Monday, August 31, 2015

Indianola Texas

History in a Watersoaked Pecan Shell

Started in 1846 as Indian Point, the town almost immediately entered into a rivalry with Port Lavaca. Lavaca had taken the role of leading port south of Galveston after Linnville was burned by Comanches in 1840.

Indianola is Texas' Queen of ghost towns. While Thurber (west of Ft. Worth) was nearly as colorful, Thurber's history had to do with labor relations, immigrant miners, infrastructure, manufacturing and railroading - while Indianola was a port of debarkation for the thousands of European immigrants (plus a few boatloads of camels).

Today, they have only one thing in common - hardly any trace of either town exists.

In 1845, thousands of Germans were stranded at Indianola because their agents had gone broke. Disease claimed many lives on the shore, and when others attempted to walk to their destinations of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, they infected the established populace, causing hundreds of more deaths. Many who couldn't finish their journey settled in the towns of VictoriaCuero and Gonzales. (See The Story of our Texas' German Pilgrims: or Death March to Comal Countyby W. T. Block Jr.)

A storm hit the Texas coast in 1851. It was referred to as "The Great Storm" until the bigger ones arrived.

During the Civil War, Indianola was occupied by the Union Army and there were enough skirmishes to keep both sides occupied. After the war "occupation" was peaceful and relations cordial. Discord would stand in the way of business and in Indianola business was everyone's interest.

As a port to rival New Orleans, Indianolia was well on its way. Ships had started sailing directly from New York and New England. The New England ships brought cargoes of ice - cut in the winter months. A newspaper called the Indianola Bulletin had correspondents as far inland as Wilson County (30 miles east of San Antonio).

Besides storms, a fire did damage in 1867 and the same year brought a yellow fever epidemic.

The first major hurricane to hit a fairly populated Indianola was in 1875. Nearly all of the debris was used in rebuilding a stronger and more secure city. The second storm of 1886 totally demoralized Indianolans and forced them to move inland. In some cases the few houses that were left standing were moved inland to places as distant as Victoria,Cuero and even Gonzales. The huge ice warehouse, second in size only to the courthouse, was floated across the bay and converted into a residence. As one of the few remaining buildings - it had proven its strength. (See Indianola Remnants by Mike Cox) 
Indianolia could've rebuilt again, but the amount of silt and sand blown in by the storm made the bay too shallow for the ships that mattered.

Three railroads had Indianola in their name and had varying degrees of success. "Warehouse Row" - was Indianolia's cash cow. Although the warehouses had different owners, they were a select group of businessmen, which made for a near-monopoly.
Beef: It's what's for dinner - next year

Even prior to the Civil War, as early as 1848, companies in Indianola were canning beef. Or shall we say they were experimenting with the process. The initial test market was the shipping industry since they needed food that wouldn't spoil on long voyages.

After the war, the glut of cattle made beef valueless. Cattle were slaughtered for their hides and tallow and the meat was left to rot. Experiments were conducted, equipment built and Indianola was the first port to ship refrigerated beef to Eastern markets in 1869.

The reading of Indianola's history is rewarding both for its influence on early Texas and for the drama and tragedy of its brief life.

© John Troesser

Indianola Stories - Eyewitness Accounts & Aftermath

  • Indianola Remnants by Mike Cox
    Indianola, once the “Queen City of the West,” recovered from a killer hurricane in 1875 but it did not survive a second devastating storm in 1886.
    Modern day visitors find few remnants of the once prosperous Calhoun County seaport, but they’re looking in the wrong place. If you want to see some of Indianola’s stately Victorian houses, just go to Victoria or Cuero... more 
  • The Story of Indianola by Maggie Van Ostrand
    On my bookshelf sat a slim volume of poems by one Jeff McLemore.... The name of the book, published in 1904, is "Indianola and Other Poems,"...
  • Indianola A poem by Jeff McLemore published in 1904.
  • Indianola A poem by David Knape
  • Sept. 17, 1875 - Indianola History Cartoon by Roger T. Moore
  • Aug.19, 1886: Indianola History Cartoon by Roger T. Moore

  • Indianola Historical Marker:


    Many currents of the mainstream of Texas history flow in this onetime port. Pineda explored the coast in 1519 and La Salleplanted a settlement near here in 1685. Once an Indian trading point, it was a major seaport from 1844 to 1875. Texas colonists, including Germans led by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, entered through Indianola. "Forty-niners", supplies for frontier forts, and experimental Army camels were landed here landed here.

    During the Civil War Indianola and Fort Esperanza, which controlled the gateway to Indianola through Pass Cavallo, were objectives of Federal blockading vessels. Pass Cavallo, ten miles south, was one of several entrances to the inside waterway created by Matagorda Peninsula and the offshore islands extending to the Rio Grande. To deny Confederate use of this waterway for commerce through Mexico the Federals had to seize control of these entrances.

    Before Confederate defenses at Fort Esperanza were completed, two Federal steamers slipped through Pass Cavallo to Indianola and on October 31, 1862 demanded the surrender of Lavaca (nowPort Lavaca) to the northwest. The Confederate command refused, stood off the naval guns with land batteries, and forced the withdrawal of the Federal ships.

    Federal forces attacked Fort Esperanza November 22, 1863. The Confederates withstood the assault of naval and land forces for six days then spiked their guns, destroyed their magazines, and withdrew to the mainland. Indianola then fell December 23. On Christ
    mas Eve, Federal and Confederate forces clashed at Norris Bridge, eight miles north. Two days later Lavaca was occupied and the entire Matagorda-Lavaca Bay area remained in Federal control until the war's end.

    Indianola was partially destroyed by a hurricane in 1875 and completely destroyed by another in 1886.

    A memorial to Texans who served the Confederacy.

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