by the technology of the times, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like
on the Texas coast during hurricane
season back in the 19th century.
Sure, old salts knew the saying “Red
sky at morning, sailor take warning” and the U.S. government learned of distant
storms via telegraphic reports. Weather observers knew that a falling barometer
could mean trouble, but coastal residents did not enjoy the luxury of a week or
more of preparation time when a tropical cyclone churned in their direction.
Such was the case in early September 1874 when an unnamed storm weather historians
now judge to have been a Category 1 hurricane slammed into Mexico somewhere around
the Rio Grande. Since hurricanes do their worst on their northeast quadrants,
the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas bore the brunt of the storm.
this storm a vessel known as the Texas Ranger
got in trouble off Padre Island. I wrote about this
ship with a famous name last summer, but only recently ran into some additional
information on her.
the new details still leave questions unanswered, the figurative deck of the Texas
Ranger’s story awash in ambiguity.
Galveston News, then Texas’ newspaper of record, did not report the storm
until Sept. 13 when it published a 14-paragraph dispatch sent the day before from
Brownsville. “An Account
of the Great Storm/Suffering and Loss of Life” read the page-one headline.
storm battered the coast for 60 hours, the article said. Though Brownsville
and Matamoras had flooding from heavy rains, the most severe damage occurred at
Brazos Santiago, a long-vanished community then referred to simply as “Brazos”
located across from Padre Island, closer to the Gulf of Mexico than Port
was swept from Brazos,” the News reported, including some 25 people who perished
in the storm. The lighthouse toppled, killing the wife of the light keeper. The
narrow-gauge railroad line between Port
Isabel and Brownsville
had been badly damaged.
On the Rio Grande, the now ghost towns of Bagdad
and Clarksville also sustained heavy damage, the report said.
Out in the
Gulf, the Texas Ranger and several other vessels had been caught by the storm
while under way, but the Ranger is the only vessel reported to have suffered casualties.
“The Texas Ranger was capsized and went ashore on Padre Island,” the
story said. “Two of the crew were saved.”
Sept. 15 the News reported that the ship operated out of Pascagoula, Miss. and
had been bound for Indianola
with a cargo of lumber. The ship had been “dismasted” by the storm, the story
Four days later, the News listed the names of eight persons on board
the Texas Ranger who had not survived: Captain James Buchanan Sr. and his son,
James Buchanan Jr.; the first mate, a man named Perrin or Perrit, whose wife also
died; Dolce Robinson; a German known only as Adolph; and two unidentified seaman.
The crew members who made it to shore were listed only as Libby and Furr.
The only other source of information on this maritime disaster, a 1930s newspaper
story published in the Valley, gives the date of the incident as June 25, 1875.
Other sources described the Texas Ranger as a coastwise side-wheeled steam packet,
not a schooner.
According to the Depression-era newspaper account, an
article based on some old-timer’s memory, the Texas Ranger had been on a course
from Vera Cruz, Mexico toward the United States when she ran straight into the
maw of an approaching tropical storm. (That’s consistent with the 1874 report
that she was bound for Indianola,
a once flourishing seaport up the coast from South
That 1930s account said nine crewmembers went down
with the ship. The captain floated to shore on a piece of debris but soon died,
making the death toll 10. Only two crew members survived.
what it is, the 1874 stories, while lacking a lot of detail, doubtless more accurately
describe the incident that was later reported as having happened a year later.
They appear to scuttle a nice treasure tale.
story from the 1930s said that in addition to the human loss in the wreck of the
Texas Ranger, $200,000 worth of gold and silver -- in bars and coins – went down
with the ship. Not calculating collector’s value or the price of gold or silver
by the ounce, $200,000 would be worth nearly $4 million today simply by virtue
However, the 1874 stories makes no mention of the vessel
having been laden with anything more than lumber. Of course, when it comes to
lost treasure, there’s always hope.
© Mike Cox
13, 2009 column
Ranger - I
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