Saturday, August 1, 2015

My Great-Uncle's Recollection of the 1915 Hurricane in Texas

This is the recollection of my great-uncle Goob Newton about the hurricane of 1915. He was born Jan 3, 1898 and was 17 when it happened. Cote Plummer refers to Catish H. Plummer, a tugboat captain who received a gold medal for rescuing people from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. By 1915 he had gotten pretty good at surviving hurricanes and his son Carlyle was also on the scene. Here is how my uncle told the story to my grandmother in 1988 or so…

I was there at the big hurricane at Sabine Pass in August 1915.

It was business as usual at the Ross Parson home on this early morning in August 1915. Mrs. Nina cooking breakfast, Ross still sleeping. I was milking the cow, Friday the Mexican co-worker was feeding the 8 mules. About 5 o’clock a passenger train come racing by at full speed with bells ringing and whistle tied down. Ross came out of the house and said get on the saddle horse and go see what all the excitement was about. I got on the saddle mare and raced up town and asked Mr. Adams  what was the train there for. He said tell Ross to get his bunch and get on the train for Port Arthur as there was a storm that would hit in less than two hours that would be worse than the Galveston storm of 1900.

I went back and told the news to Ross.  He said you and Friday get on the saddle horse and mule and take the stock to Big Hill. I told Ross I was working for him, but not anymore as I didn’t know the way to Big Hill and beside those people up  town were scared to death and I was too. He told Friday to go ahead and go to Big Hill. The last we saw Friday he went west.

About daylight Captain Cote Plummer came up in a big car and told Ross to get his bunch and load in as the storm was near.  We drove to Adam’s store where we picked up 4 axes, 2 brooms, and a roll of rope. On we went to Sabine where Captain Cote lived and it was across the street from the new schoolhouse that had just been completed. As we walked upon the porch someone said look across the prairie and there was waves that looked to be 6 to 8 feet high. We ran in the house and Captain Cote told me and Ross to help him scuttle the house.  I went in one room and saw a fine rug on the floor.  By the time I went to ask what to do about the rug Captain Cote and Ross had all the rooms scuttled. I went back and chopped my hole and rug too. By this time the pressure was so great from the Gulf that it was knocking the paper from the ceiling. We immediately went upstairs as the house was two stories and built on stilts about 10 feet off the ground and said to be put together with bolts instead of nails.

We carried axe, nails, rope and broom, which came in handy later. By nightfall the water had reached the second floor level. We were all in one room upstairs and about 9 o’clock that night a big crashing noise cam in the house and Captain Cote said it probably was a floating house come against our house. As he raised a window and called out that sea yell and sure enough a man answered him from the roof top.

He tied the rope around the bedstead and rolled it out the window. He said, “Newton, you being the youngest, follow that rope and see if you can find the man.”  Out I went, Captain Cote giving that long loud scream, the man answering him. I was able to get to the man and give him my rope.  We both made it back to the house. Just as we got back, the glass front door blew out. Someone grabbed a mattress and slats. The men held it up to the door while Captain Coteput the nails into the slats to hold the mattress in place. It was said later that the wind velocity was better than 100 miles per hour.
By daylight we were standing in about one foot of water, so Captain Cote told us all to get ready, we had to swim to the school house which was about 200 yards. He said, “I’ll carry the Ross baby and Newton will carry my poodle dog.” I had never swam in anything but White Oak Creek.  Why, a one-inch wave looked like a tidal wave to me. All went well till I hit my first 6 foot wave. Me and the poodle dog liked to have drowned. By the time I got my breath I had lost the dog and was sure I would lose my life, but I began to gain confidence as I saw the rest going on. After so long I made the trip.

To my disappointment I found out that Captain Cote had located his poodle by his field glasses that he always carried on his shoulders. He said, “Boy, go get my dog.”  Off I went and after due time I came back with that poodle.

The two story building in the background is the schoolhouse.
The following day, which was Tuesday, a young man whose name was Johnson and I would go out of the schoolhouse and ride the horses and cattle to the fire escape and send them up into the auditorium. We had it full. By this time Captain Carlyle Plummer told us we had to put the cattle back out to sea as the floor was about to cave in and we all would drown. We immediately did it.  Captain Carlyle Plummer  was a son to Captain Cote Plummer and both were tugboat captains.  He had gone to the schoolhouse earlier along with about 140 other people.

Wednesday something happened that stayed with me these past 88 plus years. It made me a different person. A lady that I never saw before or afterwards came up to me and asked if I had anything to eat today. I told her I hadn’t had a bit  to eat since last Sunday. She went and got me a pork and bean sandwich and a glass of water. I inhaled that sandwich and that was all the food I had until the following Monday night when I got to Kirbyville.

Thursday Friday and Saturday was about the same, just twiddle your thumbs and watch the water recede. Sunday about noon Captain Cote said all that wanted to swim or wade to his tugboat he would try to get us to Port Arthur.  I couldn’t speak for the rest, but I was one quick volunteer. So the Parsons and myself along with many more got aboard. As we passed where Ross’ house stood, it was gone and a huge oil tanker was high and dry there. On to Port Arthur. We went only to find Procter Street knee-deep in water. We had to wade out to catch the Interurban (train) to Beaumont. To this day we don’t know who paid the fare as none of us had a red cent.

We arrived in Beaumont about 5 o’clock Sunday and registered at the Gowling Hotel. Ross said he would go to the bank Monday and get some money and pay me my wages. Monday morning Ross came by and gave me my monthly salary. That was the last time I ever saw the Parson family.

I checked out of the hotel, went across the street to [Bowser’s] Store and bought myself pants, shirt, socks, shoes – a complete set of clothing as I only had on a pair of short pants. Later that day I went to the Santa Fe Depot and caught the train to Kirbyville. After detouring to Kountze due to a washed out bridge, we got into Kirbyville at 9 o’clock that night.

Miss Woods, of whom I had lived with for the past three years, and said she had me some chicken and dumplings, my favorite dish. I went home with her and ate so much that they had to get the doctor to pump my stomach out. Remember I had nothing to eat the week before but a pork and bean sandwich. The next day I was O.K.

Thirty-six years later I took my wife Audie to show her the place I spent that horrible week.  I’ve never been back since. I like the high hill country of Newton County.

  --L.M. “Goob” Newton