Texas City’s Woe

The Mitchell Capital/September 21, 1900

 

Frightful Devastation Wrought by the Great Storm

May Be 5,000 Dead

Ghouls and Vandals Are Shot Down in the Streets by Troops.

History Affords No Parallel to the Awful Visitation and the Succeeding Condition of Affairs—Flood is Followed by Famine—Pestilence Threatens the City—Victims Are Cremated, Thrown Into the Sea, or Buried in Soggy Trenches.

Probably 5.000 lives lost, property destroyed to the value of many millions, seventy-five towns more or less damaged, and some of them virtually wiped out, Galveston nearly in ruins, its great wharf frontage destroyed, ocean-going steamers and small coasting vessels sunk and stranded in every direction, are some of the mournful details of the havoc wrought by wind and wave on the Texas coast and the interior of the state. The fury of the hurricane was spent ere many tours, but its period was long enough to cause almost unprecedented destruction.

From the best reports it is evident that the storm began between 9 and 10 o’clock on Saturday forenoon. Driven by the fury of the gale the waves of the gulf inundated the long, low. sandy island upon which Galveston is built and which at its highest point is not over five feet above the Gulf level, and before dark the whole city was under water from three to six feet. Thence the water gradually encroached farther inland and beyond the water mark the storm swept on with cyclonic fury, demolishing towns and villages along its course to a point eighty miles north of Houston. Mountain region and table land suffered alike, the gale razing houses, tearing up trees, ruining farms, and leaving behind it a wide wake of desolation. Southwest it swept along the coast as far as Corpus Christi and northeast across the Louisiana boundary. It may be possible in the future to make something like an accurate estimate of material losses, in which the damage to the cotton and fruit crops will be a large item. It is not likely that the entire number of persons killed will ever be known, but a conservative estimate places the number in the vicinity of 8,500.

Full Story Can Never Be Written

It is hardly possible that the true story of the frightful catastrophe will or can ever be written. The terror, despair and desperation of the population when at last they realized, Saturday evening, that they were face to face with death cannot be pictured by those not there. Such an experience has fallen to the lot of few since the world began, for no one was optimistic enough to harbor the hope that the entire city was not soon to be swept out of existence. No aid was near; escape was impossible; it was as though the 40,000 people of Galveston were on a vessel which was sinking at sea, the captain having informed them that the ship could survive but a few moments longer. For nearly thirty-six hours the situation was appalling and the inhabitants of the town were compelled to face conditions the like of which have rarely been known. The hurricane, before it reached the city, had lashed the waves of the bay into the utmost fury. The water steadily advanced toward the island upon which Galveston is located, and as it was thrown upon the beach by the .storm the residents there fled from their homes to the higher places. Against such a combination of the elementals no forethought could provide.

It does not lessen the horror of this disaster that Galveston seemingly invites such a fate. Practically, it is upon a level with the waters of the Gulf and hurricanes are no strangers in that region. Starting in the West Indies, sometimes they sweep northeast along the Florida and up the Atlantic coast, but they are just as likely to take the opposite direction and visit their fury upon the Texas coast. In such case, when one of these hurricanes reaches its maximum velocity, Galveston is absolutely unprotected. Even in an ordinary storm the water rises in its streets. The despair of the situation is that human skill can devise no means to protect it. Great sea walls cannot be built, as no foundations can be had for them in the shifting sand, and the whole island is a long, narrow, sand spit, so low that an extraordinarily high tide will cover it. The only protection Galveston has lies in the fact that hurricanes of this magnitude do not often occur, probably only three or four in a century, and after one has visited them its people live in the hope that they may not be exposed to another for many years to come.

It probably will be so in this instance. The dead will be buried, the damage will be repaired, the destroyed structures rebuilt, and the hurricane of 1900 will soon be only a memory. The living will go on their way as unconcerned as those who live in an earthquake region or in the vicinity of a volcano. Added to the destruction accomplished by the wind of the hurricane was that of the succeeding flood, and houses which had resisted the pressure of the gale fell when the water came. The people had the choice of being killed in their homes or drowned in the streets, and the indications are that the majority of the victims preferred death in the water. Like rats in a trap the sufferers simply waited to ascertain what was to be their doom.

 

Five Thousand are Dead

It is my opinion, based on personal information, that 5,000 people have lost their lives here. Approximately one-third of the residence portion of the city has been swept away. There are several thousand people who are homeless and destitute—how many there is no way of finding out. Arrangements are now being made to have the women and children sent to Houston and other places, but the means of transportation are limited. Thousands are still to be cared for here. We appeal to you for immediate aid.

WALTER J. JONES.

Mayor of Galveston.

 

Stories of the Storm

Seventy-five outside towns were wiped out.

Several negroes were shot while looting houses.

Helen Gould sent 50,000 army rations to Galveston.

Five thousand families were made utterly destitute.

Ghouls stripped dead bodies of jewelry and articles of value.

Cities in all parts of the country have volunteered to aid the storm sufferers.

Prof. De Voe, Chattanooga, Tenn., predicted the Texas cyclone in an almanac.

The governors of various states offered aid and sympathy to the Texas sufferers.

The War Department ordered a special train from St. Louis to carry supplies to Galveston.

Martial law was declared at Galveston owing to the rifling of dead bodies and robbery of stores.

Idlers were pressed into service at the point of the bayonet and made to help clean up the debris.

Chicago sent a relief train to Galveston. The Rock Island road offered to transport provisions and furnishings free.

When the water had receded so far that it was possible to dig trenches bodies were buried where found. Debris covering bodies was burned where it could be done safely.

President McKinley ordered 50,000 army rations and tents for 6,000 persons placed at Gov. Sayers’ disposal. Revenue cutters were sent to nearby ports.

Gov. Sayers of Texas has been asked to call a special session of the legislature in order to take steps to relieve the suffering. The state has approximately a surplus of $2,000,000. Not a single church, school or charitable institution, of which Galveston had so many, is left intact. Not a building escaped damage and half the whole number were entirely obliterated.

 

Dead in Many Cities

Great Storm Claimed 800 Victims Outside of Galveston

The extent and character of the calamity which has befallen the people of Galveston is so great and overwhelming that losses of life and property at other small towns in the track of the hurricane have been lost sight of. There are probably seventy-five villages and towns that were swept by the storm, and in most of these places loss of lives is reported. It is reliably estimated that the loss of life, exclusive of the death list of Galveston, will aggregate 800. Several towns were swept completely out of existence. Through the devastated district the scenes of desolation were terrible to witness. The storm was over 200 miles wide and extended 200 miles inland from the Gulf.

In Brazoria and other counties of that section there is hardly a plantation building left standing. All fences are also gone and the devastation is complete. Many large and expensive sugar refineries are wrecked. The negro cabins were blown down and many negroes were killed. On one plantation a short distance from the ill-fated town of Angleton three families of negroes were killed, the death list of that place alone amounting to fifteen people. All relief is being centered at Galveston for the present, but succor will reach the smaller places and the country people just as soon as the relief work can be systematized. Gov. Sayers received upward of 1,000 telegrams Tuesday from parties in the East and West offering assistance to the flood sufferers at Galveston, and from various portions of the state reporting the collection of money and supplies.

 

Railroads Heavy Losers

Great Property Loss Suffered by the Lines in Texas

The railroads will suffer the loss of millions of dollars in actual damage, to say nothing of the loss from stoppage of business. At Galveston their wharves, warehouses, depots and tracks are ruined. The costly bridges which connect the island are in ruins and must be entirely rebuilt. The International and Great Northern and Santa Fe have considerable track washed out.

 

Disaster Not Magnified

Total of Deaths in Stormswept District May Reach 10,000.

As indicated by dispatches from Galveston the magnitude of the calamity grows. The newspaper statements seem to have been too conservative in their efforts to guard against extravagance or exaggeration, and the loss of life in Galveston is greater than has been generally reported.

A boat owner of Galveston, Captain Charles Clarke, is quoted as saying that 10,000 would be reached before the mortuary list of Galveston and vicinity would be closed. He has been about on boats in the waters around Galveston day and night since the storm and bases his statement on what he has seen.

D. Dillon, commercial agent of the Santa Fe, has returned from a trip over the line of his road from Hitchcock to Virginia Point on foot and he gives a graphic account of his journey, which was made under many difficulties. “Twelve miles of track and bridges are gone south of Hitchcock,” said he. “I walked, waded and swam from Hitchcock to Virginia Point, and nothing could be seen in all of that country but death and desolation. The prairies are covered with water, and I do not think I exaggerate when I say that not less than 5,000 horses and cattle are to be seen along the line of the tracks south of Hitchcock. The little towns along the railway are all swept away. When I reached a point about two miles north of Virginia Point I saw some bodies floating on the prairie, and from that point until Virginia Point was reached many bodies could be seen from the railroad track. At Virginia Point nothing remains.”

 

Many Ghouls are Shot

Summary Punishment Dealt Out by Soldiers and Citizens

A reporter telegraphed from Laporte the story of the robbery and mutilation of the dead in Galveston and the death of the offenders. The ghouls were holding an orgy over the dead. The majority of these men were negroes, but there were also whites who took part in the desecration of the dead. Some of them were natives and some had been allowed to go over from the mainland under the guise of “relief” work. Not only did they rob the dead, but they mutilated bodies in order to secure their ghoulish booty.

A party of ten negroes were returning from a looting expedition. They had stripped corpses of all valuables and the pockets of some of the looters were fairly bulging out with fingers of the dead, which had been cut off because they were so swollen the rings could not be removed. Incensed at this desecration and mutilation of the dead the looters were shot down. During the robbing of the dead not only were fingers cut off, but ears were stripped from the head in order to secure jewels of value. A few government troops who survived assisted in patrolling the city. Private citizens also endeavored to prevent the robbing of the dead and on several occasions killed the offenders. It is said that at one time eight were killed and at another time four. Singly and in twos and threes the offenders were thus shot down until the total of those thus executed exceeds fully fifty.

 

Bodies Are Burned

It became evident Tuesdav that burying the dead would have to be abandoned. The heat was so intense that bodies decomposed before they could be taken from the debris. Torches instead of shovels became the order, and wherever bodies could be seen in ruins, the ruins were lighted and the flames licked up the dead.

Relief parties report thousands homeless in the towns and country about Galveston and in great need of immediate assistance.

(Source: Chronicling America, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn2001063112/1900-09-21/ed-1/seq-6/#date1=1900&index=0&date2=1900&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=sn2001063112&words=Galveston+GALVESTON+hurricane+HURRICANE+hurricanes&proxdistance=5&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=&andtext=Galveston+hurricane&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1)

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