The Short, Tragic Life of the Queen City of the West – Indianola

Last week, I posted about Texas Hurricane History, a study by David Roth of the National Weather Service. One of the more interesting stories in the study was about Indianola, a port on Matagorda Bay that once rivaled Galveston as a center of commerce on the Gulf coast. Back in the middle 1800s, people called it “The Queen City of the West.” But two savage hurricanes killed it. The town officially died a little more than 40 years after it was founded.

In 1875, the town had a population of 5,000. Today, Indianola is a small collection of fishing shacks and trailer homes. The courthouse where many residents took refuge in the 1875 storm is now underwater out in the Gulf.

Century before FEMA

Hurricanes hit Indianola in 1875 and 1886. The first killed 270 people; the second 20. People rebuilt after the first storm. They fled after the second. A 15-foot storm surge carried boats miles inland. One of the storms even blew over a railroad train and ripped up miles of track. After that, investors became skittish.

The economic decline of the once burgeoning center of commerce forms a cautionary tale. About building in places vulnerable to flooding. And about the need for outside help recovering from major storms. There was no Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the late 1800s. President Jimmy Carter established FEMA by executive order in 1979, roughly a hundred years after the Indianola disaster.

A Reader’s Connection to Indianola

A reader, Sally Geis, read my post about Texas Hurricane History and Indianola, then emailed me. It seems her family owned land there which she and her brother eventually inherited generations later. Part of the property remains wetlands and part was used as an artillery practice range by the Army.

She sent me pictures of what used to be Indianola and some links to a website dedicated to keeping the town’s history alive.

First called Karlshaven by German immigrants, Indianola became on the two largest ports in Texas, but died in 1886.
Sally’s husband, JG points to a well, all that’s left of the original town.
Wetlands near Indianola.
Indianola was the terminus of the Chihauhua Road. Scores of towns were established in West Texas along the road as a result of trade between Indianola and Chihauhua.

Army Takes Over Queen City of the West

During World War II, the Army used Indianola as an artillery range. Reportedly, the Army also had a POW camp for Germans near here, too.

During World War II, the United States Army constructed an anti-aircraft firing range along the Indianola shoreline to train gunners and the facility was used primarily by military personnel from Camp Hulen

Early French Influence

“Out on that fairly barren coastline of Indianola.. in the middle of nowhere…”, wrote Geis, “there’s this huge, pink-granite statue of the famous French explorer, La Salle, who was trying to find the mouth of the Mississippi and got lost.”

For more about the history of Indianola, click here or here.

LaSalle Statue

Where to Find the Queen City of the West

Indianola used to be on the west side of Matagorda Bay but was wiped off the map. It’s two hours from the Lake Houston Area by car.
The former Queen City of the west is between Port Lavaca and Port O’Connor. All that remains is a small, unincorporated fishing village.

Indianola was designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1963. 

Posted by Bob Rehak based on information and photos provided by Sally Geis

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