The 1900 Galveston Hurricane
Transcribed and submitted by Julian P. Donahue
The following letter by Frank Erastus Boicourt (1880-1903), brother of Lillie Grace Boicourt (Peter Jerome Donahue’s wife), was written when Frank was 20 years old, three years before his death. I assume that the Aunt to whom it is addressed is Aunt Jane Smith Robson, his mother’s sister.
The letter is faithfully transcribed, with original spellings and syntax, into Microsoft Word from the original handwritten letter in the Donahue files received from Marlin Marshall. The letter is in poor shape: yellowed paper pieced together with tape, then laminated. Two of the torn sheets (comprising pages 3, 4, 5, 6: writing is on both sides of the page) were mis-collated before lamination, so that the top and bottom halves do not match. Page numbers are written at the top; the pages are presently assembled as follows, and need to be read in this order, top to bottom: 3/5, 4/6, 5/3, and 6/4.
No editing has been done; I have attempted to retain the exact original text, with clarifications added by me in [square brackets]. Typewritten versions of this letter, themselves with corrected spelling, omissions, transcription errors, and editing, have appeared in several Donahue family files, and I have occasionally resorted to one of these when an original word was indistinct or indecipherable. [Julian P. Donahue, Los Angeles, 13 November 1997.]
Frank’s humor notwithstanding, he does not overdramatize the severity of the storm. The Category-4 hurricane (they didn’t have names then) struck Galveston Island on the afternoon of 8 September 1900 with winds up to 130 miles per hour, and lasted until midnight; the storm wave, said to be “nearly five feet high,” demolished nearly the entire city. More than 6,000 people perished in Galveston (approximately one of every six residents), plus an estimated 2,000 deaths elsewhere in the storm’s path. Rising waters in advance of the storm’s fury cut off all escape routes from Galveston Island.
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Oct. 24th. 1900
Well I am way down south, just 21 mi. from where Galveston youst [used] to be and I had a taste of the same storm that wrecked that city. Of coarse [course] you read all about the storm but I suppose the papers didn’t mention how I was getting along.
My brother in law (Peter Donahue) moved down here for the betterment of the health of his family and Grace thought that it would be good for my health so I came down here in Aug. Peter got a farm to take care of for half the profits and half the [increase?] of the stock. He moved on the place soon after I got here. You know I hate to bother with stock but I thought I would not have much to do with them as there was two acres of strawberries that were in a woeful plight with weeds and grass and I took that job.
The morning of the fated day was a fine prospect for work and it was cloudy and a strong breeze had cooled the air. But about nine o’clock it began to rain and the rain and wind both increased in violence through the day. Peter and I put in our time cleaning out the barn and sheds and, as it soon became very slop[p]y we took off our shoes. This thoughtless act came very near being the death of Peter, for in the after noon he step[p]ed on a piece of smooth wire that was so bent that it went into his foot an inch or more. When he pulled it out it did not bleed a bit and all the poison staid [stayed] in and pain was so great that he nearly had the lock jaw.
The wind was so bad then that some of the trees had blown over but I had to hitch up and go for the doctor. We had to face it coming back and but for the grit of the mare we could not have made it. The rain beating in our faces felt like sleet and I could only occasionally see whether the mare was going right or not, but she kept the road. When the doctor got here he was so worried about the storm and his family that he did very bungling work and then I had to take him back. At his drug store he got out and gave me some medicine for Peter and crawled off over home. I saw that one of the big store buildings was beginning to go to pieces and thought that it was doubtful if I could get back against the storm. I unhitched the mare and tried to ride her back but she would not face the wind but run in the other direction. I stop[p]ed her near the depot and turned her loose and crawled in there for protection. After the storm was over I saw that it was lucky my horse carried me away in the wrong direction for all but two of the buisness [sic] houses were wrecks and had I gone to any of the other buildings I would have been a minus quantity.
I hurried home and found the folks safe. The house had blown off its foundation but was other wise little damaged. The foundation consisted of piles driven in the ground; all the house[s] around here are fixed that way to keep them out of the wet. The piles broke off and let the house down.
Peter was suffering untold agonies and Grace was trying to [illegible] help him. A family across the way had been driven from their house and sought shelter here and soon after I got back a family came in that had spent the night on the open prarie [sic]. When daylight came we found that the barn and all the out building[s] were down and three of the work horses were killed. There were two good-for-nothing ponies in the pasture but the only horse we had to depend on was the one I turned loose--she came back the next day.
Every one seemed to be out of their heads and with the exception of Grace no one did any thing but talk about the storm. The telagraph [sic] wires were all down and the track swept away in places, so we could get no reports from anywhere but it was rumored that Galveston was wiped out of existance [sic] and that the prarrie [sic] ten miles below us was covered with dead people who had been drowned by the tidal wave when they were driven from their houses and it turned out that it were not very much exaggerated.
The second day after the storm we discovered that three calves had been under the house when it went down and we had to tare [sic] the floor up to get them out. One was a stunted jersy [sic] steer calf and as, he was too good for nothing to get killed, he was still alive and when we took him out he soon went to eating grass. The other two had been killed instantly and as things decay fast in this country the room had to be shut up and we pitched them out the window; a sweet job you may guess. I hitched the mare to them and hauled them off and then it occur[r]ed to me that I had better drag off some hogs that had been killed and one of them was so rotten that it tore all to pieces before I had dragged it far. This scared us about the horses which were still under the wreck of the barn and we could get no help as nearly every man around had gone to Hitchcock to help bury the human dead so we cleared the wreck away as best we could and covered them up with manure as there was a huge pile of it there handy.
The docter [sic] here did not know much and seemed to care less about Peter worried along for nearly three weeks and was getting weaker all the time. Finally they took him to Houston to a hospital for the storm sufferers and the docters [sic] there found that nearly the whole inside of his foot had decayed. The surgeon knew his business and managed to save the foot but he said that if Peter had been two days later getting there they could not have saved his life. He got back from the hospital last Friday but he will not be able to put his foot to the ground for a long time yet.
Well since the storm I have had the fun of seeing after the stock and a jolly time I had of it. Unfortunately most of the hogs escaped death and they have given me no end of trouble. The man that was on the place before we came had let them degenerate into raisor [sic] backs and they will go through allmost [sic] any fence when they want to. The feed was shelled corn and was in the barn it was under the worst of the wreck and tons of hay and I had to mine for it. Lots of it had rotted and I soon ran short and then the hogs began going through the fences and as they were great travelers they bothered all the neighbors and complaints came in from all sides. I have to haul cane on a bob sled to feed them and, as they become uneasy unless they are chewing all the time I have to spend most of the day hauling for them.
The owner has so much property that needed looking after that he has not done any thing at this place yet but he said he would come as soon as he could. Peter says he will quit him if he don’t devise some means to either get rid of the hogs or get some feed for them.
There has been lots of provisions sent in to us storm suffer[er]s among which was a very liberal supply of fat side meat. It is making me quite fat and if I keep on I will soon do for a dime museum fat man.
Well, taking it all together I am clear disgusted with Tex. When I left Kansas every thing was drying up and when I got here the whole country was a frog pond and it rained enough to keep it muddy most of the time untill [sic] the storm. The storm drove the clouds so far away that none of them got back for over a month and the wind[s] seemed to be exausted [sic] after their unwanted exertion and it sank to a dead calm. Then, for the first time, I beheld the southern sun in all it[s] fury, when its heat was untempered by either clouds or sea breezes. I came very near having a sun stroke several times and I had a perfect mat of prickly heat all over my body which would not let me sleep at nights.
When the weather did change it c[h]anged very suddenly with a cold rain from the north and felt comfortable with my big ulster on, though it was not cold enough to hurt the flies and mosquitoes any. Since then we have had rather pleasant weather and since I put on my underclothes I go around in my shirt sleeves and sometime it is more comfortable to pull off my shirt too.
It seems like a nice thing to be where they don’t have winter but just now when I have to quit writing occasionally to fight mosquitoes I think I would be willing to take a little winter in preference. It is after eight o’clock and I know you won’t allow me to sit up any longer so good night.
P.S. I was very glad to get your letter, as I am very much interested in every thing there. Gaines seems to be splurging hugely. Does Allie Myers still live there?