Hurricanes...... a way of life

Hurricanes are the most destructive of all storms. They change places, landscapes, and history. San Patricio has known the fury of many such storms. The first recorded hurricane to strike near San Patricio County was on Sept. 19, 1854. It made landfall at Matagorda Island and wreaked a death toll of four. It is not known whether there were major effects from this storm in San Patricio County. On Oct. 3, 1867 a major hurricane moved inland south of Galveston and raked the entire Texas coastline southward to the Rio.

The two storms that finally destroyed the leading Texas seaport of Indianola were much closer tp San Patricio County.

The first one was Sept. 16, 1875. Over 75 per cent of Indianola was destroyed then and the death toll was 176. The port town was never rebuilt after the hurricane that leveled the town and had a duration of parts of three days. This one was Aug. 19 thru 21st, 1886.


On Aug. 18, 1916 San Patricio County felt the fury of a hurricane of extreme intensity. The center of the storm moved inland just south of Riviera and traveled rapidly northwestward.

Bay View College in Portland was a thriving educational institution in 1916. The 90 mph winds with gusts to 100 mph caused extensive damage to the little college, forcing it to close. Many structures in Corpus Christi, Portland and Gregory were destroyed or damaged. The 1,500 foot wharf built by the Coleman Fulton Pasture Company in Portland that was capable of handling shallow draft ocean going vessels, was heavily damaged. Cotton had been shipped from the wharf. When it was rebuilt it was cut in half; however, the pavilion was retained. Twenty lives were lost in the Coastal Bend

A letter from an Aransas Pass merchant, F.L. Clendening, describes the damage to that town vividly. He wrote the letter to his wife, who was away visiting. He states that the damage was extensive from Corpus Christi to Rock-port. No one had insurance to cover rising water. Financial ruin was felt by many previously prosperous business men. In Aransas Pass the telephone company was owned by J.B. Covington and with no Insurance to cover damages, he was unable to replace these services to the city. People in the Coastal Bend felt that because of the protective islands, this area was "storm proof." The storm hit about 10 o’clock on Friday morning and blew until 1 a.m. Saturday.

In his letter Clendening names several buildings that were severely damaged or totally destroyed. The ones mentioned were the Aransas Pass State Bank, Aransas Harbor Railroad terminal and warehouse the Commercial Hotel, Charlie’s (Minter) Pool Hall, Burnett’s, Grubb’s, Henning’s Jewelry Store, Aransas Pass Progress, City Drug Store, Fusion’s, Moody’s, Shobe’s Restaurant and Roddy’s. He says the causeway between Portland and Corpus Christi was washed out and a tug boat, the Cleveland, broke apart at the Aransas Pass lift bridge. The crew, however, escaped to safety. Three miles out a boat, the Pilot Boy, broke up and three of its crew members did not survive. Mr. Clendening says that no one in Aransas Pass was killed, but he had serious doubts that the town would be rebuilt. He says the water from the bay rose rapidly and was four feet deep in E.A. Carter’s Lumber Yard. Rockport was also flooded by the rising bay water rose to a level six feet t above the wharf. The wharf was a total wreck. Refuge was set up in the Aransas School. There were about 100 people there.

The loss of the railroad terminal one of the greatest concerns to Aransas Pass citizens. It was their commerce life-line to the outside world at time.’


The National Weather Bureau be officially assigning feminine names hurricanes in 1953) Before that time hurricanes were known only by the day and locations of the storm. However because of the disaster that was the 1919 storm, it was often referred to as ‘Corpus Christi Storm." September was the day of a storm so devastating the Texas Coastal Bend that no man woman, or child who experienced the night of horror has ever been able to erase its impact from their memory. There has been storms bringing higher winds (Cecila 1970) and storms with water almost high (Allen, 1980), but never one that left in its wake such total destruction a loss of life in the Coastal Bend area.

Communications and weather report ing were both infants in 1919. T country just finished fighting a war less than a year before. In fact, the c Breakers Hotel on Corpus Christi’s Not Beach had been converted to a convalescent center for WWI veterans and commonly called "Soldier’s Hospital."

There was some warning before r storm, but the severity was thought be minimal. There was no sea wall breakers in Corpus Christi in 1919, b the water had never been a problem then far back in the bay during the lifetime the people living there.

North Beach and the low-lying at near the old courthouse in Corpus Christi were the elite sections of town. Big beautiful homes with breathtaking view open to the cool breezes of the bay, we the pride of the area.

This weekend was the last of the tourist trade. On Sunday the summer visitors would leave all of the little rent cottages along the bay for the winter. The weather had been extremely hot all week and there were droves of flies everywhere.

Mrs. Hazel Crocker of Corpus Christi says that when she got off work at p.m. Saturday, September 13, her date (future husband) met her at her place employment in downtown Corpus Christi and walked her to her home on Blache St. The walk was very unpleasant

night because the streets and walks were completely black with crickets.

Iin the early 20th century, Portland was a sleepy, picturesque little fishing village, just across Nueces Bay from Corpus Christi.

That September week in Portland there were reports of large schools of fish coming to the surface all along the shore. School boys were having a good time with dip nets scooping up fish for their moms to cook for supper,

All week the sky had been a strange, deaden-gray color.

In Portland, Mr. Little was the telegraph operator at the railroad depot. More than a week before, he had received report about a particularly bad storm hat began in the West Indies, but it was thought to have gone inland at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Mrs. Fisher, mother resident of Portland, wrote to her sister of her relief that the storm did not come to her area. -

Corpus Christi officials did get a report of the impending danger and on he 13th, residents of North Beach and )the low-lying areas were advised to

· evacate. Some of them boarded up their windows, but most residents had seen these tropical storms come and go and were unperturbed. And the tourists were Lot about to give up their last weekend f fun and sun.

The wind shifted to blow from the North on Saturday. Most people thought must be an early, weak norther and aid little attention. By midnight the wind was blowing much stronger than usual.

There was a dance pavilion on the end of a pier in Corpus Christi. The young people stayed and danced until 1 a.m. Rita Stark was there with her fiancée that night and she says that by the time they left, There were a lot of things jumping besides the music and the dancers." The causeway to Portland was a single (two-lane) affair, very near the water. When Rita Stark and Mr. McGregor came across, the water was spraying over the top of their open roadster. Rita’s father tried to grt "Mac" to stay in Portland that night, but he said his mother would worry if he did not get home. He lost his hat on the way back to Corpus Christi and took time to retrace his path to retrieve it. He had an exceptionally strong "tail wind" and they flew toward home. He was probably the last man to ever cross that causeway.’

In the back area of Nueces Bay is a beautiful peninsula of sandy beaches and high cliffs with green vegetation on top. us is known as White Point. On top the cliffs was the Rachal Ranch, known Rosita. On the Rachal Ranch was the one-room Rosita schoolhouse. Because of that was happening on Saturday night and Sunday, this area was to become the focal point tot the most massive rescue and cleanup operation ever to take place in the Texas Coastal Bend.

Sunday afternoon the wind was blowing in gale force and the water began to rise. The water was a terrible black color because a number of crude oil storage tanks on Harbor Island had burst earlier and the water was covered with the black, sticky mess.

Finally, by about 2 or 3 p.m. things on North Beach began to break up. Those who could, headed for higher ground. In and around the lower areas of Corpus Christi, people held on to floating debris and made their way to the courthouse. Before morning they were all gathered on the third floor of the building because the first two floors were flooded. Except for broken glass, the building remained sturdy.

The people of North Beach had no escape route. There was no ship channel in 1919, but there was a natural channel there called Hall’s Bayou or Dun’s Slough. Many people tried to cross this bayou after it was too late. They huddled together on an exceptionally tall mound of earth on the north side. One large, black wave swept all of them away to their doom.9 Others climbed as high in their homes as possible and finally to the roof. The angry waves were bringing huge timbers of debris crashing through the fragile structures on North Beach. What the surging water itself could not destroy, the huge floating timbers could.

Eulio G. Vela and his wife and seven children clung to the roof of their home as it was swept off the house. After about one hour of riding on their roof, a large wave upturned the whole thing and his whole family drowned. Mr. Vela was battered badly by the debris, but managed at the last moment to find a floating door with a hole in it. He wedged his swollen body so tightly through the hole that he could not get our. The board remained afloat and he washed ashore Monday about noon near Calallen.

Bob Hall and his wife, Dora, and daughter, Bertha, clung to their roof across the bay that night. At some point during their plight, the daughter was washed off and Mrs. Hall immediately jumped in the water to find her. They both disappeared in the black, raging night. Mr. Hall could not see any sign of them and had no reasonable hope of ever seeing them again. He clung to his raft" all night and never washed ashore. The next day when the waters of the bay began to recede, the roof and Mr. Hall began to rush back the same direction from which they had begun. Later that day the roof settled on top of debris on North Beach near the spot where his house had originally stood. He wandered about in deep despair, knowing that all was lost. However, his wife and daughter were not dead. Mrs. Hall and Bertha had each found a floating object on which to cling. They were not able to stay together and washed ashore near White Point about a half mile apart.

All of Mrs. Hall’s clothes had been torn from her body, she was very bruised, and was covered with black oil. As soon as she was able to move, she found a feather bed that had washed up. She ripped it open and wrapped it around her for warmth. The feathers naturally clung to the black oil on her skin. After daylight she began to walk the beach looking for help. She was spotted by hands from Rosita who ran to find Mr. Rachal and reported that a "crazy woman" with tar and feathers all over her was coming their way. Jr was several days before the Halls were able to get word to one another and discover that the whole family was indeed safe."

Ben Ivey and his bride had a beautiful two-story home on North Beach. Mr. Ivey was farming his cotton near Taft the week preceding the storm. On Sat., September 13, the Iveys and a nephew, Maurice Ivey, returned to North Beach. By 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon their house began to wash off of its foundation and turn over. They climbed out of a second story window. Maurice jumped in first and disappeared immediately. Mrs. Ivey went next, followed closely by her husband. Mr. and Mrs. Ivey were able to grab onto a part of the roof. Mrs. Ivey received two severe injuries. One when the flesh was torn away to the bone under her wedding ring; the other, when a broken bridge timber with jagged spikes of wood rammed into her abdomen, tearing 13 great gashes. She says that at the time she felt no pain from either injury. When the roof-raft collapsed in the 25-foot waves, they found a wall to carry them. They fastened a belt to a board and hung on for hours— 10 to 12 in all.

They finally landed in an oil—soaked grassburr patch several miles west of White Point and made a painful journey to the Ramsey Vickers Ranch. There they received tender care, and with several other survivors, were eventually taken to Taft by TV. Ashabranner. This trip through waist-high water and mud was very slow and almost as painful as the trip across the bay. The nephew, Maurice, washed ashore at White Point in a tree and was uninjured.

The estimates of the dead range from 200 to 1000. There is a list of the identified dead in the Bell/Whittington Public Library in Portland. There is a list of identified dead in the Bell/Whittengton Public Library in Portland.

A young boy age 15, went down to the bay to see if anything of value had washed up on the beach. But what he Found wedged in the debris was the body of a woman, whose hair was tangled in the nails of a platform. He ran home to get his dad. A group of men from the ranch house returned to the shore and began to search in the debris. It was not long before they began to find survivors also. Before the day was over there were about 37 people for the Rachals to feed, clothe and treat for injuries. The roads were inundated from the storm and the rain continued. Transportation was slow and so the survivors remained at the Rosita Ranch for over a week.

Lumber was piled high all along the beach. Many drowned victims were brought to the ranch. About 200 people helped with the search and work. There were several graves on the ranch — one grave was very large and held 51 bodies. After every effort for identification was made, all were buried. The final count of the dead at White Point alone was 108. Some records indicate that there are still bodies in some of those graves, but Ulus Ray, Randolph Rachal and Chris Rachal stare that all of the bodies were definitely removed by Maxwell P. Dunne Funeral Home and floated across the bay by barge. 13

Daniel P. Moore, the first mayor of Portland, was a young boy living with his parents on a farm near Nueces Bay west of Portland. One of the neighbors came to his house for help on Monday morning. He worked with the neighbors for two days identifying and burying 100— 150 victims who washed in near the West Portland School.

Ulus Ray, a long-time resident of Sinton, was 13 years old and living with his family just two miles from White Point in 1919. The Ray’s house was a frame structure on piers. When the storm really began to rage sometime after midnight, his father awakened him and told him to get dressed. The wind was blowing rain through the siding and nearly everything in the house was soaked. The house began to shake violently and slipped off the foundation. Some of the piers fell over and others pushed the floor up. Ulus’ father was afraid that the house would completely collapse, so he took the family into the cotton field. The water was already fairly deep so it was necessary to stand up. Before the practice of defoliating and cutting stalks was begun, cotton was left in the fields after the first picking. If weather conditions were good, the stalks continued to grow and would put on a stalks made the storm unbearable for the Rays, because the violent wind caused the stalks to pound against the family huddled there. Mr. Ray pulled up stalks and made a clearing in which his family found some protection. After many hours, the wind abated somewhat and the Rays returned to their very wet house.

Sometime the next day, a ranch hand from Rosita came asking for help with the rescue work along the shore of the Rachal Ranch. Ulus was sent from Rosita to Sinton to get the sheriff. Mrs. Rachal sewed notes in all of his pockets. He had to change horses four times because the mud and water were so deep on that trip. Ulus said he was so tired he does not even remember how he got home. Carts were made out of four-wheel wagons by removing the back wheels and hitching up a team of four to six mules. These carts were the only thing that could travel over the deep mud to remove the most seriously wounded and to bring in food for the others. At first, bodies were stacked in the Rosita and West Portland school houses. Then large graves were dug with a piece of farm equipment called a slip scraper. The bodies were numbered and anything that might help identify them kept with that number attached.’5 The victims’ belongings were then turned over to Maxwell P. Dunne when he floated the bodies out by barge. These items were used for identification purposes and eventually turned over to victims’ families.

San Patricio County as a whole sustained considerable damage during the 19 19 storm. Practically all windmills in the county were either blown to the ground or dismantled. Power and communication lines were severely damaged. Many buildings were either damaged or destroyed. The county received 14 inches of rain in 12 hours and flooding was extensive. The greatest damage sustained in the county was that of the complete destruction of all of the cotton crop that had not yet been picked.

Storms of 1931, 1934, 1942, 1945

On June 7, 1931 a tropical storm moved on shore near Corpus Christi.’6 The San Patricio County News had this to say: "The amount of precipitation at Sinton Saturday and Sunday amounted to 5.09 inches. Some parts of the county reported a greater rainfall than was recorded at Sinton. Some parts of the county were needing rain and will be greatly benefited. Other sections, where the rainfall was heavy, reported a big damage to cotton.

The San Patricio County News reported: "The gulf storm which struck inland yesterday afternoon, July 25, was the most destructive to the cotton crop of any storm ever experienced in this county. The hurricane headed into the coast somewhere between Rockport and Port O’Connor, 75 miles or more from Sinton, but the wind in this section was hard, almost reaching hurricane proportions . . . Early Wednesday morning, before daybreak, the wind started blowing, after an unusually hot night, soon shifting to the north, with a fine driving rain with it. This continued until about 11 o’clock, when it abated, finally stopping blowing and an almost dead calm followed. About 1 o’clock the wind again started coming from the south with increasing velocity up to about 4 to 5 o’clock, when it abated, gradually growing less, and while the rain fell all night, there was no more damaging wind during the night. Property damage in Sinton was light and no deaths were reported."’

August 27th of the same year a hurricane passed near the entire Texas coast.

On the 27th of June 1936 a hurricane made landfall near Corpus Christi. The Caller-Times is quoted as stating, "A small hurricane from the Western Gulf passed over Port Aransas with winds up to 90 mph at Ingleside, doing damage estimated at $500,000. "

The San Patricio County News reports on this one: "Small hurricane strikes this section Saturday. Property is damaged. Unexpected blow uproots trees, blows over garages; residences suffer from wind-driven rain. Striking with a startling suddenness about 11 o’clock Saturday morning, a storm described as a baby hurricane struck Sinton and San Patricio County, doing considerable damage to property, but causing no serious casualties‘‘

On Aug. 29, 1942 a hurricane moved inland at Corpus Christi. In Aransas Pass all electrical power was lost and property damage was extensive.

A paper prepared by the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) in 1970 stated that the eye of this storm actually moved on shore over the San Antonio Bay area. The storm was large in size (150 miles in diameter) and packed winds of 115 mph. There was reported property damage as far west as San Antonio. The tide was 14.7 feet. Damage to property was $11.5 million and damage to cotton and rice crops was estimated at $15 million. A mass evacuation took place for the first time with over 50,000 people


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