The Mystery of our History
It seems that I have lived near the Island of Galveston all my life and I never had any idea of what happened there. Oh I knew that the pirates and man-eating Indians had the island at the beginning of the 19th century but beyond that it was mostly blank except for the Civil War action that went on there and the great hurricane of 1900 that killed over 6000 people on the island.
First I began by picking up subtle clues. I have found that this is one of my best fringe benefits of treasure hunting. I have learned to see the small things that most people never see. I spend time thinking about things that most people would just dismiss. There was also small strange facts like I could never find any old coins around Galveston Island. Think about it… Over two hundred years of very high activity with no old coins!
When I was a child my father was driving us through the city and he pointed up to the large buildings and to where I could still clearly see the water line where the great 1900 hurricane reached. I saw the high water line well above the second story and marveled at the fury of the terrible storm. Had I known the truth of the situation I would not have believed my own father.
The people of the island were a tribute to the rugged nature of our South Texas folks and had overcome far more than I had ever thought of. These days people are more likely to complain that the government should help them and look for handouts. In South Texas you wouldn’t have lived long with that attitude. Even the famous Edison came to Galveston after the storm to film the devastation and I suppose almost everyone has seen the films. Current estimates suggest that up to eight thousand people drowned in the storm.
In South Texas you will always find the people with money living near the muddy water. California may have their Rodeo drive and New Orleans its French quarter but here muddy water is king! As it turns out you could purchase a nice home by a lovely clear stream at many places in our large country and not be able to afford the entry fee for a small lot by the muddy water!
In 1900 the people in Galveston island had obtained their place by the muddy water and they were happy with it after they had got rid of the pirates and Indians then they still had been taken over by the federal troops in the Civil War. Then after a large battle they won it back again to be firmly in Confederate hands. Of course I won’t mention the ugly details of reconstruction as Galveston had been a center for slave trading. These rugged people were not to be easily stopped for long and then one nice late summer evening a steady east wind began to softly blow. I can imagine that kids were still swimming in the water and no one took much notice of it until after dark it began blowing gale force and pouring rain. Without the protection of the seawall which Galveston now has, the sea began to rise and huge waves loomed over the quiet island town. The next day the storm increased and as usual down here they always seem to come in at night. That is pretty scary too when you can’t even see what is going on. On Bolivar island, very close to Galveston a train full of people were stranded and joined the keeper of the Bolivar lighthouse as they climbed up fast to keep ahead of the rising water. Soon the door to the lighthouse was over thirty feet deep under the sea but the people and the lighthouse survived and it stands to this day as mute testimony to the savage sea.
One man high in an old building saw all his friends and neighbors drown in the storm and sweep by him in an incredible current. He said that it was blowing so hard that the water had become level and was pouring over the island until he too was swept away. He was one of the lucky ones, he told the tale and lived. Well this story is not about the storm. It is about what happened afterward and why we need to learn more about the country about us. I had lived here all my live and never known that the few survivors, those who had lost most of their family and friends decided to hold against the sea and reclaim their muddy water island back!
This began as a metal detecting tale and it turned out to be an interesting mystery to me as I finally got an answer for the mystery after all these years in ignorance. We come from pretty tough stock, and these people were the best! They decided to raise the level of the town…… Yes an incredible 2156 homes were lifted into the air by eight to ten feet or more. Huge dredges began to pump sea and sand into all the streets and the old island became a “Viennese wonderland”. Some railroad tracks were simply covered up while others were jacked up high. All the old coins are there…. The only problem is that they are ten feet deep under the sand!! The huge buildings that were much too large to raise were just filled right in up to the tops of the windows on the first floor! I saw one yesterday and for the first time the scales fell from my eyes and I “knew”, I had seen them and thought that they looked kinda queer alright but it was one of those special clues that I discarded.
In viewing some of the old pictures I saw a level area of packed sand and a hole in it. Way down in the hole was a fireplug. I guess they didn’t want to put in new fire plugs yet as they had so many other problems, they would just use the old one, only I would not want to jump stright down a ten foot hole with a fireplug at the bottom to turn it on!
For a while the huge iron pipes gushed water and sand which flowed all over the island. The island had canals through it before and now the canals were simply filled in along with every large buildings first floor. I can imagine when I look at some of the old mansions now, how elaborate tiles filled the huge rooms and delicate woods were carved onto the walls where balls were held in the old time and now, and now, they are full of sand! After they had successfully raised the homes and buildings, built the long seawall, and filled the island up with mud there was still the terrible time of walking back and forth the planks that went from house to house. This lasted a long time until the summer sun slowly baked the mess into a more or less solid base where people and animals could venture out onto it once more. Do you think that they worked hard and now things would be easy? Then came the sandstorms, nothing less than huge desert sandstorms as the cold Texas northers blew in and whipped the sand into a fury. It blew into every crevice and in most of the old homes it must have added several inches to the floor and tops of things like the bed. The sand was so bad that they desperately shoveled the leavings from the livery stables onto the ground to stop the sand from blowing. Still the people endured an overcame it all! I tip my hat to their effort and I can say that I finally understand and appreciate their effort. It makes me rather proud of these people and I wonder if I could have that kind of toughness. I hope so, but I hope that I never have to test it like they did.
One picture showed a two story outhouse! The catwalk along between the houses led along from house to house. It appears that everyone shared the same one and that must have been at night, in the rain walking down the wet and slippery planks to sit and hope that you didn’t fall in! Appearantly the people from a whole row of houses shared the one outhouse.
Remember when I told you of seeing the water marks on the big buildings? Well consider that we were driving on a road level with the ceiling on the first floor of that building! I thought that it was terrible to contemplate as a child as I saw it then but now I can see just how terrible the storm was and how so many good people died.
Metal detecting is more than a hobby. It constantly puts us in a situation where we must solve the little puzzles of where old homes were located a hundred years ago when there is nothing to be seen of it. Working out the unknown and solving the subtle clues is quite a task but they teach us something. Thinking like a Civil War soldier to follow his footsteps and perhaps to pickup a token of his passing. Finding a small thing and spending time in libraries trying to figure out what it was used for or digging up those parts of yesterday that have a great tale to tell. We are the people who should be doing this. You don’t simply pay someone to do it for you and just walk through a Museum to show the kids. They can never understand or appreciate the human suffering or struggle to survive that people dealt with. An artifact laying on a shelf will not tell the story. Take your part in this great adventure and search for your heritage. We should all appreciate the effort to raise the level of our civilization and the valiant effort by many to build this great country!