sense.’ Was it you who wrote recently on this apocalypse type thinking that pervades the world?

            1. I don’t think I wrote about it (shouldn’t I be able to remember?!) but I may have made some reference to it in a comment somewhere. I certainly have been thinking about it. The title of the as-yet-unwritten post is “Mockingbirds and Madmen.”

  5. Linda, this is an excellent history of coastal Texas. You did some mighty research for this series. As I’ve written before you are an unparalleled historian.

    I don’t see how any of those folks remained on the coast until storm after storm finally drove them away.

    An educational and remarkable story.

    ~yvonne

    1. What’s funny, Yvonne, is that people were saying the same thing after Ike: “Why do those people remain on the coast?” I knew one person who rode out Ike on Bolivar; here’s a good article that at least describes the mindset, even if it doesn’t fully explain it.

      I do think about my own options from time to time. It seems reasonable for an elderly person (I’m not yet, but I will be) to move away from a surge zone. On the other hand, an acquaintance decided to get out of Dodge and landed in Joplin, Missouri, just a few months before their terrible tornado. I may decide to stay, and ride a refrigerator out to sea some day.

      Linda

      1. Linda, I read the entire article. People are stubborn and possess flawed ideas of what is reality. If I had lived there I would have found a way to get the hell out of dodge and somehow mange to take all my pets with me. Life is more precious than pride that is displayed at the wrong time.

        I do hope that you live high up in an apartment. Would a hurricane affect an apartment several stories up? I think in the case of a severe storm that I’d want to get out with my pet/s and at least have a vehicle that woud also be saved from devastation.

        ~yvonne

        1. Love your reference to “getting the hell out of dodge,” Yvonne.
          While traveling on Highway 50 several years ago through the entire state of Kansas, we went to Dodge City to have dinner but alas, most restaurants were closed. We double-backed to our B&B in Cimarron, Kansas and had dinner there. The next morning, we again drove east and stopped in Dodge for breakfast.

          As we were leaving, my husband said, “Thank God we got out of Dodge twice…”

          1. When I made my trip through Kansas last year, I stayed in Dodge, and never once thought about the fact that I was getting out of Dodge when I left the next morning.

            It was just ten miles or so west of Dodge that I found my beautiful tumbleweed. It’s still happy as can be, up on a high shelf where an impulsive kitty or a clumsy me can’t do it any harm.

            If only you’d been driving a Dodge. You could have gotten out of Dodge in your Dodge, dodging who knows what along the way!

        2. I have a pretty secure place. For one thing, it’s new enough that it meets all the current codes.

          Not only that, before the conference center and marina was developed, this was a traditional “hurricane hole” for shrimpers. When Ike came through, none of the boats in the marina were damaged, apart from some torn sails. Even Ike’s storm surge didn’t come up to the bottom apartment, because we’re built up above the marina. I’d not hesitate at all to stay through a tropical storm, or even a Category 1 hurricane. Above that, I’m probably gone.

          The problem is that hurricanes are unpredictable, and if one suddenly strengthens at landfall, you can be in trouble. I generally set up two destinations inland: one east, and one west. Then, at the last minute, I can decide which way to go. With Ike, I made the wrong choice and went to Tyler instead of Sequin — but the track changed after we’d already hit the road.

          When Mom still was alive, there was no question — evacuation was the only choice. Now, Dixie Rose tells me she’s not going through any hurricane, so I suppose that takes care of that. Once she’s gone, we’ll just have to see.

  6. This has been a fascinating and incredibly well researched and written series. Thank you for all of your effort. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the history and your prose.

    1. Thanks, Terry. I’ve always said, rather easily, that the way to learn how to write is to write, but my goodness, did I learn some lessons with this series. If nothing else,it gave my editing muscles some exercise. I kept running into fascinating tidbits that I wanted so badly to include, but they just didn’t belong. Oh, it was hard!

      In the end, it was better for the editing, and I’m really glad you enjoyed it. It’s been another reminder that where we are can be good enough: for photos, for writing, for art.

    1. Thanks so much, Myra. I did get a copy of Malsch, and your recommendation was, of course, a good one.

      I’m not quite done with Indianola — there still is the Perseverance, the camels, Grandpa’s trip to Fort Esperanza, and a certain lady sculptor whose story is as quirky as Angelina Eberly’s. Once I’m done with all that, I’ll read Malsch cover to cover, as well as your “Stein House.” This has been a wonderful journey. Thanks for coming along.

  7. This has been a totally engrossing series. The fate of one place encapsulating so much history, human suffering, endeavour, hope, determination, success, and, ultimately, destruction; the forces of nature finally proving stronger than all man’s efforts, you have caught and described it all beautifully.

    The research must have been fascinating; it was certainly a pleasure to read it collated here.

    I had no idea of the large numbers of Germans reaching Texas and hoping for a better life in the New World, only to be vanquished by misfortune, ill-planning and nature herself.

    But man’s hope springs eternal and, as you have reported before, many made it and became part of the fabric of the great Texas myth.

    1. The research was fascinating, Friko. In the beginning, I was researching for purposes of the posts. At some point, the posts became a fine excuse to keep digging, just for the sheer pleasure of learning.

      My list of Texas bookmarks expanded significantly, that’s for sure, as has my collection of books. Many out-of-print volumes are being brought back by independent presses, like Jeff McLemore’s “Indianola and Other Poems” and Dr. Ferdinand Roemer’s “Texas: 1845-1847.” I have both now, and have enjoyed them tremendously. An amusing side note: when I began browsing some old and rare books, I came across the phrase “in leinen gebunden” several times. I presume that means a cloth-bound book.

      I’ve known about the Texas German heritage since moving to the state. Oktoberfests took care of that. But I had no idea of the forces within Germany herself that encouraged such massive migration. I hardly expected to be carried back into German history when I began these posts, but of course it was necessary.

      The funniest tidbit I found was the suggestion made by a fellow who slogged from Indianola to Goliad. He wrote a letter back to Germany, suggesting the imperial eagle be removed from the coat of arms of the Adelsverein, and that it be replaced by a Texas buzzard. I can’t say I blame him.

      Awfully glad you enjoyed this! I thought of you often through the writing.

      Linda

  8. Western civilization seems to have a long history of simply ignoring geography and climate. The phrase “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” — (in wool uniforms, in India) — springs to mind, but the Americans are as guilty of it as any of the European countries. I shudder to think what it must have been like for 19th century women (in the layers and layers of clothes that society demanded that they wear) to live in the South and along the Gulf Coast. (. . .but Ginger Rogers did it backwards and in high heels. . .).

    Even if science hadn’t sussed to the concept of storm surge yet, experience– their own and others’ — should have at least suggested to them that it might be a bad idea to build a city on land that flat on the Gulf Coast because, ya know, hurricanes. The misery, suffering and loss of life appalls. But then, there are all those towns and farms built on the Mississippi river floodplains. . . . and the Loma Prietas scattered all over California that are built on landfill.. . . .

    Of course, we’re just as bad up here in Tornado Alley — as easy as it would be to build houses with enough of a basement to act as a tornado shelter, and yet houses are rebuilt two and three times without them. Of course, we also build them with wall-to-wall windows, and then pay ginormous utility bills to refrigerate them when they heat up like a greenhouse.

    1. Of course, the German immigrants had no experience of hurricanes when they first reached Matagorda Bay, so they probably deserve a pass.

      It’s true they would have been better off staying at Indian Point, where the elevation was several feet higher than at the beach front at Powderhorn Bayou. And Indian Point is nearer to Magnolia Beach, which is even higher in elevation, and which could have provided storm surge protection.

      But even if they asked advice, there were some assumptions abroad at the time that were ill-founded: primarily, that they were far enough up the bay to escape the worst effects of a storm. Before the storm of 1900, many people believed the Texas coast would not be hit again with a serious storm: that the Indianola storms were outliers. Well, so much for that.

      Even with Ike, assumptions caused trouble. When people heard that Ike would be making landfall as a Cat 2 or 3, many of them thought,”Well, shoot. I’ve been through plenty of Cat 2s. I’ll stay.” Unfortunately, the accompanying surge was much higher than would have been expected for a Cat 2. They hid from the wind, when they should have run from the water.

      I suspect this photo of the Bolivar peninsula post-Ike is a fair representation of Indianola once that was all over.

  9. Have you read “Isaac’s Storm”? I kept flashing back to the book while reading your piece and wondering why it seems we never learn from history when it comes to storms. You and I now live this every hurricane season, oftentimes in denial that it is even the season; well, at least I handle it with denial. Ignore it, and it won’t happen mindset. In-depth research, very well recounted, you bring history alive, my friend. Thanks for sharing this part of your Christmas journeys.

    1. I have read it, BW. In fact, I re-read a portion while I was writing this. If you have a copy, pp. 79-84 give an overview of events in Indianola, and highlight the hubris that helped feed the Galveston disaster. They did such an amazing job of raising the city after the storm — if only they had followed through with plans for a seawall before.

      Digging around in the NOAA records for Hurricane Ike, I discovered this: “In Louisiana, a 16-year-old boy drowned in Bayou Dularge, and a man in Houma died after breaking his neck when a gust of wind blew him over.” Did you know the boy? It’s amazing about the man. I can’t even imagine being out in a storm like that, but then I re-read Mrs. Fisher’s letter and realize that, sometimes, there is no choice.

      What had caught my attention is that in January, 1886, there was snow at Indianola. Then, in August, there was the terrible hurricane.

      It occurred to me that on Christmas Eve, 2004, we got that significant snow.all along the Texas coast. In 2005, we had the most active hurricane season ever.

      I wondered if snow and hurricanes always came together. Short answer? No. In February of 1895, Houston got 22 inches of snow, and Rayne, Louisana got 24. NOLA got nine inches. But, the hurricane season that year was inactive: only a total of six tropical storms and weak hurricanes.

      Well, whatever the relationship of snow to storms, here’s to another inactive season. It’s not too early to start the incantations!

  10. This has been a great three part history of Indianola, Linda. So much information…a true labor of love…or at least intense interest.

    Your opening quote is significant to me aside from this great history. We probably, if we are lucky, not survive to see what was foretold in the Morse’s words. Only it will be what humans have wrought. Technology offers us so many wonderful benefits, but as with all too many things, there is a dark side as well and Orwell seems a good prophet in how technology is evolving even if it.

    BTW, did you intend to repeat this: “More than lumber, cattle, houses and wharves were swept into the sea by that terrible surge. So, too, were a town’s dreams of rebuilding itself: never to be recovered.”? Slightly different wording so I wondered if it was repeated for emphasis?

    1. I think “labor of love” does just fine, Steve. I certainly enjoy the freedom to write about what interests me, and I can get rather caught up in a subject. The great thing about sticking with personally interesting topics is that, even if no one else gives a flip, I’ll still enjoy the process.

      It’s a fact that technology can cut both ways, but that’s probably been true since the invention of the wheel. I certainly remember my grandfather fussing over automobiles, and some of my mother’s friends were sure the microwave oven meant the downfall of civilization.

      So,yes. The same hammer that can pound a nail can bash a skull. It depends on whose hand is holding it. I’m perfectly happy with my coffee maker, computer, car, camera and power tools. MRIs and microsurgery are pretty cool, too. On the other hand, I just don’t feel the need for a tv, smart phone or GPS. If I ever get to the point where those seem useful, I’ll buy in.

      In the last paragraph, I didn’t see the second line as a repetition as much as an addition, or expansion. I put the tangible things in the first sentence, the intangible in the second. So, yes, it was phrased that way intentionally.

      By the way, one of the sources I found for this post was the September 22, 1875 issue of the Worchester Evening Gazette, Worcester, Massachusetts.You can see it here. The second page has the letter from the Indianola District Attorney with his plea for help.

  11. Linda,
    To rebuild again and again after such devastation is a testament to the human spirit, but I do wonder at people who, even today, rebuild in such unforgiving places, and often refuse to leave their homes… even in the face of evacuations.

    I enjoyed the useful bits of “folk wisdom.” All I know is that if the sun shines while it’s raining, “Satan is beating his wife.”

    1. Bella, here’s a link I left for Yvonne, up above, about some of the people who refused to leave Bolivar peninsula. Honestly, some people who don’t leave just are out of touch with reality. They’re either too new to the area to undertand what’s coming, or they’re too mellowed out with their drug of choice to make a rational decision.

      But some of the old-timers who dig in their heels are just that: people who have developed a relationship with a certain place on this earth, and who would rather face whatever’s ahead in that place than uproot themselves and risk being displaced for the rest of their lives.

      We’re a different country these days, and it can be hard to understand the depth of the feeling people have for places — for the prairies, the bayous, the coastal areas, that provided their living and a place to raise their families. Think about the resistance of old people to being moved out of their home and into an institution. The situation is different, but I’ll bet many of the feelings are the same.

      I guess the older I get, the more I understand the ones who stay put. On the other hand, I still live by my personal adaptation of the old Chicago motto: Evacuate early and often.

    1. And all of that work was pure pleasure, Otto.

      Well, except for some of the first-person accounts I read, and certain stories of how people from other towns tried to help the survivors. A few of those tales brought me to tears. Human compassion is a beautiful thing to witness, even across the decades.

  12. Oh, that ending! And the whole lot of it, of course — the research, the details. No one tells a historical, relevant narrative quite like you, Linda. Thoroughly enjoyed this one.

    1. What a wonderful compliment you’ve paid with that choice of phrase: “historical, relevant narrative.” So much of history doesn’t seem at all relevant to far too many people. If I can change that to even the smallest degree, I’d be happy.

      That ending rose out of my own experience of watching the water rise before Ike, several days before it made landfall. When there’s no wind, no lunar tides, and the water only goes up, hour after hour, there’s only one explanation: the pressure of a big storm.

      Well, there could be other explanations, I suppose. But those would lie in the realm of fiction!

  13. Bravo Linda! An incredibly well researched series.Your last three paragraphs were chilling. I could feel that water creeping up on me as I read.

    It’s amazing how many people can be utterly destroyed by Nature’s ravage and yet rebuild their live in the same footprint just waiting for the next catastrophe to choose them. Ultimately it will be Nature who wins.

    I enjoyed these stories of a place and people I had never heard of.

    1. I think I re-lived every hurricane and tropical storm I’ve experienced while writing this, Kayti. Maybe some of that crept into those last paragraphs, especially since I was recalling the water rise that sent me straight home to inform my mother to gather herself: we were leaving.

      Your comment about rebuilding in the same footprint reminds me of the spiders I encounter on my boats. I can shoo them away and wipe away their webs, but the next morning, they’re right back at it. I’ve displaced those creatures as many as a dozen times, and they still come back to the same place, stubbornly weaving their webs. It’s a mystery, for sure — as much so as the people who return to the same spot, over and over, to rebuild their lives.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the series.It was terrific fun to write.

  14. Those August and September storms seem particularly devastating, Linda. You’ll remember I used to live along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and endured several hurricanes while there. The persistent howling of the wind, the knowledge that water is rising, the slash of rain striking windowpanes, the crash of tree limbs — yep, this story brings it all back. How I’d hate to have had to suffer through one in the flimsy structures these folks called houses!

    I wasn’t aware of the Signal Service as a precursor for the NWS. While I’m sure they did a good job with statistics and such, the age-old wisdom from people who were merely observers of nature rather than scientists speaks volumes!

    Wasn’t The New Orleans Times the original name for the Times-Picayune? I had classmates from college who worked there (long after these 1800-era accounts, of course!)

    Fascinating glimpse into history, as usual, and a most compelling read!

    1. Well, Debbie, now I know a bit more about New Orleans newspapers. The “New Orleans Times” was published from 1863 to 1881. The “Times-Picayune” was the result of a merger in 1914 between the “Times-Democrat” and the “Picayune.”

      The “New Orleans Times” didn’t last even as long as Indianola, but I’m glad to have found it. I noticed that, after the 1875 storm, newspaper accounts depended far more on personal correspondence and first-hand accounts from people arriving from the stricken area, and stories showed up in non-local papers much more slowly.

      In 1886, the wire services were up and running, and there were reports of that storm in newspapers across the nation within two or three days.

      You’re right about August and September storms. As I recall, the statistical peak of hurricane season comes about the third week of September. On the other hand, some of our worst tropical storms (like Allison) happen in June, so there you are.

      Did you trade hurricane country for tornado alley? I hate tornados more than hurricanes, at least in the sense that you know when a hurricane is coming and can head the other direction.

  15. Thanks for part III! Another great photograph to lead. I like the interplay of the organic and the sharp lines. It works well.

    I was also especially intrigued by the description of the growth of the Signal Service. We often think (correctly, I suppose) that the change we face these days is dizzying. But getting that much information on a daily basis would have been unimaginable for those early meteorologists. I can easily see why they were so optimistic.

    1. The empty dock is a wonderfully ambiguous symbol, at least in my mind. On the one hand, Indianola is gone. On the other hand — someone built that dock.The sky, water and horizon are simple enough– but there’s still a presence that can be felt.

      The Signal Service was a great revelation to me, too. Yet, even with the increasing amounts of information available to them, presuppositions about what the weather would or would not do led to events wholly as terrible as those at Indianola. If you haven’t read Erik Larson’s book, “Isaac’s Storm,” I highly recommend it. You’d really enjoy it. It’s about Isaac Cline, the meteorologist who was convinced that the possibility of a storm devastating Galveston was an “absurd delusion.” He thought that right up to the Great Storm of 1900 roaring ashore. Oh, whoops.

  16. I am always intrigued at the amount of research going into each of your interesting posts — you bring each “tale” to life with the construction of your wording (true storyteller), the photographs, and response you receive from your readers. Bravo for another installment! Thank you for sharing your gift with us! :)

    1. I think I’m going to have a little vacation from so much intense research, Becca. I couldn’t do this every week, that’s for sure! But I do enjoy it, and the good news is that, when you start poking around in drawers full of history, you can turn up ever so many interesting things to set aside for later.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my series of small stones! (Well, ok. Medium stones….)

      Linda

  17. Fascinating! You had me on the edge of my seat, even though I was pretty sure I knew the likely outcome. You have a gift for storytelling. It’s amazing to me the stubbornness of people and their unwillingness to let go of an idea. So interesting the bit about the beginnings of the National Weather Service, one of our most valuable information resources.

    The closest I ever got to a hurricane was Andrew in 1992, when we lived in Baton Rouge, and I don’t ever want to get any closer than that. It’s why I will never live in any coastal area. And we flew into New Orleans four months after Katrina, when our daughter and family (with a two-month-old) lived north of Baton Rouge in Zachary, where they had a huge FEMA village. That was awful enough, being that close to the aftermath, I can’t begin to imagine being in the thick of it.

    We are, for the most part, at the mercy of the heavens, aren’t we?

    1. Well, Susan, maybe what we call stubbornness also could be called persistence. Especially once things began to improve at Indianola — once the Morgan line came in, and they really began developing as an important port and city — I can see why they would be unwilling to turn loose of that.

      On the other hand, after the 1875 storm, many people did move inland. The primary reason there were fewer deaths in 1886 was that there were far fewer people: perhaps a thousand. At its height, Indianola had from four to six thousand residents, depending on the source you read.

      Andrew was a bad one. I flew into Miami a year later on my way to Key West, and it was terrible to see the damage even then. For years Mom kept saying, “I’d really like to experience a hurricane.” Then, tropical storm Alison showed up, and she changed her mind.
      Ironically, the one that affected me most deeply was Rita, and it wasn’t the storm, it was the evacuation. I really can laugh at some events of that night, now. At the time, it wasn’t so funny. But it was memorable!

  18. This is really packed! I had to break for lunch after I started this!

    One thing about snow- it generally stays outside of your house. It’s not going to come into the living room. I’m terrified of deep water, so the idea of things being swept away is a life-altering nightmare for me. Some of this I could not even finish reading…

    I like the weather proverbs. I’m sure you are keenly aware of them!

    1. You’re right about snowing staying outside, at least most of the time. I suppose every weather phenomenon has one or two advantages. Hurricanes can be tracked, after all. It’s the fast-moving and unexpected ones that bother me — tornados, fire, and earthquake come to mind. At least tornado warning times are improving, and it’s pretty easy to know when there’s a fire in the neighborhood.

      One the horror is over, the cleanup after a hurricane can be interesting. I happened to be around the afternoon they pulled a French Provincial settee from a boat slip in a marina. And after Ike, I found a bunch of sports trophies. They were inscribed with a name, so I took them to the post office. They knew exactly who they belonged to, and returned them. What are the odds?

      1. That’s a nice story about the trophies. I helped clean up after a tornado and we found a small stuffed Mickey Mouse toy at the bottom of a fish pond. It became our mascot.

  19. Fascinating history, Linda. I remember going through New Orleans a couple of months after Katrina and being blown away by the destruction. But, people constantly make choices to live in hazardous zones. And rebuild. We thought hard about our choice when we retired. We are above the flood zone, outside of any avalanche paths, on solid ground, not sitting on top of an earthquake zone, etc. Yet, we live in a forest. During the summer months there is always danger of a fire…

    It was new information for me on the signal service and the beginning of scientific weather forecasting, which is ever so much better but still has a long ways to go, witness NYC last week. But, I for one, believe it is better to prepare.

    Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.
    Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.

    –Curt

    1. Honestly, Curt? When you get right down to it, life is hazardous. We play the odds and prepare as best we can for the risks that we know. Then, if we’re smart, we go ahead and live. To do otherwise would be the waste of a good life.

      As for those who insist on rebuilding — I have no problem with it. Some people grumped about changes in building codes after Ike, but as one fellow said, “If’n you’re not smart enough to know to build higher after this one, you got no right to be rebuilding.”

      People who stand on the outside and criticize folks who won’t leave the bayou, the river or shore, generally mutter about rationality. But it’s not solely a matter of rationality and logic. It has to do with culture, tradition, a sense of place.

      Of all the places I experienced that, the strongest bond is down on the bayou. Back when the Mississippi last was flooding, and the Atchafalaya went under, I wrote a post about that bond, with one of the best songs ever, called “Damn Atchafalaya. Carlos would rebuild in a hot minute.

      1. Being a wanderer Linda, I am not so caught up in place. Except that I love the wilderness. That is where I most feel at home.

        I accept that people love where they live. Almost every disaster story is filled with people committed to rebuilding. It’s an individual choice.

        I am somewhat of a libertarian when it comes to personal decisions. If a person chooses to live in a floodplain, it’s his or her business. But if the area continues to flood again and again, and large amounts of public dollars are required for rebuilding, then it becomes a legitimate public concern.

        What do you think? –Curt

        1. I don’t think there can be any hard and fast rule. For example, repetitive river flooding is a different matter from a once-in-a-hundred-years landfalling hurricane, or a tropical storm like Allison. Many of the people I know who’ve rebuilt after hurricanes/tropical storms have done it compliments of their own insurance policies, hard work and stubbornness. It is true that, after Allison and Ike, for example, the floodplains were redrawn and building standards were revised. I don’t have any problem with that. Certain insurance companies moved out of the markets,making insurance more costly, but again — that’s to be expected.

          Also, though I don’t have any facts or figures at hand, it seems to me there’s a difference between people who have been lured to the shore by developers throwing up condos, and people still living on land that belonged to their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents. When developers are granted variances to build on land that every local withint two hundred miles knows is dangerous territory — well, trouble will come, later if not sooner.

          Beyond that, people shouldn’t lose their homes because of the corruption or incompetence of governmental agencies like FEMA, the SBA and the various housing agencies. The stories I heard after Katrina, Rita and ike weren’t isolated. They appeared to represent systemic failure of governmental agencies. I don’t know where the public dollars went, but many people I know finally threw up their hands and said, “$&*@ you. I’ll rebuild things myself.” And they did.

          1. No disagreement here, Linda. Government incompetence, and corruption, were definitely a major factor in the tragedy of Katrina. Some people should have ended up in jail. But they never do.

            As for developers and real estate agents that lead people into building in dangerous areas, there should be direct and automatic liability when tragedy strikes. That would stop that practice immediately. Sleazy is the only word that I can think of.

            –Curt

  20. As usual your research is outstanding, but your life around water in hurricane country seeps human emotion into the stories.

    How sad old journals/newspapers aren’t the textbooks in schools – closer to truth and with real people telling the story, it touches the reader more. Life was hard enough for them, then all these storms! (Do you ever feel like looking around and say “Stop whining, people. You think your life is hard?”)

    We watched the lake area build for some time – learning where the “high points” are and staying close to hurricane holes, too. So glad that this side of the lake is mostly built to exceed Florida hurricane standards. So far so good, fingers crossed. But while feeling safe, the older I get, the more willing I am to leave for shelter inland (The German loves company!)

    “Weather-related proverbs and folk sayings hadn’t yet been displaced by scientific observation when it came to forecasting.” No matter the progress by technology, might be best to hang on to some of these skills?
    Where are the Fresh Pressed people? Such an intense post!

    1. Newspapers can be great supplements, Phil, but on the other hand, they could be dubious sources of information even then. For example, during the cholera and yellow fever outbreaks, the best data was being tabulated by the Army, since boosters of the various new towns along the coast didn’t want to scare people off with tales of disease.

      But you’re right about the power of personal stories and contemporary accounts to catch and hold interest. When I received my copy of Jefferson McLemore’s “Indianola and Other Poems,” I was astonished. “Indianola” is a full eight pages long — and annotated, no less.

      In fact, he added his own historical annotations to many of his poems. “Stanzas to the Blanco River” adds a note that in 1901, the riverbed was almost entirely dry. Then, in September 1903, he says that the Blanco “was herself again” — that nature in her whimsy had set her to flowing again. Cycles of rain and drought apparently aren’t a recent invention. Imagine that.

      There’s a great ode to Jefferson Davis, too. I’m anxious to comb through the entire volume, which I predict to be wonderfully politically incorrect.

      I just remembered another weather proverb I learned from my grandmother, and which I heard in Louisiana a few years ago: “A raven’s cry means rain is nigh.” And then there are the seagulls, riding the thermals before a front. They know.

  21. The third installment gave me chills in several places. As a reader I felt something important was building under the lull of history, how Indianola came to be and the naming of its sister cities around the country. The lull before the storm..literally!!

    History is full of the lessons we don’t always heed. We tend to want the most beautiful and most convenient places to live regardless of consequences and do it feeling like we are surely immune to Mother Nature’s chastening blows. We might try to build stronger and apply better technology, but we will still be drawn to living on the sides of mountains, next to rivers that flood, and as close to the sea as we can. The pull is more than we can resist.

    I lived in Hawaii during tsunami’s and learned the fate of people in the past who went out to collect the abundance of fish stranded on the sand when the water disappeared and then perished when the waves came rushing back. So maybe we could add to the old time warning……Run the other way when the water disappears…..

    Thanks for a marvelous and detailed account of the fate of Indianola, Texas. May we apply its lessons and recognize that we are not always in control.

    Hmm, guess we have another kind of book for you to write….history!! Listen my children and you shall hear…………..

    1. I never thought much about tsunamis, Judy, until cruising friends ended up anchored off the beach in Phuket, Thailand, the year the Christmas tsunami hit. They escaped, but only because they felt the first wave roll under them, pulled anchor and headed for open water before the debris-laden waves washed back to sea.

      I saved this article about the tsunami stones in Japan. It’s so interesting to see the same dynamic repeated in another culture: especially the thinking that modern inventions offer better protection against disaster, and that centuries-old warning systems can be safely ignored. You’ll find it very interesting.

      Something I’d not thought of occurred to me today. From initial settlement, to development as a major port, to destruction, to rebuilding, to abandonment — all that happened in 42 years. It’s really quite amazing. There wasn’t any FEMA in 1875, or government grants, let alone chain saws and bottled water. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, or that we shouldn’t have them. But the people of Indianola made clear that freedom and determination could accomplish great tasks.

      As for control? When you get right down to it, the nests we build for ourselves aren’t any more impervious to the forces of nature than those of the egret or heron. It’s good to remember that.

      1. A cautionary tale for sure! I am glad that your friends were able to seek out safer grounds out at sea. No matter how much you think you know or what you’d do in a situation, the hypothetical is always easier than confrontation with disaster.

  22. Linda, thank you for providing the three parts to this amazing story. Our forebearers suffered through some horrendous experiences, yet their tenacity held strong and laid the foundation for what we enjoy today. Nature still erupts from time to time. Here in Australia we still experience extreme dryness, floods, fires and cyclones, all of which test us again and again as they cycle around with monotonous regularity. Thankfully our weather warning systems are up to it.

    What new stories await? I look forward to them all.

    1. Mary, as I read through your list — “dryness, floods, fires, and cyclones” — I was reminded of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse.

      Australia’s been a bit of a revelation to me over the past few years. Like so many Americans, I thought of it primarily in terms of kangaroos, koalas and Crocodile Dundee. Bush fires and cyclones were only newspaper headlines. The internet has its difficulties, but it surely has helped all of us appreciate the number and scope of human disasters around the world, and the complexity of the systems that produce them.

      It’s good to hear you have confidence in your warning systems, too. The advancements over the decades have been remarkable — to the benefit of us all.

      Next up will be a little” art — in more than one sense of the word. And thanks so very much for reading along. I’m glad you enjoyed this series.

  23. Thank you so much for giving us such an in-depth glimpse into a terrible and terrifying tragedy. When we lived in the Midwest, it was tornadoes that were our great fear and now here on the East Coast, it is hurricanes. We’ve lived through some humdingers but we had warnings, right? Enough time to stock up and prepare, or worse evacuate. These poor people did not and paid the price.

    My husband is a pilot and he would never go near an anvil-shaped cloud. Nothing more dangerous up in the air than lightning and it likes to hide in those anvils. One other comment, my brother lives in the foothills of the Rockies and it’s always been fire that has been his great fear. His homestead in the town of Lyons, CO was nearly wiped off the face of the earth by devastating floods, of all things, two years ago. Nature likes to have a surprise or two up her sleeve.

    1. Who knows? Maybe the weather warning systems we have are one of our great, communal luxuries, Barbara. (I’m still thinking about the personal ones.)

      The first “multi-purpose room” I ever experienced was my grandparents’ fruit cellar. We kept all of the Mason jars full of summer’s bounty down there, along with potatoes, onions, and such, but when the air got heavy and the sky turned green, the fruit cellar became a storm cellar. My, we could run!

      It’s wonderful, watching the thunderstorms bubble up here on the coast, but your husband’s a wise man. Every now and then, a boater or fisherman learns the hard lesson, that lightning can strike some distance from a storm, and even “out of the blue,” as they say. When I start hearing more than a rumble of thunder, I get off the docks.

      I remember those Colorado floods very well. I took a peek at an issue of the Denver “Post,” and had to smile when I saw this:

      “Rescue operations in Larimer County went much more slowly than expected Tuesday because people are refusing to leave their homes in mountain communities cut off by floods, sheriff’s spokesman Nick Christensen said.”

      It’s just such a human response, to want to cling to our homes, even in the face of nature’s surprises.

  24. Wow, I’m impressed by all of your wonderful research. It’s interesting how the telegraph was used to collect data for weather forecasting purposes. .

    1. It’s fun to think back to the first days of the light bulb, automobile, telegraph, and so on, and realize that for those folks, there was the same amazement about the introduction of new technologies that we experience with smart phones and such.

      It’s amazing, too, how few years have passed since some of those technologies became a part of everyday life. My dad used to hitchhike from East Moline, Illinois, back to central Iowa, to court my mother. They didn’t have a car until around the time that they married, and once they had one, it was a big deal. They gave lots of rides to lots of friends!

      I wish I’d started some research while family members still were alive. I suspect you know something about that frustration!

  25. Linda, please, please write the book. You know those books that they have — part of a series about regional places. This is fascinating in so many ways — the people, their resilience, just the history of spot. Your research is outstanding, the illustrations perfect, the story of a tragedy unfortunately timely and eternal. Hearing how these people did their best to survive, only to find all they had is lost is heartbreaking.

    The weather parts intrigued me, too — I remember my dad saying, “Wind in the west, the fish bite the best, wind in the east and they bite the least; wind from the south, the bait’s in their mouth.” But we never knew what happened when it was from the north — usually it was too cold for us to care to find out!

    1. Jeanie, I’ve never heard your father’s saying. There’s a lot of local knowledge packed into that little tidbit. I’m going to run it past some of the fishermen here, just to see how it compares to their experience, especially since there are differences in latitude, and a lake’s different than our bays.

      I’ve never heard you say anything about fishing when you go up to the lake. Maybe you don’t like fishing, or there are so many other things to do once you get up there, it just naturally falls to the bottom of the list.

      Don’t you think the story of Indianola is, in many respects, the story of Every Place? Even the towns that still exist have had their struggles. And those that are slowly fading away? Perhaps we pay them less attention because their ending wasn’t so dramatic. It’s certainly true that few towns have their establishment and their ending so well-documented.

      On the one hand, another book about places like Indianola seems — well, redundant. There have been so many. On the other hand, writing about a familiar place in a new way can be appealing. We’ll see.

  26. Fascinating story. Winds of change indeed. I certainly enjoyed this series and better understand your analysis of the name Indian-ola. It is a great service our forecasters deliver in times of disastrous weather. We must heed them.

    I am so impressed with your detailed research. The letters, messages, journal entries make this history very real and alive to any reader. I enjoyed studying the photo of Ms. Smith Fisher. It’s amazing you found the photo and received permission to use.

    Your findings regarding the Signal Service Office I found interesting. My brother served the Signal Corps in the military, no relation to meteorology but yes, related to communications.

    1. Look what I found about the Signal Corps, Georgette:

      “The electric telegraph became a Signal Corps responsibility in 1867. Within 12 years, the Corps had constructed, and was maintaining and operating, some 4,000 miles of telegraph lines along the country’s western frontier.

      In 1870, the Signal Corps established a congressionally mandated national weather service…The weather bureau became part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1891, while the Corps retained responsibility for military meteorology.”

      So there’s the link. My guess is that the Signal Service became the Signal Corps arond 1891, when that split took place, and people writing about it today simply use “Signal Corps” to cover the whole history.

      If this series taught me anything, it’s how complicated historical research can be. I was glad to find documented support for the formation of Indianola’s name, but I’m still working out Angelina Bell Peyton. It seems her maiden name also was Peyton, and that she married her cousin, but that “Bell” still is a bit of a mystery. There’s even a discrepancy between the Texas state historical marker and the Handbook of Texas Online, as to whether it’s “Bell” or “Belle.” Since the Handbook invites questions or corrections, I sent them off a little note, and am looking forward to any information I might get that way.

      My favorite tid-bit? That the use of signal flags was called “wigwag.” That’s just funny. It’s all of these little details that make it all so much fun!

      1. Oh my goodness, the connections you help me make. When we were children and visited my Dutch grandmother in Mexico City, I remember that on one trip, my older brother was gifted my father’s signal flags from scouting. Or, my grandmother was cleaning house after the children moved out! As my brother was my father’s son, I have to ask him in our next conversation the influence of that gift to him.

  27. This is a remarkable, harrowing, and tragic story, too. Though of course it’s an entirely different set of circumstances, I’m reminded by this of having learned that our nearby Ashokan Reservoir was built on the watery bones of several hamlets, all submerged. Here’s a bit of the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/14/nyregion/watery-graves-was-no-figure-speech-receding-city-reservoir-reveals-turbulent.html I recall also having learned, through a composition by the Welsh composer John Metcalf, that a village in Wales called Vanog was submerged beneath a reservoir, too. Here’s a bit of that story: http://www.johnmetcalf.co.uk/works.php?name=Harp+Scrapbook+%28Llyfr+Lloffion+y+Delyn%29&id=21 Sorry to pepper you with links, but such is the evocative nature of your story that it set me off on trails of my own!

    1. Must add one more association, from Emily Dickinson:

      The Brain, within its Groove
      Runs evenly–and true–
      But let a Splinter swerve–
      ‘Twere easier for You–

      To put a Current back–
      When Floods have slit the Hills–
      And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves–
      And trodden out the Mills–

    2. Hurricanes are one thing. Eminent domain is another, particularly when the definition of the common good is a little loose. When I read the first story, I couldn’t help thinking of an on-going battle here, to close one of the best fishing spots in the state. Of course there are high-minded and principled arguments in favor of the closure, but the consensus seems to be that it’s developers and private landowners against the general public. A good many people are hitting a new level of anger and bitterness over it.

      On a completely tangential note: I just came across the word “weir” in another blog, perhaps two weeks ago. It was new to me, but lo! There it was, in your first article. Before now, I’d known “Weir” only as the last name of my grandparents’ neighbors.

      I remember Metcalf from your posts. After reading the history of the place, and a bit about his composition, I’m going to have to have a listen. Very intriguing, the thought of underwater plainchant.

      1. Eminent domain is a fairly horrifying thought. I actually find it hard to understand how there could be a positive in it, though I suppose it must be the case. I just learned today from David Nice, which of course brought to mind immediately our exchange here, of the discovery of priceless mosaics in Turkey, as the result of excavations done by archeologists in an effort to salvage anything they could prior to the flooding of an area by a dam: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/zeugma-excavations-ancient-mosaics.

        1. It’s been some time since I thought of the Aswan Dam, but your comment brought it to mind. It seems it was the first example of what’s now called “rescue archaeology,” or “salvage archaeology.” Just as you say, the point is to move whatever is valuable to a different and presumably secure site. Unfortunately, when the building of the Aswan High Dam commenced there wasn’t enough time to move and/or document many of the sites that were innundated.

          There’s a short but informative link here that has some good photos attached.

    1. I suspect Mrs. John Henry Brown would enjoy discovering people having such fun with “her” name after all these years. I certainly enjoyed coming up with the title.

      I do wonder what she thought about the demise of the town, or if she realized the irony of its chosen name. My hunch is that she did.

  28. There are so many stories, sunk in the silt of history…thank you for taking the trouble to research and share this one, Linda. Although thankfully I’ve never lived through such terrible storms as you describe, I recall as a child growing up on a small island off the West Coast of Scotland, lying tucked up cosy in bed, listening to the raging wind tearing the world apart outside…Nature remains our master, although we choose to forget that until brutally reminded.

    1. I am working on another book about German immigration, and I cannot find where Prince Carl established storehouses that he mentioned in his reports. Diaries indicate that the settlers at Carlshafen (Indian Point/Indianola) received regular food supplies, even listing the quantity, but not a word about where the ox carts got the food. I’ve got an email containing that question out to members of the German Texan Heritage Society but have not received a hint. I see you have many interested readers who might have an answer. I have Biesele, Malsch, Calhoun Co. Handbook, etc. Thanks

      1. I’m sure you know this, Myra, but in Ferdinand Roemer’s “Texas: 1845-1847,” he tells of a trip made in the company of John Torrey, from New Braunfels to the falls of the Brazos River, where the Torrey Brothers had established another trading post. I remembered seeing the Torreys’ names mentioned elsewhere — maybe in your blog! — so I went over to the Handbook of Texas Online and found this, in the article about the Torrey Brothers:

        “In 1844 the Torrey brothers furnished Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels with weapons for the Adelsverein. The brothers contracted with John O. Meusebach to provision and transport German immigrants from the coast inland…”

        I knew the Torreys were cart-providers (at least until the Army called) but it seems their relationship with the Adelsverein went back beyond Meusebach. If they were providing weapons, they might have contracted to provide food. I couldn’t find a collection of their papers online, but if invoices and business records exist, they might tell the tale.

        I’ll do a little more snooping this weekend.

        Linda

        1. Thanks, Linda. I knew about the Torrey brothers providing wagons until the Mexican-American War started, but I did not know about weapons. I did not run across that in Prince Carl’s reports to the Verein. I’ll also check on the Torrey Brothers. Perhaps they provisioned the folks on the coast, at least until the war. Then who did it? Thanks for this lead.

          1. It might be worth looking at bills of lading from the Morgan lines, too. By 1850 they were running a regular schedule between New Orleans, Galveston, and Indianola. Several ships arrived at Indianola each week, and they were bringing in goods as well as people. I haven’t been able to pinpoint when the shipping began, but I did find this, from “Charles Morgan and the Development of Southern Transportation:

            “The treacherous western Gulf with its shifting currents and depths continually levied its toll on Morgan’s steamers. Palmetto was stranded and abandoned in Matagorda Bay, January 9, 1851, and Globe wrecked on the bar at Brazos St. Iago, June 17. On November 25, Galveston was beached on Ship Island, Mississippi, and on April 29, 1852, Meteor was snagged and abandoned of the Paso de Caballo.

            Thus, in a period of sixteen months Morgan lost four steamers valued at $250,000, and, as was his custom to promote passenger confidence, all were self-insured. The loss of Meteor resulted from the negligence of the pilots at Paso de Caballo, and thenceforth Morgan employed his own pilots to navigate approaches to Texas.” (page 88)

            1. By the time Morgan operated in Matagorda Bay, the Germans who wanted to leave had already gone inland. It was the period just before and during the first year of the Mexican War that they were stranded on the beach. The Verein was bankrupt in 1847.
              Morgan moved his operation from Lavaca, where it started in 1847, to what became Indianola in 1849.
              I’m still checking the Torrey brothers as the best bet for delivery of food. I just need to know where they kept that storehouse.

    2. You’re exactly right about those sunken memories, Anne. Long before Indianola, the French explorer, LaSalle, had a ship come to grief in Matagorda Bay. Fort Esperanza is beneath the water, as are the remains of the Calhoun County courthouse. Who knows what else is there?

      Like you, I have wonderful memories of childhood storms — especially the blizzards — but I sometimes think our attitude toward weather was different then. We weren’t offended if it didn’t do what we wanted or expected. It simply was a part of a world we learned to live in, and with. It may have been a harder life in some ways, but it certainly was delightful!

  29. Another fascinating account of Texas history, written in captivating prose. This is what history should really be about: not just a boring tale of stiff, colorless events, but a living, breathing, seamless patchwork of interrelated events full of color and entrancing detail.

    Take a well-deserved bow, lady! You’ve done yourself and all your followers proud-yet again!

    Andrew

    1. Thanks, Andrew. Those are kind words, and I appreciate them.

      I learned a good bit while writing this series, not the least of which was how difficult it can be to condense masses of material into a narrative form. You’ve clearly done the same thing with your writing, and you do it well. I suspect you enjoy the process, too. I was a bit surprised how enjoyable it was to dig into this bit of Texas’s history, and there will be more to come.

      Here’s something I just realized about five minutes ago. Last year, I set myself the goal of writing three stories, as well as my usual blog posts. It didn’t happen, so I set myself the same goal for this year. Well, I think I just finished my first story. It’s not fiction, but it sure is a heck of a story!

      Linda

      1. All the best stories are true in one way or another! It seems odd, but it’s also true, that the horrific hurricanes reminded me of the firestorms that devastated northern Michigan during the same era.

        You found excellent images for this whole series – I especially liked the paintings – and you did one heckuva lot of excellent research. Now I have to go read the comments. They’re always interesting.

        1. A disaster is a disaster, whatever its form. I must say, it seems a bit of an oxymoron to hear of “Michigan firestorms,” but then I thought of all those trees, and realized it made perfect sense.

          I love doing the research, and have a couple more series in mind, though they’re going to have to remain more long-term projects. April and May are filled with work deadlines, and as frustrating as that is in some ways, it keeps the electrons flowing to the computer and gas in the car.

          I love the comments, too. I especially love that I can leave the comments open on my posts, and don’t have to fear that some sort of obnoxiousness will show up. I say, and mean, that I have the best readers in the world.

    1. All of us do that, I think. Sometimes I’m very good about accomplishing the things I need to do — or want to do! — and sometimes things keep getting set aside.

      Anyway, I’m glad you liked this one. Thanks for stopping by and saying so. You’re always welcome here. ~ Linda

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