Unfortunately, a hurricane of devastating strength made landfall on September 15, 1875. For research, I referred mostly to Brownson Malseh's book, Indianola; The Mother of Western Texas. His research and attention to details really helped shape my story. I don't know if they had a telegraph office in the train depot. Most depots did have them to communicate between other railway stops, but Indianola did have a Signal Station. The Government set it up as on of the first to gather information on weather. During the beginning of the storm, messages flew regarding updates on the hurricane and based on their limited knowledge on how barometric pressure and air streams worked, they surmised the storm headed for Alabama.
Even more interesting was the upcoming trial for Bill Taylor who had murdered William Sutton and Gabriel Slaughter. His actions were a result of the Taylor-Sutton Feud, a bloody affair that resulted in deaths for both sides. The trial brought visitors from all over. They stood on the docks and watched the roiling waves, unsuspecting of the trajedy to come. The worst of the storm hit on September 16th. That previous evening, the train officials had emptied the train's boiler to put her to bed for the night. As the weather grew worse, many crowded into the depot hoping to take the train out of harm's way. Unfortunately, the flood waters had filled the unground cistern with salt water and undermined the tracks.
I found one small reference online that Bill Taylor, who had been let out of his jail cell due to flooding and who promised to return for his trial, actually may have helped save a few refugees who fought the high waters to seek shelter in the courthouse. I don't know if that part is true but I thought it fun and added it into my story. He and two other prisoners actually escaped and survived the hurricane by heading away from town on stolen horses. (They sent word to the owners where the horses could be found.)
When the eye of the hurricane fell upon the hapless citizens, most thought they were out of danger. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. It took almost twelve hours for the waters to flood the streets, but then the tide swept back toward the ocean with a speed that proved even more devestating. It only took 6 hours for the waters to recede. Though a true accounting of the death toll can't be determined, they suspect that between 150 and 300 citizens lost their lives.
Ever resilient, folks returned to rebuild but when another hurricane struck in 1886, they elected to abandon the town. My husband and I went to visit. All that remains is the foundation for the courthouse and the cemetary. We ventured into Port Lavaca where they have a museum that houses a lot of artifacts from Indianola.
Please enjoy an excerpt from Texas Forged:
Galin rushed upstairs and flew into Aubrey’s bedroom, all thoughts of an encore performance lost with the danger knocking at their door. “Wake up and get dressed.”
She jerked from her sleep laden position. “What’s wrong?”
“We gotta leave – now. Your house isn’t safe.”
“Galin, you’re scaring me.” She pushed aside the blankets and reached for her under things. “Turn around.”
“Turn around? After all we just did?” he asked but complied anyway. “Didn’t mean to sleep so soundly. Figured on taking an hour nap, then forcing you to head toward Victoria with me. Reckoned to borrow two horses from the livery, but it’s too late now.”
She tugged on her pantaloons and shrugged into her chemise. “What are you ranting about?”
“The storm. You best peer outside.”
She scrambled from the bed and squinted between a gap in the boarded slats. Her eyes rounded, and she quickly dove into action. She reached for her gingham skirt, but he stayed her hand.
“Have you got pants of any kind?”
“Pants? Well, no, of course not.”
“Then no petticoat. Your skirts are going to get weighted with water and wrap around your legs. Petticoats will make it worse. Wish I’d thought to bring a pair of Teebon’s britches.”
“Wait. You’re not suggesting we leave the safety of my house, are you?”
He pulled her scantily clad body against his. “Got no choice.”
“Now’s not the time to be stubborn. The water isn’t going to recede; it’s only going to grow deeper. This house’s foundation isn’t strong enough to withstand the currents. Need to find safer shelter to wait out this monster.”
“No. I don’t want to go out in this. We’ll be just fine waiting it out here.” Fear made her recalcitrant.
“Not giving you a choice this time. You got any valuables, best grab ‘em. We’ll tie ‘em to your person somehow.”
He didn’t give her a chance to respond but left her alone to finish dressing. In the meantime, he hurried downstairs to look for anything that might float. Wind pounded the small house, prompting him to hurry. How they had slept through the noise remained a mystery. Spying the wooden kitchen table, he decided it would do as well as anything else for a raft of sorts. They just had to float seven blocks to the courthouse where the greatest chance at survival existed. As close as it sounded, the task would take an eternity before reaching the safer building.
“Aubrey! Let’s go.”
She rushed down the stairs and met him in the kitchen, her face pinched and drawn. “I really think we should stay.”
He pulled her to his chest, loving the way the smell of gardenia clung to her mussed hair. “Trust me.”
“Trust doesn’t come easy for me. You know that.”
“Then let me prove I’m right and that you can trust me.”