by Maggie Van Ostrand
my bookshelf sat a slim volume of poems by one Jeff McLemore. I never
noticed it before and cannot say how long it resided there, right
under my nose. Curious, I opened it and found a faded sticker that
read "Compliments Maverick-Clarke Litho Co. San
name of the book, published in 1904, is "Indianola and Other Poems,"
and its yellowed pages, bound together by string, are as fragile to
the touch as would be a human born the same year. I will digress just
long enough to tell you research gleaned that Jeff McLemore was considerably
more than an author. Atkins Jefferson McLemore (March 13, 1857-March
4, 1929) worked in Texas as cowboy, newspaper reporter and publisher,
and a member of U.S. House of Representatives from Texas's At-Large
District. He was born in Tennessee, and moved to Texas
in 1878 where he lived at various times in Kyle,
He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Austin.
already may know what I did not: that Indianola
was a beautiful and successful Texas city that was severely maimed
by a devastating storm in 1875, and mortally wounded by a second,
even worse, storm in 1886.
Photo courtesy wikipedia
was a city "Whose charms proclaim her Queen of Love and Grace," and
of the two watery tragedies that befell and ripped her from the proud
land of Texas. The poem itself is more of a stirring experience than
poetry, hurling the reader into an abyss of emotion at least equal
to having watched the Katrina tragedy unfold. Written in the flowery
prose of the day, it tears at one's heart, leaving the reader lonely
for a place that is no more.
In part, McLemore wrote: "
… The lightning's quick and lurid glare
On each pale face reveals despair
The storm has come! -- Wild Ocean's roar
Breaks with a shriek upon the shore
Brave men stand palsied, trembling, pale
The mother's prayer, the infant's wail
Commingle with mad Ocean's rage
and form a scene on history's page
More awful than the poet's pen
Can write; nor can the tongues of men
Relate that picture of despair
Which in a moment settled there
And many a loved one found a grave
Fore'er beneath the maddening wave."
Photo courtesy texasoldphotos.com
| In a footnote,
the author wrote "Indianola had almost recovered from the effects
of the Civil War and was the most flourishing city along the Texas
coast. Her harbor was crowded with large ships and ocean steamers,
while long trains of wagons, many of which came from far beyond the
Rio Grande, were bearing off her commerce to those who had left their
gold in exchange. Wealth, health and prosperity reigned on every hand
and she stood there beside the ocean the 'Queen City of the West.'
In the height of her glory, on the 16th day of September 1875, a fearful
storm swept over the city, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
This was followed by another storm on the 21st of August 1886, even
more destructive than the first, and unhappy Indianola,
once the 'Queen City of the West,' was left a spectre of the past
-- a spectre which comes before the vision like the face of a drowning
man when he sinks forever beneath the cruel waves."
In the seventh stanza of his poem, McLemore refers to "storm-wrecked
isles," and the footnote to that referral is historically fascinating.
He says that he's somewhat in doubt whether these isles, situated
near the coast and south of where Indianola
stood, were ever inhabited by man, though they produced good cattle
"pasturage." He goes on to say in part: "Just after the storm of 1875
they presented a weird and ghastly appearance, being strewn from one
end to the other with pieces of wrecked vessels and houses, and the
bodies of dead animals. Only two or three human bodies lodged on them
and these were washed from Indianola."
poem was based on an account "by one who dwelt there by the treacherous
sea." In June 1889, McLemore visited Indianola
and found a "few weather-beaten houses, tenantless and fast going
to decay, and the white and scarred concrete walls of the old court-house,
were all that remained of what was once a city of beautiful homes.
For awhile I saw no signs of life, but in wandering around I met an
aged, gray-haired negro, who seemed more spectre than man. He had
been there since 'before the war,' had passed through both of the
great storms, and in his rude and untutured [sic] way he told me the
story of ill-fated Indianola."
It is a book worth searching for in used or hard-to-find book stores
because it's not only a tear-jerker, it's a bit of eyewitness history
you might not find anywhere else.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" June
30, 2008 column
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