a career officer's daughter, 23-year-old Mauree Pickering knew Army
life brought occasional hardships and frequent travel.
Even so, on Sept. 25, 1913 she married a soldier, Lt. Frank Mahin.
After honeymooning in New York, the couple left on a steamer for
New Orleans. Their chance to have much fun taking in the sights
of the Crescent City dampened by heavy rain, the couple left by
train for Mahin's next duty station, the Galveston
County town of Texas
A small town with a big name, Texas
City hosted an Army camp. Not that it amounted to a strategic
location - it had not yet become a petrochemical port -- but with
Mexico embroiled in a bloody revolution, the military had moved
more troops into Texas in anticipation of trouble.
When the American Navy occupied the port of Vera Cruz in 1914, it
looked like the United States would fight Mexico for a second time
since 1848. If orders came to invade Mexico, the soldiers stationed
at Texas City
would board ships at the port of Galveston.
Enlisted men lived in tents at the large camp two miles from town,
but officers and their families got to stay in one of Texas
City's two hotels.
"A more unattractive place than this hotel would have been hard
to find," Mauree later wrote in her memoir, "Life in the American
Army from the Frontier Days to Army Distaff Hall." Even so, she
continued, "we just joined the rest of the Army families living
there, and we had a good time in spite of the drabness."
Four days after arriving in Texas
City, Mauree kissed her husband goodbye at 6:30 a.m. when he
left for his daily duties at the camp. Rain beat down on the hotel's
roof and thunder boomed in the distance, but Mauree liked stormy
weather and peacefully drifted back to sleep.
Her slumber proved short-lived. About 7 a.m. a bolt of lighting
struck only 50 yards from the hotel, practically blasting her out
"All of us were sure the hotel had been hit," she wrote, "and we
knew the next thing would be fire….Although no alarm was forthcoming,
we quickly dressed and went downstairs to see what and where the
Mauree looked out at a scene of chaos.
A regiment had been marching past the hotel en route to a target
range in Galveston
when lightning had struck the column.
"The street was just a tangled mass of men and animals and wagons,
all milling around," she continued. "The officers were shouting
orders as best they could in that downpour, but it was hard to make
oneself heard above the rain, thunder and confusion."
In an impressively short span of time, the column had reformed and
resumed its 21-mile trek to Galveston,
minus two wagons.
Soon, Mauree learned what had happened to those two wagons. The
lighting, she related in her book, "had done the impossible…it had
struck the lead mules of one wagon, and the man riding beside them,
but it had skipped the wheelers and driver! Then it skipped the
lead mules of the second wagon and…killed the wheelers and driver
of that second wagon!"
Stranger than that, the two men killed were brothers. And they may
have been the only casualties associated with the military buildup
in Texas during the early days of the
Mexican Revolution. Despite ominous newspaper headlines and saber
rattling in both Mexico and the U.S., the Vera Cruz incident played
out without further escalation.
The Mahins remained in Texas
City through December, when orders came for the troops there
to head for Naco, AZ to guard against any Mexican incursions. But
Mahin already had an assignment for overseas duty, and their stay
along the border did not last long.
Mauree gave birth to twin girls on June 2, 1915 in the Philippines.
The Army family moved from post to post as her husband moved up
in rank. A major general by World
War II, Mahin died in a plane crash in 1942.
Three years later, wanting to preserve the details of her interesting
life for her daughters, Mauree wrote a manuscript she finally published
in 1967. She died on May 29, 1985 at the age of 94.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" August
17, 2006 column