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RICHARD SPILLANE

EDITOR OF THE "gALVESTON TRIBUNE" AND ASSOCIATED PRESS COR-
RESPONDENT, WHO WAS CHOSEN BY THE MAYOR AND CITIZENS'
COMMITTEE TO SFJZE ANY VESSEL IN THE HARBOR AND CONVEY
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD THE NEWS OF THE GREAT QiSAST ER



the great
Galveston Disaster

CONTAINING A

Full and Thrilling Account of the Most Appalling
Calamity of Modern Times

INCLUDING

VIVID DESCRIPTIONS OF THE HURRICANE AND TERRIBLE
RUSH OF WATERS; IMMENSE DESTRUCTION OF DWELL-
INGS, BUSINESS HOUSES, CHURCHES, AND LOSS
OF THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES

THRILLING TALES OF HEROIC DEEDS; PANIC-STRICKEN

MULTITUDES AND HEART-RENDING SCENES OF AGONY ;

FRANTIC P:FF0RTS TO ESCAPE A HORRIBLE FATE;

SEPARATION OF LOVED ONES, ETC., ETC.

Narrow Escapes from the Jaws of Death

TERRIBLE SUFFERINGS OF THE SURVIVORS; VANDALS

PLUNDERING BODIES OF THE DEAD; WONDERFUL

EXHIBITIONS OF POPULAR SYMPATHY; MILLIONS

OF DOLLARS SENT FOR THE RELIEF OF

THE STRICKEN SUFFERERS

BY PAUb liESTEt^

Author of " Life in the Southwest," Etc., Etc.

With an Introduction by

RICHARD SPILLANE

Editor " Galveston Tribune" and Associated Press Correspondent



PROFUSELY EMBELLISHED WITH PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN
IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE DISASTER



ENTERE1 ACCORDING TO ACT OF CONGREBS, IN THE YEAR 1900, BY

HORACE C. FRY

N THE OFFICE OF THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS, AT WASHINGTON. D. ©■






n^ A^'



PREFACE.



THOUSANDS of men, women and children swept to sudden
death. Millions of dollars worth of property destroyed.
Scenes of suffering- and desolation that beggar description.
Heroic efforts to save human life. The world shocked by the
appalling news. Such is the thrilling ctory of the Galveston
flood, and in this volume it is told with wonderful power and effect.

There have been many disasters by storm and flood in modern
times, but none to equal this. In the brief space of twelve hours
more persons lost their lives than were killed during a year of the
war between the British and the Boers or during a year and a half
of our war in the Philippines.

The calamity came suddenly. Galveston was not aware of
its impending fate. News of an approaching cyclone produced
no alarm. Suddenly word was sent that the hurricane was bend-
ing from its usual course and might strike the city. Even then
there was no sudden fear, no hurrying to escape, no thought of
swift destruction. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the
city waked up to the awful fact that it was to be engulfed by a
tidal wave, and buried in the flood of waters.

The news of the overwhelming disaster came as a shock to
people everywhere. Bulletin boards in all our cities were sur-
rounded by eager crowds to obtain the latest reports. Many who
had friends in the stricken city were kept in suspense respecting
their fate. With bated breath was the terrible calamity talked
about, and in every part of our country committees of relief were
immediately formed. The magnitude of the disaster grew from
day to day. Every fresh report added to the intelligence already
received, and it was made clear that a large part of the city of
Galveston, with its inhabitants, had been swept out of existence.

This work furnishes a striking description of a great city of
the dead. It depicts the terrible scenes that followed the calamity,

ill



iv PREFACE.

the fate that overtook the victims, and the agony of the living. It
tells of the heroic efforts of the survivors to save their homes and
families, and recover from the terrible blow.

It tells of a thousand of the dead towed out and buried at sea
and of many hundreds cremated on shore ; of the vandals who
rushed in to strip lifeless bodies, unterrified by the scenes of hor-
ror on every hand ; of United States soldiers shooting the robbers
on sight and putting an end to their horrible sacrilege.

The story of the appalling horror, the oncoming of the
cyclone, the rising waters threatening the city, the inhabitants
overtaken by the flood and cut off from escape, thousands hurried
to death, chaos everywhere, recovery of bodies ravaged by thieves,
all this is vividly told in this volume.

The work contains thrilling stories by eye-witnesses. In this
volume the survivors speak for themselves. They tell of the sud-
den danger that paralyzed thousands and made them helpless
against the onslaught of the tempest.

They tell of separation from those who were attempting to
afford relief and how futile all efforts were against the fury of the
waves. They tell how their homes and places of business, their hos-
pitals, school-houses and churches were swept away as in a moment.

There were splendid examples of courage and heroism. The
graphic description of the great disaster contained in this book
thrills the reader. Amidst the alarm, the threatening death, the
overwhelming flood, he sees how nobly men struggled to save their
families and their fortunes. He seems to ride on the crest of the
waves and witness with his own eyes the terrible traged3^

Our Government at Washington was quick to come to the
rescue. It ordered tents to be provided and issued rations by the
tens of thousands for the survivors. The chords of S3mipath3^
which make all men akin vibrated through every part of the civil-
ized world.

Thousands of helping hands were stretched out toward Gal-
veston. Millions of dollars were given for the relief of the suf-
ferers. This volume is a complete and authentic account of the
great calamity told by the survi\'ors.



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BY RICHARD SPIIvLANE.



[RICHARD SPILLANE, editor of the "Galveston Tribune." was chosen
by the Mayor and Citizens' Committee to seize any vessel in tlie harbor and
make his way as best he could to such point as he could reach, so as to get
in touch with the outside world, tell the story of the tragedy and appeal to
mankind for help. He crossed the bay during a squall, the little boat in
which he sailed being in imminent dan;^er of swamping, having been stove in
during the hurricane. He reached Texas City after a perilous trip, then
made his way over the flooded prairie to Lamarque, where he found a rail
road hand car. With this h md-car he managed to reach League Cit)-, where
he met a train coming from Houston to learn what fate had befallen Galves-
ton. On this train he reached Houston, where after sending messaores to
President McKinley and Governor Sayers, he gave the news in detail to the
newspapers of the nation.]

TN THE world's great tragedies, that of Galveston stand?
* remarkable. In no other case in history was a disaster met
with such courage and fortittide ; in no other case in histoiy
were the people of the whole world so responsive to the call for
help for the helpless.

There prevails a belief that Galveston is subject to severe
storms. That is a mistake. There have been heavy blows, and
there have been times when the waters of the bay and the Gulf
met in the city's streets, btit the storm of September 8, 1900, is
withotit parallel. The best proof of this statement is furnished
by the old Spanish charts of three hundred years ago. They con-
tain as landmarks of Galveston Island the sign of three great
trees — oaks — that stood three htindred years ago in what is known
as Lafitte's grove, twelve miles down Galveston Island from the
city. These oaks withstood the storms of three centuries. The>
were felled by the fury of the storm of September 8.



yi INTRODUCTION.

The storm of September 8tli did not, as has been supposed,
come upon the city without warning. The same storm, less
ferocious perhaps, had swept along the South Atlantic coast
several days before. It had its origin in that breeding place of
hurricanes, the West Indies, and, after swirling along the Florida
and Carolina shores, doubled on its tracks, entered the Gulf,
came racing westward and developing greater strength with each
hour, and centered all its energies upon the Texas coast near
Galveston.

On September 7th there was official warning of the approach
of a severe storm, but no one expected such a tempest as was
destined to devastate the city. vSuch warning as was given was
rather addressed to mariners about to go to sea than to those liv
ing on shore.

Simultaneously with the approach of the hurricane was a
great wind from the north, known locally as a "Norther." This
developed at Galveston about 2 A. M., on September 8th. The
cipproaching hurricane from the east and southeast had been
driving a great wall of water toward the shore at Galveston. The
tremendous wind storm from the north acted as a counter force
or check to the hurricane element.

The north wind blew the water from Galveston Bay on the
one side of the cit}^ and the storm in the Gulf hurled its battal-
ions of waves upon the beach side of the city.

Early in the day the battle between these two contending
forces offered a magnificent spectacle to a student of scenery of
nature. As long as the north wind held strong the city was safe.
While the winds dashed great volumes of water over the wharves
and flooded some streets in the business portion of the city and
the waters of the Gulf on the other side of the city encroached
upon the streets near the beach there was no particular fear of
serious consequences, but about noon the barometer, which had
been very low, suddenly began to drop at a rate that presaged a
storm of tremendous violence.

Following this came the warning that the wind would, before
many hours, change from the north to the southeast and to the



INTRODUCTION. vil

fury of the wall of water being driven upon Galveston by the
approaching hurricane would be added all the tremendous force
of the wind that had previously acted as a partial check to the
Gulf storm.

To those who previously had no fear, the certainty that the
wind would change came as the first real note of warning. With
the first shifting of the wind the waters of the Gulf swept over
the cit3\ Houses near the beach began to crumble and collapse,
their timbers being picked up by the wind and waves and thrown
in a long line of battering rams against the structures. Men,
women and children fled from their homes and sought safety in
higher portions of the city, or in buildings more strongly built.
Some were taken out in boats, some in wagons, some waded
through the waters, but the flood rose so rapidly that the approach
of night found many hundreds battling in the waters, unable to
reach places of safety. The air was full of missiles.

The wind tore slates from roofs and carried them along like
wafers. A person struck by one of these, driven Avith the fearful
violence of the storm, was certain to be maimed, if not killed out-
right. The waves, with each succeeding sweep of the in-rushing
tide, brought a greater volume of wreckage as house after house
toppled and fell into the waters. So tremendous was the roar of
the storm that all other sounds were dwarfed and drowned. Dur-
ing the eight hours from 4 P. M. until midnight, the hurricane
raged with a fury greater than words can describe. What height
the winds reached will never be known. The wind gauge at the
weather bureau recorded an average of 84 miles an hour for five
consecutive minutes, and then the instruments were carried away.
That was before the storm had become really serious. The belief,
as expressed by the observer, that the wind averaged between 1 10
and 120 miles an hour, is as good information as is obtainable.

Nothing so exemplified the impotency of man as the storm.
Massive buildings were crushed like egg shells, great timbers
were carried through the air as though they were of no weight,
and the winds and the waves swept everything before them until
their appetite for destruction was satiated and their force spent.



viii INTRODUCTION.

A remarkable feature about the storm is the disparity in the
depth of water in different portions of the city, and the undoubted
fact that the waters subsided on the north side of the city hours
before they did on the south side.

These peculiarities are explained by the topography of the
island. Broadway, which marks the center, or middle of the city,
proper, is on the ridge, from which the land slopes on one side^
toward the bay and on the other, toward the Gulf. The waters
from the Gulf passed over this ridge and swept on toward the bay
during the most furious stages of the storm, but the full energie;;
of wind and water were directed upon that portion of the city
between the Gulf and the Broadway Ridge. Of the lives lost in
the city, 90 per cent, were in the district named.

How many lives were sacrificed to the Storm King will never
be known. The census taken in June showed that Galveston had
a population of 38,000. Outside the city limits on Galveston
Island there were 1,600 persons living. The dead in the city
exceeded 5000. Of the 1600 living outside the city limits, 1200
were lost. This frightful mortality — 75 per cent. — outside the
city is explained by the fact that most of the people there lived
in frail structures and had no places of comparati^-e safety to take
refuge in. In the mainland district swept by the storm, at least
100 persons perished. It is safe, therefore, to state that at "east
7000 lives were lost.

Of the property damage no estimate can be considered accu-
rate. The estimates range from $25,000,000 to $50,000,000.

Of marvelous escapes from death, of acts of supreme heroism,
of devotion and courage beyond parallel, the storm developed
Tiiany instances. In some cases whole families were blotted out,
lU others the strong perished and the weak survived. Of the
various branches of one family, 42 were killed, while in one house-
hold 13 out of a total of 15 were lost.

Such a scene of desolation as met the eyes of the people of
Galveston when day dawned Sunday, September 9, has rarely
been witnessed on earth. Fifteen hundred acres of the city had
been swept clear of every habitation. Every street was choked



INTRODUCTION. Ix

with ruins, while the sea, not content with tearing away a great
strip alon^ the beach front, had piled the wreckage in one great
long mass from city end to city end. Beneath these masses of
broken buildings, in the streets, in the yards, in fence corners, in
cisterns, in the bay, far out across the waters on the mainland
shores, everywhere, in fact, were corpses. Galveston was a ver-'
itable charnel-house. To bury the dead was a physical impossi-
bility. Added to the horror of so many corpses was the presence
of carcasses of thousands of horses, cattle, dogs and other domes-
tic animals.

To a people upon whom such a terrible calamity had been
visited, now devolved a duty the like of which a civilized people
had never been called to perform. To protect the living the dead
had to be gotten rid of with all speed, for with corpses on every
side, with carcasses by the thousands, and with a severe tropic
sun to hasten decomposition, pestilence in its most terrible form
threatened the living if the dead were not removed.

The tumbrels that rumbled over Paris streets with the grue-
some burdens that came from Robespierre's abattoir had little
work compared with the carts and wagons of Galveston in the
days that followed the awful storm. It was at first determined to
bury the dead at sea, but the procession of the dead seemed never-
ending, and the cargoes that were taken to the deep and cast upon
the waters came back with the tides and littered the shores. Then
it was decided to burn the dead.

Ye who know not the horror of those days, who took no part
in the saddest spectacle that man ever witnessed, may well shed
tears of sympathy for those whose human tenement blazed on the ■
funeral pyre in street or avenue, or whose requiem was sung by/
the waves that had brought death^ — but shed tears, too, for the
brave men who faced this most gruesome duty with a Spartani
courage the world has never known before.

The dead past has buried its dead.

For a week Galveston was under martial law. There was no
disorder. There was some robbing of the dead by ghouls. This
was checked by a punishment swift and sure.



X INTRODUCTION.

The city rose from its ruins as if by magic. Street aftei
street was cleared of debris. A small army of men worked from
early morn until the shadows of night descended, to lift the city
from its burden of wreckage. Then, when danger of epidemic
seemed passed, attention was turned to commerce. The bay was
strewn with stranded vessels. Monster ocean steamers weighing
thousands of tons had been picked up like toys, driven across the
lowlands, and thrown far from their moorings. One big steam-
ship was hurled through three bridges, another, weighing 4,000
tons, was carried twenty-two miles from deep water, and dashed
against a bayou bluff in another county.

The great wharves and warehouses along the bay front were a
mass of splintered, broken timbers.

But the mighty energy of man worked wonders. Marvelous
to say, under such conditions, a bridge 2% miles long was built
across the bay within seven days and Galveston, which had been
cut off from the world, was once more in active touch with all the
marts of trade and commerce. An undaunted people strove as
only an indomitable people can strive, to rehabilitate the city.

The signs of the cripple are still upon the city, but every
hour brings nearer the day when the crutches will be thrown
away and Galveston, which by nature and by man was chosen as
the entreport for the great West, will rise to a loftier destiny and
a more enduring commercial prosperity than seemed possible
before she was tried in the crucible of disaster. Longfellow says :

Our lot is the common lot of all.
Into each Hfe some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

The dark and dreary days were crowded into Galveston's life
with horror unspeakable. It is an inexorable law of nature that
after the storm comes the radiance of a glorious sunshine.



CONTENTS.



CHAPTER I. PAGE

First News of the Great Calamity — Galveston Almost
Totally Destroyed by Wind and Waves — Thousauds
Swept to Instant Death j«

CHAPTER II.
The Tale of Destrnction Grows — A Night of Horrors —
Sufferings of the Survivors. — Relief Measures by the



National Government.



29



CHAPTER III.
Inciaents of the Awful Hurricane — Unparalleled Atrocities •

by Lawless Hordes — Earnest Appeals for Help. , . 42

CHAPTER IV.
The Cry of Distress in the Wrecked City — Negro Vandals
Shot Down — Progress of the Relief Work — Strict Mili-
tar^^ Rules 5j

CHAPTER V.

Vivid Pictures of Suffering in Every Street and House — The
Gulf City a Ghastly Mass of Ruins— The Sea Givin<»-
up its Dead — Supplies Pouring in from Every Quarter. S6

CHAPTER VI.

Two Survivors Give Harrowing Details of the Awful Disas-
ter — Hundreds Eager to Get out of Galveston — Clean-
ing up the Wreckage , 107

xi



xii CONTENTS.

CHAPTER VII. PACE

Not a House in Galveston Escaped Damage — Young and Old,
Rich and Poor, Hurried to a Watery Grave — Citizens
With Guns Guarding the Living and the Dead 129

CHAPTER VIII.

Fears of Pestilence — Searching Parties Clearing away the
Ruins and Cremating the Dead — Distracted Crowds
Waiting to Eeave the City — Wonderful Escapes .... 146

CHAPTER IX.

Story of a Brave Hero — A Vast Army of Helpless Victims
— Scenes that Shock the Beholders — Our Nation Rises
•^o the Occasion 167

CHAPTER X.

Details of the Overwhelming Tragedy — The Whole City
Caught in the Death Trap — Personal Experiences of
Those Who Escaped — First Reports More than Con
firmed 191

CHAPTER XL

Galveston Calamity — One of the Greatest Known to His-
tor}^ — Many Thousands Maimed and Wounded — Few
Heeded the Threatening Hurricane — The Doomed City
Turned to Chaos 212

CHAPTER XIL

Thrilling Narratives by Eye-witnesses — Path of the Storms
Fury Through Galveston — Massive Heaps of Rubbish —
Huge Buildings Swept into the Gulf 234

CHAPTER XHI.

Refugees Continue the Terrible Stor}^ — Rigid Military
Patrol — The Cit}^ in Darkness at Night — Hungry and
Ragged Throngs 25;?



CONTilNTS. xiii

CHAPTER XIV. PAGE

Dead Babes Floating in the Water — Sharp Crack of Soldiers'
Rifles — Tears Mingle With the Flood — Doctors and
Nurses for the Sick and Dying 273

CHAPTER XV.

Family in a Tree-top All Night — Rescue of the Perishing —
Railroad Trains Hurrying Forward With Relief —
Pathetic Scenes in the Desolate City 293

CHAPTER XVI.

Startling Havoc Made by the Angr}^ Storm — Vessels Far
Out on the Prairie — Urgent Call for Millions of Dollars
- — Tangled Wires and Mountains of Wreckage .... 318

CHAPTER XVII.

Governor Sayres Revises His Estimate of Those Lost and
Makes it 12,000 — A Multitude of the Destitutes-
Abundant Supplies and Vast Work of Distribution . . 340

CHAPTER XVIII.

An Island of Desolation — Crumbling Walls — Faces White
With x\gony — Tales of Dismay and Death — Curious
Sights 360

CHAPTER XIX.

Thousands Died in Their Efforts to Save Others — Houses
and Human Beings Floating on the Tide — An Army of
Orphans — Greatest Catastrophe in Our History . . . . 377

CHAPTER XX.

The Storm's Murderous Fury — People Stunned by the Stag-
gering Blow — Heroic Measures to Avert Pestilence —
Thrilling Story of the Ursuline Convent 391



^.^, CONTENTS.

CHAPTER XXL

Unparalelled Bombardment of Waves — Wonderful Courage

Shown by the Survivors — Letter from Clara Barton . .416

CHAPTER XXH.

Galveston Storm Stories — Fierce Battles with Surging Waves
— Vivid Accounts from Fortunate Survivors — A City of
Sorrow 440

CHAPTER XXIIL

Heroic Incidents — Arrival of Relief Trains — Hospitals for the

Injured — Loud Call for Skilled Labor 461

CHAPTER XXIV.

One Hero Rescues Over Two Hundred — Traveler Caught in
the Rush of Water — Report of a Government Official —
How the Great Storm Started 477

CHAPTER XXV.

Storms of Great Violence Around Galveston — Wrecked Cities
and Vast Destruction of Property — Appalling Sacrifice
of Life 497

Imprisoned by the Storm 509

Names of the Victims of the Great Galveston Horror . . .517




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CHAPTER I.

First News of the Great Calamity — Galveston Almost

Totally Destroyed by W^inds and Waves.

Thousands Swept to Instant Death.

THE first news of the appalliug calarait}" that fell like a thun-
derbolt on Galveston came in the following despatch from
the Governor of Texas :

" Information has just reached me that about 3000 lives have
been lost in Galveston, with enormous destruction of property
No information from other points.

"JOSEPH D. SAYRES, Governor."

This despatch was dated at Austin, Texas, September 9th.
Further intelligence was awaited with great anxiety in all parts
of the country. The worst was feared, and all the fears were
mere than realized. Later intelligence showed that the West
Indian storm which reached the Gulf coast on the morning of
September 8th, wrought awful havoc in Texas. Reports were
conflicting, but it was known that an appalling disaster had befal-
len the city of Galveston, where, it was reported, a thousand or
more lives had been blotted out and a tremendous property damage
incurred. Meagre reports from Sabine Pass and Port Arthur also
indicated a heavy loss of life.

Among those who brought tidings from the sticken city of
Galveston was James C. Timmins, who resides in Houston, and
who is the General Superintendent of the National Compress
Company. After Mr. Spillane he was one of the first to reach
Houston with news of the great disaster which had befallen that
city, and after all he reported it was evident that the magnitude
of the disaster remained to be told.

After remaining through the hurricane on Saturday, the 8th,
he departed from Galveston on a schooner and came across the
bay to Morgan's Point, where he caught a train for Houston.
The hurricane, Mr. Timmins said, was the worst ever known.
•2 17



18 FIRST NEWS OF THE GREAT CALAMITY.

The estimate made by citizeus of Galveston was that
Tour thousand houses, most of them residences, were destroyed,
and that at least one thousand people had been drowned, killed
or were missing. Business houses were also destroyed. These
estimates, it was learned afterward, were far below the actual



Online LibraryPaul LesterThe great Galveston disaster, containing a full and thrilling account of the most appalling calamity of modern times including vivid descriptions of the hurricane .. → online text (page 1 of 47)