Texas Trails

Clay Coppedge, Southern Livestock Standard

September 18, 2023

Indianola: Gone with the wind

Indianola already had a great future behind it when a hurricane blew it away in 1886, 40 years after its founding as Indian Point on Matagorda Bay. The U.S. Army established a base there because it was the nearest port to San Antonio, where the state’s military operations were based.  

Indian Point became Indianola in February 1849 and in 1852 became the county seat of Calhoun County. The town expanded three miles down the beach to Powderhorn Bayou. The town’s prime location for shipping also made it a prime target during the Civil War. The Union bombarded, captured and looted the town for a solid month in 1862 and then moved on to other diversions. A year later they were back, occupying the city for the better part of a year.

Indianola emerged on the other side of the war with a population of around 6,000, which ranked it as the second largest Texas port city behind Galveston.  Freight not leaving by boat left via the Indianola Railroad, one of the few broad-gauge railroads in the state. As a standard gauge railroad, it became the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific. 

Indianola was also the site of a sensational trial in 1875, or at least a scheduled trial. The trial involved Billy Taylor, a participant in the bloody Taylor-Sutton feud, who was charged with killing William Sutton. The Taylor-Sutton feud resulted in dozens of killings but very few trials. This one drew a lot of attention and a lot of visitors, so the town was packed to overflowing on Sept. 15, 1875, when a hurricane blew ashore, bringing with it massive amounts of water from Matagorda Bay. 

The storm killed between 150 and 300 people and destroyed all but eight buildings. Prisoners at the jail, including Billy Taylor, were freed to save them from certain death. That act of mercy was the last Indianola ever saw of Billy Taylor. 

A much stronger hurricane struck Indianola on Aug.19, 1886, but didn’t do as much damage because there wasn’t much left to damage. Indianola was already losing considerable rail business to Galveston when the second storm struck. As if being blown away by a hurricane wasn’t enough, a fire burned the town in the storm’s aftermath. 

The same storm blew off some roofs in Galveston, flattened some fences and that was about it. There was some discussion of building a seawall in Galveston to protect from future storm surges but nothing came of it. Most people thought they had already weathered the worst of it. They were wrong. 

The 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston in the same manner that Indianola had been obliterated, but on a much grander scale, remains the worst natural disaster in American history. Eight thousand people, maybe as many as 12,000, died. 

Like Indianola, Galveston now had a great future behind it, but Galveston also had a grand and reimagined future. Indianola was already history. 

Southern Livestock

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