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Galveston

A History of the Island

Gary Cartwright

Publication Year: 1998

Galveston—a small, flat island off the Texas Gulf coast—has seen some of the state's most amazing history and fascinating people. First settled by the Karankawa Indians, long suspected of cannibalism, it was where the stranded Cabeza de Vaca came ashore in the 16th century. Pirate Jean Lafitte used it as a hideout in the early 1800s and both General Sam Houston and General James Long (with his wife, Jane, the “Mother of Texas”) stayed on its shores. More modern notable names on the island include Robert Kleberg and the Moody, Sealy and Kempner families who dominated commerce and society well into the twentieth century.

Captured by both sides during the Civil War and the scene of a devastating sea battle, the city flourished during Reconstruction and became a leading port, an exporter of grain and cotton, a terminal for two major railroads, and site of fabulous Victorian buildings—homes, hotels, the Grand Opera House, the Galveston Pavilion (first building in Texas to have electric lights). It was, writes Cartwright, “the largest, bawdiest, and most important city between New Orleans and San Francisco.”

This country's worst natural disaster—the Galveston hurricane of 1900—left the city in shambles, with one sixth of its population dead. But Galveston recovered. During Prohibition rum-running and bootlegging flourished; after the repeal, a variety of shady activities earned the city the nickname “The Free State of Galveston.”

In recent years Galveston has focused on civic reform and restoration of its valuable architectural and cultural heritage. Over 500 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and an annual "Dickens on the Strand" festival brings thousands of tourists to the island city each December. Yet Galveston still witnesses colorful incidents and tells stories of descendants of the ruling families, as Cartwright demonstrates with wry humor in a new epilogue written specially for this edition of Galveston. First published in 1991 by Atheneum.

Published by: TCU Press

Title Page

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Author's Note

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pp. vii-ix

LET ME MAKE clear right off the top that I'm a journalist, not a historian. I'm not even sure that I know the difference, except that a journalist doesn't use footnotes and historians hardly ever get sued for libel. Galveston is my attempt to write the profile of a place. I've written a lot of profiles of people, using place as a substratum to put the subject in perspective...

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Chapter 1

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pp. 1-12

NEVER GO back to the Island without sensing the ghosts. I can't think of a place where they run thicker. The cannibalistic Karankawa Indians occupied the Island at least as far back as 1400. Cabeza de Vaca, La...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 13-16

ONE HUNDRED thousand years ago when there were no boundaries or known civilizations and when strange creatures wandered the face of the earth, the sea level was about the same as it is today. Then a cataclysm of unknown duration and origin altered the earth's angle to the...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 17-24

THE ISLAND'S first residents were a remarkably antisocial tribe known as the Karankawas. The Karankawas patrolled a 350-mile stretch of coastline from the Rio Grande to Galveston Bay, but they lived about half the year on the Island. Except when they were raiding other villages...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 25-38

THE FIRST white men to set foot on Galveston Island and encounter the Karankawas must have been a sorry sight. There were forty of them, nearly naked, nearly starved, and completely delirious. They washed ashore in a storm in the early morning hours of November 6, 1528. They...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 39-54

AFTER THE departure of Cabeza de Vaca, the Karankawas had the Island mostly to themselves for nearly two hundred years, though Dutch pirates used it as a rendezvous point in the early 1600s. All the famous pirates operated in the Gulf of Mexico-Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd,...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 55-62

COLONEL STEPHEN F. Austin, not General James Long, is known as the Father of Texas. But Long got close. He married the Mother of Texas. Undeterred by Lafitte's betrayal and the humiliation of his first failed expedition-suIVivors were arrested by government officials in New Orleans and paraded down Charles Street-General Long assembled another...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 63-70

DURING WHAT came to be known as the Texas Revolution, Galveston Island was the capital, and nearly the final retreat for General Sam Houston and his ragtag army. Except for a decisive battle across the bay, on the banks of the San Jacinto River, Galveston might have gone...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 71-84

IT DIDN'T TAKE long for Samuel May Williams to grab his share of the spoils of war. Williams and his business partner, Thomas McKinney, had furnished nearly $100,000 in goods and services to Sam Houston's anny. The Republic of Texas was flat broke: there was no way it could...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 85-95

IN THE DECADE before the Civil War, Galveston became a genuine city, the first in Texas. Merchants began importing ornate iron fronts for their buildings, and the town council constructed sidewalks, installed gaslights, and paved primary streets with shell. For the first time the...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 96-116

GALVESTONIANS HAVE always been good at throwing a party, and at first that's what the war seemed like. The Island mentality was geared to profit, adventure, and good times, not always in that order. True, there had been a lot of overheated rhetoric and posturing during the argument...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 117-130

GALVESTONIANS HAVE always been good at throwing a party, and at first that's what the war seemed like. The Island mentality was geared to profit, adventure, and good times, not always in that order. True, there had been a lot of overheated rhetoric and posturing during the argument...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 131-140

RECONSTRUCTION brought a new black elite to the Island, too, but it never got rich, and it numbered only two. Both were mulatto carpetbaggers whose main activity-at least in the beginning-was to whip up black support for the Radical Republican coalition of Edmund J. Davis. The first...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 141-163

THERE WAS an idyllic quality about Galveston in the last quarter of the ninteenth century, a sort of Toy Town mystique that suggested that life was a party that went on forever. It had grown into a distinctly cosmopolitan city, tropical in appearance like New Orleans, but smaller..

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Chapter 14

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pp. 151-162

IN THE SPRING of 1900, as Islanders looked with great expectations to a new century, William Jennings Bryan came to Galveston to campaign for the presidency, and also to hunt and fish with his old friend Colonel Moody at the colonel's private preserve on the mainland, Lake Surprise...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 163-174

FRIDA Y, SEPTEMBER 7, 1900, started out oppressively hot, then turned into one of those seemingly perfect days when the wind swings around and blows out of the north and the heat of summer starts to retreat. Frayed strings of clouds stitched a satin blue sky, promising the relief of rain. Long swells broke on the beach, and young sports who should...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 175-182

SUNDAY MORNING was a scene out of hell, played against a brilliant blue sky and a drowsy sea. At low tide the Gulf seemed as peaceful as a sleeping teenager, spent and unaware of its night of murderous violence. Small groups of people began to appear in the streets, tentative at first, as though they didn't want to disturb anything. Bruised and stunned...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 183-194

THE MOODYS weren't the only ones who saw opportunity in disaster. This was the moment I. H. Kempner and his reformers had been waiting for. City government was bankrupt and tottering on anarchy. Walter Jones, a former police chief who had defeated the irrepressible Ashley Fly in the...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 195-206

EVEN IN A place as confining as the Island, the Kempners seldom crossed paths with the Moodys, and the Moodys never had cocktails with the Sealys. The Moodys were hard-shell Baptists, strongly opposed to drinking, smoking, gambling, and almost any type of socializing. With the...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 207-216

UNIVERSAL DISASTERS had a way of skipping across the Island, and careening off without doing much damage. Galveston had its own types of calamity, of course, but periodic flood tides, hurricanes, and epidemics of yellow fever seemed to temper the population, make it more resistant...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 217-228

THE MACEOS changed the rules in Galveston. The underworld become the overworld. Activities that had been merely tolerated became part of the mainstream economy. Professional criminals became respected businessmen-and friends, not to say patrons, of the police commissioner...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 229-240

IN THE STRANGE swirl of pennissiveness that replaced the Island's traditional genteel culture, nothing was stranger than the spiritual metamorphosis of W. L. Moody, Jr. Approaching his sixty-fifth birthday in 1930, Moody became almost a caricature of his time, an object of curiosity..

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Chapter 22

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pp. 241-248

ISLANDERS SURVIVED World War II without missing a beat. While Gennan V-boats prowled the Gulf, new casinos and clubs opened on Seawall Boulevard, old Italians sat around the Turf Club cursing the Immigration Service and playing the stock market, and the small gam son at Fort...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 249-262

NOBODY REALIZED it back in 1950, but the rackets had enabled Galveston to remain an important place well beyond her time. But her time was up. Instead of growing like nearly every other city in Texas, Galveston was holding at 65,000, or declining. She was no longer the most import...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 263-276

WHEN W. L. Moody, Jr., died in 1954, leaving his oldest daughter in charge, he deliberately placed the Moody empire in the hands of a woman who had never had a day of formal schooling. The Old Man didn't believe in education for women, and whatever Mary Elizabeth Moody picked...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 277-292

As ALWAYS, the contrast of styles and methods of the Moodys and the Kempners made interesting gossip, and reminded Islanders that class breeds class. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the manner in which members of these two ruling families shared their hereditary wealth. The...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 293-298

BOBBY MOODY was coming out first again. In the early 1970s, as Bobby's National Western Life Insurance Company was expanding, Shearn's Empire Life was in serious trouble, and so was his private bank, W. L. Moody & Son, Bankers, Unincorporated. Shearn was convinced that..

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Chapter 27

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pp. 299-312

BOBBY MOODY was coming out first again. In the early 1970s, as Bobby's National Western Life Insurance Company was expanding, Shearn's Empire Life was in serious trouble, and so was his private bank, W. L. Moody & Son, Bankers, Unincorporated. Shearn was convinced that...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 313-320

SHEARN MOODY had filed for personal bankruptcy in 1983, and was hiding out at a Moody-owned hotel in Washington, D.C., dodging subpoena servers and other real or imagined enemies. The bankruptcy trustee believed that Shearn and his aide Norm Revie had hidden funds in...

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Chapter 29

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pp. 321-324

LIFE IN Galveston today goes on much as it has for the last one hundred years. The changes are mostly cosmetic, a dab of concrete here, a layer of track there, a hotel, a pier, an artificial beach with white sand imported from Florida. The alterations come and go in a wink, impelVious...

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Epilogue

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pp. 325-330

IN 1995 A NEW PLAYER with an old familiar name swept into Galveston like an avenging angel, setting off the kind of firestorm that had once made the Island the most interesting and lively place in Texas. Tilman Fertitta, the 39-year-old great-great nephew of Papa...

Index

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pp. 331-345


E-ISBN-13: 9780875655093
E-ISBN-10: 0875655092
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875651903

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 38 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 1998

Series Title: Chisholm Trail Series