“What Horrors We Can Go Through and Yet Live”: The Indianola Hurricane of 1875
The DRT Library’s archival collection of Fisher Family Papers contains letters documenting two of the worst natural disasters in Texas history. Today’s entry focuses on a letter describing one woman’s experiences during the Indianola Hurricane of September 15-17, 1875. Tomorrow we’ll highlight a letter written by a survivor of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which pummeled the city on September 8 and 9.
According to the Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones, the 1875 hurricane,
a 100-mph whirlwind, carried beneath its eye an unusually large storm surge. Piled up against the sloping banks of Matagorda Bay, the surge eventually rolled ashore at Indianola, reducing three-quarters of the town’s 2,000 buildings to splinters in a matter of hours. One hundred seventy-six townspeople died, making the Indianola Hurricane of 1875 one of the deadliest Texas hurricanes on record (389).
The storm was so violent in Matagorda, across Matagorda Bay to the northeast, that Eliza Ophelia Smith Fisher (1823-1877), daughter-in-law of Samuel Rhoads Fisher, was still haunted by her experience two weeks later. “I feel now as if I were waking from a horrible nightmare,” she told her son Samuel Rhoads Fisher (1849-1911). “It makes me shudder even to write about it.” In her dramatic letter, Fisher describes her family’s struggle to find safe shelter during the storm, first in their home, then at a neighbor’s house, and finally in a chicken house.
Sept. 29th 1875
My Beloved Son –
We have passed through such horrors, since I last wrote to you, that I feel now as if I were waking from a horrible nightmare. You have seen from the papers, accounts of the storm that commenced on the 15th inst. & lasted furiously until the 17th. No pen can describe all the horrors of such a storm & I will not attempt it. I little expected to live to go through another storm such as we had in 1854, but I have done so – for though we have not lost our house – my sufferings mentally were greater, for having passed through one, I knew what to expect – hour after hour, we faced death, not knowing what moment would be our last.
After the kitchen & outhouses blew down, we were afraid to remain longer in the house, for the dining room was wrenched from the main house, & we expected every minute that it would go, & of course expected the gallery to be blown off. We then dreaded to be in the house with no means of getting out, in case this part of the house went. So about 9 o’clock at night, we went out & faced the pitiless storm. We could not keep our feet, but by holding to each other, were blown along & managed to get over to the next house & found a number huddled together in the kitchen. We only staid a few minutes there, when the windows & doors of the main house blew in & we had to go out again. Fred & Nettie were afraid to go into another house & more over it blew & rained so awfully that we could not walk against it, so we decided to come into our own yard again & go into the chicken house! So 14 of us, seven grown persons & 7 little children, crowded into it. We had hardly gotten out of that house when the whole side to the north east was blown off. What horrors we can go through & yet live!!! It makes me shudder even to write about it, & yet dear son our sufferings & danger was nothing compared to those on the Peninsula & at Indianola, where they had the water to contend with; whole families drowned & hundreds getting off with only their lives, every thing they owned lost!!!
I can write no more, as I want to send this by the mail. Matagorda is blown down. Our house is about the least damaged in town, but it will take a $100.00 to repair it & the house next door. Mrs. Wright is staying with us. Her house blew entirely down & she had no place to go. The poor suffering people from the Peninsula were brought over, every one had to share clothes & bedding with them, that had any thing to spare & find some sort of shelter for them. Provisions are scarce, we live on plain bread & meat & are thankful to get it. No boats have been able to get to Indianola for flour, for all our lighters* lay capsized in the Bason [basin?]. These are dreadful times!!!
We have not had a line from your for two weeks, of course we could get no mails. I hope to hear soon & to hear that our house will soon be ready, for I can tell you – we all want to leave the coast. Love to dear Walter.
God bless you –
*A lighter is a large, open, flat-bottomed barge used in unloading and loading ships offshore or in transporting goods for short distances in shallow waters.
For Further Reading
Two general histories of Indianola – Indianola Scrap Book: Fiftieth Anniversary of the Storm of August 20, 1886, compiled and published by the Victoria Advocate, and Indianola: The Mother of Western Texas by Brownson Malsch – include information about the 1875 hurricane.