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Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

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Published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. CLICK FOR NEWSPAPER DELIVERY
Wednesday, October 31, 2001

A voyage out of time

San Jose Island is across Aransas Pass from Mustang Island. It could be Malhado (Unfortunate) Island described by Cabeza de Vaca. De Vaca was a survivor of a disastrous Spanish expedition in 1528. He and a few shipmates washed up on an island off the Texas coast. They became slaves of Indians. What Cabeza's thoughts must have been on those long purple evenings, lost in a wild land under a pale moon, we can only guess. He later described an island where they visited before crossing a bay rimmed with white bluffs. That island is thought to have been San Jose, and the cliffs those of Copano Bay.
   Like other barrier islands that guard the mainland from the fury of Gulf hurricanes, San Jose has seen a lot of history. This 21-mile-long island between Mustang and Matagorda islands stretches from Aransas Pass at its southern end to Cedar Bayou at its northern end. It was the haunt of Jean Lafitte; you can close your eyes and almost see his pirate ships slipping through Cedar Bayou, like ghosts in a fog.
   The first American flag on Texas soil flew over a sand dune on San Jose, when Zachary Taylor's troops landed in 1845. Across the pass was the old town of Aransas Wharf. In modern times, the island was owned by oilman Sid Richardson, who pulled strings to change the name of St. Joseph's back to San Jose.
   Behind San Jose is Aransas Bay. The Live Oak and Lamar peninsulas divide Aransas from Copano Bay. The old Spanish fort, Aránsazu, at Live Oak Point stood guard over the entrance to Cópano Bay. Aransas Bay was named for this fort. Copano was named for the Cópane Indians. There was Aransas City at Live Oak Point, where Henry Kinney lived before he founded Corpus Christi.
   On the back side of Copano Bay was the town of Copano, site of an old Mexican custom house. Irish settlers who founded San Patricio landed here. And it was here in 1836 that Texas Rangers captured a Mexican vessel loaded with supplies for Santa Anna's army. These Rangers became known as "Horse Marines."
   On Copano Bay was the town of St. Mary's, which flourished from 1850 to the '80s. The growth of Rockport, with better access to deep water, brought about St. Mary's decline.
   On the other side of Cedar Bayou from San Jose is Matagorda Island, two miles wide and 50 miles long. The old town of Saluria was on the eastern end of Matagorda, near Pass Cavallo, which separates Matagorda Island from Matagorda Peninsula. This pass was the channel leading to Matagorda and Lavaca bays and to the important seaport of Indianola.
   In 1862, slaves built Fort Esperanza to guard Pass Cavallo. The Confederates abandoned the fort in November, 1863, leading to the federal occupation of Indianola. The town of Saluria, and the old fort, were wiped out by the 1875 storm.
   Fort St. Louis and Indianola
   The French explorer La Salle sailed into Matagorda Bay in 1685, thinking he was exploring the mouth of the Mississippi. One of his four vessels, a supply ship, wrecked in Pass Cavallo and he salvaged the lumber to build Fort St. Louis, on Garcitas Creek, upstream from Lavaca Bay, in the heart of Karankawa country. Bones and old cannon have been found at the site.
   On Lavaca Bay was Indianola, Texas' most important port after Galveston. People once called Indianola Karlshaven (Carl's Harbor) in honor of Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, who inspired many Germans to come to Texas. Abel Head Pierce, a stowaway, landed at Indianola in 1854. He became known Shanghai Pierce, one of Texas' most famous cattlemen.
   In 1875, people in Indianola were unprepared for the rising keen of the wind and crashing waves. The hurricane that year, one of the worst in Texas history, destroyed most of Indianola, leaving hundreds of bodies scattered for 20 miles around Lavaca Bay. The town was struggling to come back when it was hit again, fatally, by the storm of 1886. All that's left of Indianola is an old cemetery.
   Each item in this two-part series was truly worth a full column, but the columns were intended to be, as they say in Alabama, a tour d'horizon.
   Murphy Givens can be reached at 886-4315 or by e-mail at

Murphy Givens can be reached by phone at 886-4315 or by e-mail at

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