Tag Archive for: Indianola

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

1469 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Texas Hurricane History

I came across a fascinating, though slightly dated study by David Roth of the National Weather Service called “Texas Hurricane History”. The 80-page document is filled with trivia that will let you astound friends and family.

Texas Hurricane History From 1527 to 2008

It starts with a section on climatology, then has a list of Texas hurricanes dating back to 1527. The list goes up through Ike in 2008.

Next, there’s a section on hurricane records. It shows dates, wind speeds, deaths, minimum central pressures, origins, tracks and more. Finally, there are numerous chapters devoted to hurricanes by century that contain historical narratives on each major storm.

The Last Indianola Hurricane: A Prequel to the Great Galveston Hurricane

Most people in Houston have heard the story of the Galveston hurricane of 1900. And there’s a lengthy discussion of it in Roth’s history. The storm changed the course of this region’s economic development.

But I had never before heard of the “Last Indianola Hurricane.” Long before Galveston, a Category 4 storm changed the history and economic development of another part of Texas by wiping out another of Texas’ major ports.

The city of Indianola was founded on the west shore of Matagorda Bay in 1844 by immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, and France. It quickly grew to handle the business west of there, but fell prey to frequent hurricanes including one in 1875 that killed 176 people.

Image from Calhoun County Museum: Debris from the 1875 hurricane that hit Indianola, Texas. The town rebuilt after the storm only to destroyed 11 years later. 

On August 18-20th, 1886, Indianola suffered a fatal calamity in another hurricane. Says Roth, “Winds increased throughout the night of the 19th. Matagorda Bay began to invade the city by daylight on the 20th. The wind increased to 72 mph before the Signal Office building collapsed; the observer was killed by a falling timber during his attempt at escape. A lamp in the office burned down the building, along with more than a block of neighboring buildings on both sides of the street, despite the heavy rain. Although the storm was of shorter duration than the one in 1875, winds were considered higher. A storm surge of 15 feet inundated the region, covering the base of the Matagorda Island lighthouse with four feet of water. A large schooner was carried five miles inland.” 

“The town was a universal wreck; not a house that was left standing was safe to dwell in,” says Roth. “Most people in town left for the greener pastures of Victoria and San Antonio.”

In this part of Texas, that’s a lesser known prequel to the Galveston hurricane of 1900 that killed more than 8,000 people. But the effect was the same. It led to the rapid growth of safer cities farther inland.

Amazing Facts from Texas Hurricane History

For those who think only recent hurricane have high winds, Roth points to Hurricane Celia that hit Aransas pass in 1970 with 180 mph winds.

And before Harvey, four storms dumped 40″ or more of rain on Texas (in 1921, 1978, 1979, 2001).

Roth’s Texas Hurricane History is a work of scholarship. It contains an eight-page bibliography containing hundreds of references to books and newspaper articles, some of which date back more than 125 years – long before the digital age made such research easy.

For future reference, I will also link Roth’s history to the Reports Page under the Major Storms tab.

As Roth says in his preface, “More hurricanes will strike Texas over the coming years. Learning what happened in past storms can help to prepare you for the future. If the past is ignored, mistakes made in previous storms are likely to occur again.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/4/2021

1467 Days since Hurricane Harvey