Indianola in 1857


Historic Accounts of Life in South Texas

Excerpt from "A Journey Through Texas"
by Frederick Law Olmsted. Published 1857
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At noon, the weather being good, we started for Indianola. We went splashing through the water again, the depth as before. At a short causeway, two or three miles from Lavacca, we paid a heavy toll, crossing the Chockolate, a small, crooked, dirty creek.

Not long after, we noticed we were wading through water deeper than usual, and suddenly the mare sunk through the turf, mired. The doctor jumped off, and, relieved of his weight, after some plunging, she relieved herself. The mule, who had sunk in the same place, only went deeper and deeper for his efforts, and, feeling the ground giving way beneath the pony, I spurred on and joined the doctor, who, up to the knees in water,jvas leading Fanny, trembling with excitement, cautiously towards the nearest elevation, which was some three hundred yards distant. This we soon reached, and found the ground firm, and tolerably dry. Looking back, to learn the fate of the mule, we beheld one of the most painfully ludicrous sights I have ever seen. Nothing whatever was visible of Mr. Brown, save the horns of the pack-saddle and his own well-known ears, rising piteously above the treacherous waves. He had exhausted his whole energy in efforts that only served to drag him deeper under, and seeing himself deserted, in the midst of the waters, by all his comrades, he gave up with a loud sigh, and laid upon his side to die, hoisting only his ears as a last signal of distress. We threw off our saddles, hobbled the horses, and prepared to wade to his help, when we saw him renewing his struggles, and, after getting his fore feet upon some more solid turf, he gradually came forth, and walked eagerly toward us, emerging upon the upland, sleek and dripping like a drowned rat, the water shooting from the wicker hampers as from some patent watering-cart.

We thought, bitterly, for a moment, of our pistols and sugar, our Epsom salts and gunpowder, our gingerbread, our poets and our shirts, then broke into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. But the hampers had become two barrels of water, which, added to our ridicule, the mule, his excitement over, found more than he could bear, and, sitting down, he gave us a beseeching look, as if ready to burst into a torrent of tears.

We at once unlimbered, and selecting the least wet portion of available land, spread our property to dry. The grateful mule commenced rolling and grunting in his usual manner, and was soon restored to good spirits. A bright sun and strong northerly wind facilitated our operations, and the damages were less than could have been expected. The medicine chest was the greatest sufferer, and, if any fishes frequented the neighborhood of the disaster, they must have got a well-sweetened dose of a cold infusion of the pharmacopoeia in general, that ought to have prolonged their lives to a most unexpected old age.

After three or four hours' delay, we repacked, and got under way again. Indianola was in plain view, but a good deal of navigable prairie was still to be passed. The sun set in a gray haze, in the flat prairie, giving the horizon a greater apparent distance than even the calm ocean. Half a mile from the town we struck the shore, a narrow, hard, sand beach, between a lagoon and the sea, hardly twenty feet wide. As soon as it expands, the town begins abruptly. At the entrance are some prominent gables, and it was so like the approach to a European seaport that we thought of our passports and the octroi officers.

The beach on which the town is built is some three hundred yards in width, and extends about a mile in length, having bat two parallel streets, front and back. It has a more busy and prosperous appearance than Lavacca, and is much larger, but is said to have less heavy business, and less capital. The rivalry is extreme and amusing. At Lavacca we heard of Indianola as " a little village down the bay (they call it Indianola), where our vessels sometimes land goods on their way up." Each consider the other to be sickly. Indianola has the advantage of the best water, and of the New Orleans steamers, which land at Powder-horn, a sort of hotel suburb, four miles below, by a hard beach-road, where nine to ten feet of water can be carried. Lavacca has the advantage of twelve miles' distance in land-carriage, which, in the present state of transportation, is an important consideration, though the distance from hard roads across the low level prairie is about the same. Schooners, of ordinary coasting draught, come without difficulty to the wharves of Indianola, and with greater difficulty, and with some liability to detention from grounding, to Lavacca, through a channel kept open by a steam dredge.

Ships from Europe lie several miles below Indianola, outside a bar, as at Mobile, and must employ lighterage to either town. There are two towns, of a speculative character, laid out further down the bay, La Salle and Saluria, the former on the main, the latter upon Matagorda Island, and the proposed terminus of the San Antonio and Gulf Railroad. Of neither of these can we speak from personal observation. The mutual jealousy among the speculators in these several towns is immense. It is only certain, at present, that some one great town must grow up upon Matagorda Bay, which will be forever the great sea-gate of Western Texas. It is said that since our visit a great storm has resulted in the partial removal of the outer bar, and persons interested in Western Texas now claim as much water as Galveston for the entrance to their bay. To any reader who wishes to verify the fact, I can only recommend a series of personal soundings upon the two bars.

We spent a quiet Sunday at Indianola. The beach beyond the town forms a pleasant promenade, and we enjoyed to the full the calm sunny sea, which seemed like a return to an old friend, after our months of inland journeying.

Our hotel was a great improvement on that of the day before. The Germans, who compose half the population, have the enterprise to cultivate vegetable gardens, which furnish, at least, salads at all seasons. Around one of these gardens we noticed a hedge of enormous prickly pear. The native oysters are large and abundant. Game of all kinds is cheap. The landlord complained, as usual, of the difficulty of obtaining meat in a country covered with cattle and sheep. The butcher, in summer, wouldn't kill because it was too warm for keeping meat, and in winter because it was too cold or too rainy, he must go to a "saloon" to keep himself warm.

The yellow fever, last year, was severe, as in all the coast towns. In ordinary years, about half the inhabitants leave during the hot months for the interior; but there are many planters from the Caney and the Colorado who come then to the town as a watering-place. Little business is then done, and the New Orleans steamers make their trips but once instead of twice a week.

There is no wood within many miles of the town. That used for fuel is brought mostly from Texana, on the Navidad, fifty miles distant. The price of wood was nine dollars per cord; it is sometimes more than twenty dollars. Coal, from one dollar upwards; corn, one dollar and fifty cents; potatoes, four dollars. The banana produces an abundant but inferior fruit. In-winter it is cut in, to a height of five feet, and covered with hay. Oranges and lemons require protection from northers.

In the evening we heard a din which proved to be a charivari, offered as a tribute of public opinion to a couple who had been married in the morning. The bride was suspected not to be immaculate. After some exhibition of endurance, the bridegroom, we were told, " caved and treated," that is, came to the door, and furnished drinks for the crowd.

We left Indianola on the 27th February.

More information on Indiaola
Indianola in 1850
Crossing the bar from Indianola
Site of the Town of Indianola

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