A Little Island History
September 7, 2017 | Issue #699
September Storms in Texas
Editor’s Note: it was nine years ago this week that Hurricane Ike glanced off our Island and slammed into Galveston. Early September has historically been a fertile time for hurricanes on the Texas coast. Here is a look back at the most powerful and impactful.
Ike September 13, 2008
Ike pushed tides over the top of the Michael J. Ellis Seawall and left a sand deposit between the Packery Channel Jetties that two subsequent dredgings failed to remove completely and which is still a factor in maintaining the channel depth today. Hurricane Ike made an early-morning landfall near Galveston, killing scores of people in Texas and other U.S. states (as well as in Haiti and Cuba). The hurricane caused billions of dollars of damage to property, reduced the tax bases of several counties and cities, blocked federal navigation chan¬nels of national interest, and ultimately led to the loss of thousands of jobs. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that about 1.9 million people evacuated prior to Hur¬ricane Ike.
The 1900 storm that hit Galveston is still the granddaddy of Texas storms and is till the deadliest natural disaster in American history. In the fledgling years of the hurricane warning system it caught the people of Galveston by surprise on September 8, 1900 pushing a fifteen-foot surge tide across Galveston Island killing between 6000 and 12,000 people.
The storm resulted in the construction of the Galveston seawall which provide protection to the city during Ike 108 years later. Galveston had been the preeminent port in Texas until the storm when Houston, further inland and protected from tidal surge, took the lead as the state’s major port. The failure to see the storm coming (portrayed in the book Isaac’s Storm) was the impetus for modern hurricane detection and tracking systems.
1919 Hurricane Corpus Christi
The most devastating storm to hit Corpus Christi, so far, was the storm of 1919. In the days before hurricane tracking was fully developed storms were tracked as they struck ships in the Gulf of Mexico and this storm was lost at sea until September 11 for Corpus Christi. Fish in great numbers collected in Corpus Christi Bay. Rumors spread in Corpus Christi that the storm had struck the Louisianna coast and warning flags in Corpus Christi were dropped on only to be hoisted again. The storm struck the Lower Rio Grande Valley but Corpus Christi was caught in the right-front quadrant of the storm with winds of 110 miles per hour, but a storm surge of 16 feet. Uprooted pilings in Port Aransas became instruments of destruction in ten-foot waves and local beaches were soon littered with debris and bodies which were quickly buried in a mass grave near White Point on the north shore of Nueces Bay.
In Port Aransas the steamship Media was lifted onto the docs. Fifteen hundred cattle were driven off Padre Island into the Laguna Madre. The storm is still regarded as the largest and most deadly storm to hit Corpus Christi – so far.
Carla September 11, 1961
Prior to Hurricane Celia in August, 1970, Hurricane Carla was known in the Coastal Bend as “the Big One.” It ripped across the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 5 storm and made landfall at Port O’Connor, near where Hurricane Harvey did the same, bringing 170 mile per hour winds to Port Lavaca. Carla spawned an F4 tornado near Galveston, the strongest hurricane-induced tornado ever recorded. The storm caused $325 million in damage and 43 deaths.
September 12-14, 1818
This storm provides one of the earliest accounts of a storm on the Texas Coast. Residents of Galvez’s town – later Galveston - described it as a storm of extraordinary violence. Settlers on Galveston Island, largely made up of pirates under the command of Jean Lafitte saw the signs of an approaching storm, but did not think anything of it since they had been through similar situations before. They anchored their boats and went to sleep like it was any other night.
But by morning the island had become a “picture of chaos” as the injured were moved into Lafitte’s headquarters known as the Red House where he kept an eye on the French town tucked into Spanish territory. Lafitte lost four ships where were dug up by a dredge boat working on the jetty at Texas City fifty years later.
First Indianola Hurricane September 14, 1875
The first of two storms which destroyed the port of Indianola which was the source of settlers for the German communities now found around Central Texas. Waters in Matagorda Bay began to rise on September 15 and the storm made landfall on San Jose Island, crossing Copano Bay drowning chickens roosting in trees on Mustang Island, the town of Velasco was destroyed, as were the lighthouses at Pass Cavallo were swept out to sea along with four lighthouse keepers.
Boats were carried nine miles inland by a fifteen foot surge tide, winds gusts were estimated at 150 miles per hour after the anemometer was blown away. Fifteen looters were killed.
Hurricane Gilbert September 16, 1998
Hurricane Gilbert was without doubt one of the scariest storms to every head toward Padre Island. Gilbert was the most intense hurricane every observed in the Atlantic Basin until Hurricane Wilma in 2005. It reached Category 5 status on September 13, emerging into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 after crossing the Yucatan Peninsula. The storm appeared headed straight at the Coastal Bend and slowed to a crawl and gathered intensity to the point that the eye split in two, with one storm center striking mainland Mexico and the other swallowed by the vastness of the King Ranch. But the storm covered most of the Gulf of Mexico for nearly nine days. Although only a Category 3 storm when the main eye hit Mexico, the intensity of the storm with the lowest barometric pressure recorded at the time was such that the name was retired.
Hurricane Rita September 24, 2005
Following lest than one month after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Hurricane Rita made landfall near Sabine Pass killing 113 people, 107 of which were during the evacuation of the Houston area. The Coastal Bend suffered little damage, but the storm did prematurely open Packery Channel, cutting through a sand plug left between the jetties at the beach. Damage totaled about $15.6 billion.
Hurricane Beulah September 20, 1967
Hurricane Beulah struck the Texas Coast near Brownsville but the Corpus Christi area, and Nueces Bay in particular, were hard hit with flooding when the slow moving storm gathered strength as it came close to the Texas Coast. It did a total of $1 billion in damage, causing significant flooding the Coastal Bend which was just north of the eye in much the same scenario as Hurricane Harvey and the Houston area.
Hurricane Humberto September 12, 2007
This little remembered storm gave Padre Island a scare as it roared straight at us before making a turn northward and hitting High Island. But the 14-inhces of rainfall knocked out power to several hundred thousand Texans. The storm may be remembered by locals on The Island for the amount of flotsam and jetsam it washed ashore on the Padre Island National Seashore.
Hurricane Fern September 10, 1971
This storm struck South Carolina before reversing course and crossing Southeastern Louisiana before heading back into the Gulf of Mexico reaching hurricane status on September 8 and hitting Freeport on the Texas Coast. Fern was a reminder of how erratic storms late in the season be.
Hurricane Frances, September 12, 1998
Francis is a reminder of what storms that develop in the Gulf of Mexico can do the Texas Coast. It produced torrential rains as it hit the mid-Texas coast before dropping large amounts of rain across the Midwest and as far north as New England and Canada.
August 17, 2017 | Issue #696
The Civil War Comes to The Island
Battle at the end of Whitecap
By Greg Smith
In December of 1862 Corpus Christi had been cut off from shipping by the Union blockade for almost a year. The town’s business and commerce had ground to a halt and the citizens were running out of all the basic necessities of living. The Federal ship Arthur guarded the pass at Port Aransas and the Union steam gunboats Sachem and Corypheus controlled the bays. The Confederate commanders looking for a way to bring in supplies and ship out cotton decided to investigate the possibility of using the unguarded Corpus Christi Pass to run the Union blockade.
The first thing was to chart the current depths of the pass. The plan was for the Confederate schooner Queen of the Bay manned by forty seven year old Jack Sands of Indianola, two sailors and to be augmented by seven men plus Captain Ireland of Hobby’s Texas regiment. Captain Ireland was a resourceful and fearless officer who had captured the reviled Yankee commander Lt. Kitterege in Flour Bluff three months earlier.
Today’s folks think of Corpus Christi Pass as the ditch that was cut back in 1933, a couple of miles north on the way to Port Aransas. In 1862 the Corpus Christi Pass’s mouth was where Whitecap Boulevard ends at the beach, it then went through what is now lake Padre behind the seawall condo’s, going along where SH 361 currently is for a couple of miles and then angled to Corpus Christi Bay.
The pass was about 1,000 feet wide and the depth of the channel ranged from 10 to 15 feet deep for the most part. The problem with the pass was it usually ran only four feet deep at the bar in the Gulf and three feet deep seven miles up channel where the pass emptied into Corpus Christi Bay.
On December 5, 1862 the Confederates embarked on the Queen for two days of sounding. Riding a north wind they spent a day and half measuring the depths of the seven mile-long pass. Even though they had completed their work on the 6th the north wind left them stuck in the pass, forcing the group to stay another night.
Unknown to the men in Gray the Union gunboat Sachem captured a rebel schooner loaded with salt. One of the schooners crew, a unionist sympathizer told the bluecoats about the reb’s activities. Plans were quickly made to capture the Queen and twenty sailors detailed for the task. In command would be the battle tested twenty-seven year old Ensign Alfred Reynolds from New York. A local civilian Peter Baxter, a Scottish immigrant came along to help guide the party through to the Island. In those days if the Navy captured an enemy ship it was declared a prize and the capturing crew all earned a portion of its value. The plan was for the sailing bark Arthur to block the Gulf entrance of the pass. The Arthur with a hundred sailors and mounting six cannon’s would make quick work of the Queen if it tried to escape into the Gulf.
The Author drew fourteen feet of water though and could not get any closer than a half a mile to the pass without running the risk of grounding. For the actual capture the Federals needed shallow draft boats to navigate the three-foot depth at the Bay entrance. They decided to use two cutters, one made of iron and one of wood for the job. One cutter would be manned by ten men and the other cutter eleven men. The crews were armed with rifles, shotguns, pistols and cutlasses. This would make quick work of a three or four man crew of a schooner like the Queen of the Bay. With the stir of excitement of from the capture of the Reb’s Ship and the prospect of sharing in extra cash for its prize value the twenty sailors with little sleep and great anticipation boarded the Cutters at 6:00 a.m. on a cold December morning for the twenty-eight mile trip through Corpus Christi Bayou and across the Bay to Corpus Christi Pass.
The Battle at the end of Whitecap
As the sun rose that morning at the pass the Confederates spotted the Arthur in the Gulf. Trapped by the contrary wind they anxiously watched the Arthur. Much to their relief the Arthur left for Port Aransas without sending an attacking party. By eleven o’clock an East wind came up finally enabling the Queen to strike home for Corpus. As the Queen was about half way up the pass they spotted the sails of the Yankee cutters. Not knowing if the Sachem of other Union vessels were close by they made the decision to turn around and run back to Padre Island where they would be protected from the larger Union vessels by shallow waters and could also escape on foot across the Laguna to Flour Bluff. About the same time the Queen was sighted by the crew of the two Union cutters about two miles distant. The Union sailors seeing the chase was on grabbed their oars. With the cutters under both sail and oars they were closing the gap between them and the Queen. As the Queen reached Padre the Cutters were less than a mile behind, the Confederates beached the Queen and ran for cover in the Sand Hills that were on the edge of the pass. Seeing the running Rebels and prize in sight the Union boys redoubled their efforts and were on top of the Queen in ten short minutes.
Next Week: Shots ring out on The Island
August 10, 2017 | Issue #695
The Ranch House on Packery Channel
By Greg Smith
Around the turn of the century Patrick built a headquarters house for the Dunn Ranch at the head of the Island. The location was just west of the Packery Channel Bridge where folk’s park and fish today and discarded plastic bags decorate the nearby dunes.
The house was not a fancy structure, when originally built it was two story, with the kitchen and dining area on the first floor and sleeping quarters above. It had a three sided porch running the full length of the Gulf, Island and Packery side of the house. A pier extended from the porch into the channel for boats bringing supplies and passengers from Corpus. Pat being of the economical sort used what wood the beach provided for lumber to build the house and when asked why he built a two story he replied “not a single saw washed in with the lumber and I had no saw to cut it shorter.”
As time went on he built a new kitchen and dining hall on the back of the house and added a separate bunk house on the bay side. Patrick and family never used this house as their residence, living in Corpus Christi, but did spend several months of the year there.
Crossing the Laguna
At that time getting to the Island was no easy matter. Coming by sailboat it was a fourteen mile trip across the bay and then six miles down Corpus Pass. Depending on the wind and currents it could be a three hour trip or take the whole day. By horse or wagon it was about a six hour trek, following a route close to where Yorktown Boulevard is, crossing the Oso at Mud Bridge and then fording the Laguna, leaving Flour Bluff around Bluff Landing and coming ashore in the vicinity of Whitecap.
The Laguna before the days of the Intracoastal and Humble channels was two to three feet deep on the Bluff side and less than a foot deep for the last mile to the Island. The ford across the Laguna was a hard sand bottom marked by wooden stakes. Outside of the stakes were soft mud areas that could quickly bog a wagon or animal, turning an easy crossing into a nightmare. In the best case the cattle or horses would thrash their way out, if not then it required roping and pulling them to the hard sand with a team of mules or horses. Occasionally a panicky animal would die, exhausted, from the stress and sinking too far into that stinky blue mud to escape.
Visiting the house
The Packery Channel house served two primary purposes, first a headquarters and jumping off place for working cattle and holding herds before crossing to the mainland, and then as today a getaway vacation spot for the extended Dunn clan and friends. In those pre-air condition times there was no better place in the Texas summer to be than the Island, almost always a cool breeze coming off the Gulf and a full porch to enjoy it in. With the addition of the bunk house, beds were in plentiful and if they filled up the ranch hands would set up some of the big canvas tents that Pat often used working cattle down Island.
In 1915 a young Bishop school teacher, Buena Vista Hill was invited by one of the Dunn boys to come to the Island. Eager to escape the heat of the coastal plains she joined the party and took the boat trip over from Corpus. For first timers like Buena the surprise tradition was to throw them into the channel off the end of the dock. Arriving at camp she was asked to check out the end of the pier to the suppressed grins and laughter of the boys about to give her the wet surprise. Running out to the end Buena quickly pulled off her dress, reveling a bathing suit underneath and jumped off end of the pier. She merrily asked the now surprised group to join her as she had been forewarned of this prank a few days before. Impressed with this young lass’s humor Patrick’s son Burton Dunn began a romance that would last the next fifty-five years.
Next week: The Civil War Comes to The Island.
August 3, 2017 | Issue #694
Aftermath of 1916 Storm on The Island
Two Island ranchers caught in the storm are missing
Editor’s note: In the last issue we told you about two Island ranchers, Burton Dunn and his nephew Spohn McGowan, who returned to The Island from a cattle drive to sell stock on the King Ranch and returned just in time to get caught in a violent hurricane. Rescue parties were sent out lead by Island pioneer Patrick Dunn. The story comes to us via Dunn descendent Greg Smith, Burton Dunn was his grandfather, and is written by Spohn McGowan.
By Spohn McGowan
Yes the 1916 storm was awful but we didn’t know it was going to be that bad. My cousin Burton Dunn had come to the lower ranch where we were that day, me and another cowhand, Sisto Del Marez. We were all in the cook shack and the wind was blowing hard out of the northeast. It was about the middle of the evening and so dark we had the coal-oil lamp burning. The water was high, nearly up to the cookshack floor and that was three feet from the ground.
When the wind turned due east, we knew we were in for it. I never saw such rolls of water in my life. There were logs in those mountains of water that looked as big as cars, smashing all around us, they were. The floor wasn’t nailed down and it was about to blow out or be washed out from under us. I told Burton we’d better get out of there and try to make it to Green Hill, the highest point on the Island. Burton was ready but we when we looked around at Sisto, (now Sisto was the subject of seizures) Burton said, “Oh my goodness, what’s the matter with him, anyway? Jumping around and climbing the walls like crazy! Is he is having a spell?” He wasn’t. What he did was to tie some provisions and matches wrapped in canvas to the highest rafters. We tore out, leaving the lamp burning on the table and both doors wide open.
We make it to Green Hill, somehow. I don’t know how the story started that we tied ourselves to the trees, but we didn’t. We just stayed there flat and watched all that water and prayed. It was like the whole Ocean crashing in. There was about six-hundred yearlings in the lower pasture and seven half broke horses, three mules and Uncle Pat’s gray horse. Most of them made it through the storm. The cows were all lost though. They had been at the head of the ranch and came down the Island during the first part of the storm. When the lull came, the eye of the hurricane, they had started back to the ranch and then they were hit full force by the wind and water. It was just too much for them, out in the open, and they were flattened out and bogged down – died from exposure and much as drowning. There wasn’t much of anything left where we had been. Oh, we found parts of the lamp, and later one of our saddles washed up on Flour Bluff. Uncle Pat’s saddle was never found. He had a couple of bottles of strychnine in his saddle bags and always believing that somebody found his saddle and just kept it, he also hoped they decided to sample those bottles!
By noon of the next day the storm was over and we knew my folks were worried about us but we just didn’t have any way to catch those horses. They were scratched up awful bad, we figured by trying to stay together, swimming in all that water and logs and scared to death. Finally me and Burton caught a couple and when we headed out for the ranch head – well we didn’t have a whip to lay on, but we hollered and kicked and screamed and those mules TRAVELED! It was about fifteen files from Green Hill to the head ranch. There wasn’t anything left here, either but we found Mr. Blumfields teeth. (Please don’t ask me how Mr. Blumfield got in this, we don’t know.) Uncle Pat was here, just waitin’ and lookin’ when he heard us and then saw us, he broke up with happiness. He told Burton, “Son I never expected to see you alive!”
July 27, 2017 | Issue #693
Weathering the 1916 Hurricane on The Island
Editor’s note: The following is the first part an account of weathering the 1916 hurricane on Padre Island. The Dunn family was ranching The Island at the time and this story comes to us from Spohn McGowan, a companion of Burton Dunn, and was provided to us by Dunn family member Greg Smith.
By Spohn McGowan
August 20, 2013
On August 12, 1916 a tropical storm formed in the Atlantic 400 miles west of the Lesser Antilles. Three thousand miles away in Corpus Christi Patrick Dunn’s son, Burton and his nephew Spohn McGowan were making plans to go down Island and check the
Cattle herds grazing in up and down the Island. Burton, twenty-seven had left his job at the Corpus Christi National bank the year prior to take a greater role in operating the Dunn Ranch on the Island and build his own herd as Pat become more involved in State politics, running for his third term as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Eight years before Patrick entrusted Burton to his first major cattle drive.
At that time there was a fence across the Island that separated the Island into two pastures. In the South pasture there were 900 yearlings fattening up for market. Today it is a simple matter of backing the cattle trailer up to the chute, loading the animals, and an hour and half drive to the sale barn in Alice or George West. For Burton in 1909 it was not so simple, to drive a herd this size it would take a dozen or so cowhands. The nearest loading pens were the Caesar pens just north of Kingsville, a three day cattle drive away. A cook would be needed along with the chuck wagon and a horse wrangler for the remuda (extra horses).
The drive went smoothly, a day up the Island, then taking the cattle across the Laguna at Pita Island and two days across the King Ranch to the pens. Once at the corrals the cattle were loaded on an eighteen car train that was charted by Patrick to take the animals to Laredo. Young Burton sent most of the hands, chuck wagon and horses back to Corpus. He and a couple of cowboys jumped on the train and rode the caboose to Laredo. Once there Burton arranged to sell the herd to Mexican buyers, with his job complete and money jangling in his pocket, he like so many young men before and after stayed to enjoy the charms of that border city until he received a telegram from the CC National Bank to come to work. Eight years had passed, Burton had left the bank to follow in his family’s ranching footsteps as he and cousin Spohn left for the Island in those fateful days of August 1916.
Corpus Christi had been fortunate to have been only dealt with only glancing blows from Hurricanes since its founding in eighty-eight years before. The worst of these storms was in August of 1880 where total damage was estimated at $15,000. Other parts of Texas was not so lucky, Baghdad Mexico and Clarksville Texas in 1869, Indianola in 1886, Velasco in 1909 all destroyed by storms. 8,000 souls were lost in Galveston in 1900 and another 275 killed by the 1915 storm. This streak of luck ended for Corpus as the 1916 storm number Six entered the Gulf making its way to the South Texas coast.
Burton, Spohn and Sisto Del Marez had made their way to the Green Hill camp ten miles below Yarbrough Pass, ground zero for the hurricane’s landfall. In the morning of August 18th the storm struck the Island, with its path taking the eye through Kingsville, San Diego and Del Rio the next day. The 16-foot storm was no slouch, ranked by NOAA as the third most intense storm to ever strike the Texas Coast in the last 160 years. In Corpus the paper reported the dead and missing victims of the storm including Burton and Spohn. Rescue parties were sent out, Cousin Maxwell Dunne heading down Island and Patrick to the Head of the Island. Patrick arrived at the headquarters on the Packery to find that nothing remained of his two story ranch headquarters, completely swept away the storms fury. His anticipation and dread heightened to the fate of his only son and nephew as he surveyed the devastation of that killer storm.
Baffin Bay – So Near But so Far Out
Fish kill prompts study. Next Public Meeting August 8
July 20, 2017 | Issue #692
For local fishermen Baffin Bay is a well-known spot and artifacts found around the bay indicate it has been a favorite place for humans for hundreds or even thousands of years.
The story is that the naming of Baffin Bay was more or less a joke. Captain Millfin Kenedy had traveled to Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland and saw the South Texas bay as such an opposite of that Arctic bay that he penned it with that same name.
In the late 1940s geologist Armstrong Price reported the finding of a Mesoamerican-style figurine and a stone gorget with an eroded human burial near the mouth of Baffin Bay. In the 1950s marine biologists observed oyster shell middens (camp sites) at several sites along the shores of Baffin Bay and reasoned that these must represent use of the area during a wetter period before the modern, hypersaline bay formed.
This narrow bay 70 miles south of Corpus Christi forms the boundary between the arid lower Texas coast and the better-watered central Texas coast. Its distinctive three-fingered shape reflects the bay’s formation, which ended about 12,000 years ago, was formed between the upper part of a small river valley that drained into the Gulf of Mexico over 30 miles to the east of the modern shoreline. About 6000 years ago the valley flooded as sea level rose and an ancestral Baffin Bay formed in which oysters and other shellfish thrived. But by about 3,000 years ago the extensive barrier island known today as Padre Island had formed cutting off Baffin Bay’s direct access to the Gulf. The bay filled with sediment and its shallow waters became hypersaline and less productive for many species (except certain fin fish) than any of Texas’ other bays, a condition which helps explain its prehistoric record.
Jump forward to 2012
In 2012 a fish kill in Baffin Bay prompted a series of studies to determine the cause, and if needed, a cure.
There will be a public hearing concerning the ecology of Baffin Bay Study on Tuesday, August 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park, in Rivera that is the latest in a series of studies prompted by the fish kill.
The Baffin Bay Study Group was formed by the local community to bring together scientist, natural resource managers, guides, and other bay users to support interests in resolving Baffin Bay water quality and biological productivity concerns. The first meeting of the group was held on August 2, 2012, in response to fish kills that occurred around the mouth of Baffin Bay where it meets the Upper Laguna Madre.
Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies gathered together to discuss the fish kills, water quality problems, and food web changes in the bay. Since the first meeting, the group has grown to include not only researchers and state agencies, but commercial fisherman, recreational fisherman, hotel/B&B owners, citizens living on Baffin Bay, ranchers, business owners, federal and local agencies, and other interested stakeholders. The group meets roughly every 3 to 4 months to discuss issues related to Baffin Bay, ongoing research, planned projects, and ways to help fund these initiatives.
The groups charge is to identify the issues in Baffin Bay, characterize the problems, and develop solutions. By bringing stakeholders together to communicate about water quality and biological productivity in Baffin Bay, we ensure a collaborative effort and keep everyone on the same page as to the direction that research and management decisions are being made.
Dr. Larry McKinney made a presentation at a previous meeting of the Baffin Bay study group. Here are some keys facts.
Baffin Bay is an Extreme Environment, on the fringe of “normal” due to limited freshwater inflow. Baffin Bay consists of 100 square miles of relatively shallow water with high evaporation rates. Six square miles of Baffin Bay is covered with Serpulid Reefs. Recorded salinities have exceeded 100 parts per thousand. Normal seawater is 35 parts per thousand.
The Early Years of Learning Baffin 1985-2000
The Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay, in particular, was home to what is
believed to be the longest continual algal bloom in history, from 1990-1997. Initiated by drought (1988-89) and fueled by a massive
freeze kill (1989) of fish “Brown Tide” has continued to occur sporadically ever since causing loss of seagrass by shading.
New lessons from Baffin Bay – 2010 – 2016
In 2012, a large percentage of adult black drum that were
commercially caught had to be discarded due to flesh with a "jelly-like" consistency. Water Quality concerns for increased Hypoxia (fish kills) and nutrient increases (Eutrophication) led to the genesis of the current study. The “brown tide” of Baffin Bay
changed the trajectory of Texas Parks & Wildlife’s PWD fisheries management from a focus on species to ecosystems.
What is driving long-term increases in chlorophyll and dense, prolonged brown tide blooms? According to a study by Michael Wetz, Emily Cira, and Kenneth Hayes at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi the amount of chlorophyll in Baffin Bay has increased two-fold since the 1975. The reason, they found, is that the bay is poorly flushed and retains and recycles nutrients and is sensitive to external inputs. Factors affecting algal growth include: Salinity since high salinity favors brown tide; salinity has decreased
dramatically since the opening of the Intracoastal Waterway, however Benthic filter feeders have experienced die-offs leading to algal blooms. Water temperature in the bay, and all along the Texas Coast, has increased greatly since 1975.
While inorganic nitrogen is generally low in surface waters, dissolved organic nitrogen is very high in Baffin Bay. The external sources of nitrogen include fertilizer runoff from nearby agricultural fields, manure from nearly pastureland, and wastewater runoff from urban areas. A study by the U.S. Geological Society found that most of the nitrogen running into the bay from Petronilla Creek came from crop residue. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found very high algae levels in Petronilla Creek which often flushed into the bay. The study found increasing chlorophyll and nitrogen levels which along with increasing temperatures enhance algae growth, increased bacteria growth, and reduced dissolved oxygen levels has led to “deteriorated” water quality in the bay and that given the sensitivity of the system to nutrient inputs solutions are needed.
The study found that the opening of Yarborough Pass in the 1940s barely decreased salinity levels in the bay and that chlorophyll levels continue to increase despite the opening of the ICW.
The study found several solutions, some possible, some not. For instance, the best solution would be lowering of water temperatures to historical levels, but given that the earth climate is warming that is not a likely possibility. Increased freshwater flushing would help but is dependent on freshwater inflows from creeks and rivers, however, this is dependent on increased rainfall.
Studies so far have found the highest impact of the changing water conditions in Baffin Bay has been to Black Drum which suffered a die-off in 2012 which was found to be due to a decline in their food source die to high salinity and low levels of dissolved oxygen.
Black Drum feed on a number of lower level consumers which themselves depend on either pelagic (bivalves) or benthic (gastropods, polychaetes) production. If shifts in food resources are responsible for Black Drum emaciation events, likely problems with both benthic and pelagic food resources
estuary -scale disturbances (water quality perturbations?) are likely affecting the whole system, with indirect effects on Black Drum.
Ongoing changes in water quality are occurring throughout Baffin Bay, making it important to continue monitoring food web dynamics. The eventual goal is a numerical model that explicitly links water quality dynamics and estuarine resources.
It is with that goal in mind that the meeting for August 20 is set with the ultimate goal of developing a watershed protection plan for Baffin Bay.
A Brief History of Island Water Passes
July 13, 2017 | Issue #691
Editor’s Note: The following is a brief history of passes through Padre and Mustang islands over the course of the last two centuries. We thank Dr. Richard Watson for sending it our way.
The Aransas Pass (at Port Aransas) was extremely unstable during the middle to late 1800's. Relocation of the channel axis, changes in channel depth of several feet, and shifting of the inlet-mouth bars accompanied southerly migration of the inlet. Frequent changes caused navigation problems for trade vessels traveling over the outer bars and through the inlet. Not only were the changes frequent but they occurred rapidly as well. It was reported that during one week in 1853, the channel migrated from the north to the south breakers. The new channel provided nine feet of clearance but the old channel shoaled to four feet (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1853). Between 1851 and 1890,depths over the inlet-mouth bars varied from 7 to 10.5 feet (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers,1890).
Erosion of the north end of Mustang Island and deposition on the south end of San Jose Island progressed at a rate of 260 feet per year (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1900). Because of the importance of Aransas Pass as a route for commercial vessels and because of the continuous changes in channel position and depth, numerous efforts were made by governmental and private interests to stabilize the channel and maintain navigable depths The first attempt at improvement was made in 1868 when a 600-foot dike of brush- and stone-filled cribs was constructed on the southern end of San Jose Island to close a swash channel (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers,1871). This dike was destroyed by storms within 3 years.
Survey in 1871
Recommendations following a survey of the pass in 1871 included construction of groins and a revetment on the northern extremity of Mustang Island and a jetty extending into the Gulf from the northeast side of the island (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1871). Between 1871 and 1879, the channel depth remained about 7 feet, which prevented the entrance of deeper draft vessels;
therefore, trade in the area was severely curtailed. A report based on an 1879 survey (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1879) reiterated the recommendations of 1871 and also proposed construction of a jetty from San Jose Island parallel to the proposed jetty on Mustang Island. The erection of a dam across Corpus Christi Pass had also been proposed since the pass had decreased in size during the previous 30 years (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1880). In May 1880, the work was begun but in August a storm removed most of the improvement.
By 1882, six groins extending from an 870-foot breakwater along the channel face of Mustang Island, a revetment along the same area, and a 450-foot groin from Harbor Island into Lydia Ann Channel had been built, and construction was proceeding on the south (or Government) jetty. When work was suspendedin1885,the jetty was 5,500'feet long; 1,500 feet of this was shore work. During June 1885, the depth of the channel increased to 11 feet and the rate of southward migration was reduced (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers,1886). However, the jetty was damaged by a hurricane in September 1885,and the channel shoaled.
A survey made in 1888 revealed that the jetty had subsided an average of 6.2 feet in the 3 years following its construction; more than 1,750 feet of the total length was submerged. During the same time, the channel shoaled to 8.5 feet (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1888). The breakwater and sand fences on Mustang Island had been destroyed, and the groins had settled 9 to 38 feet into the sand. The revetment along the channel face had reduced erosion of Mustang Island to 70 feet per year even though it had been undermined and isolated from the shoreline which had eroded 100 to 200 feet to the south.
During 1888 and 1889, the revetment was lengthened to 2,725 feet and strengthened by an 18-inch-thick wall of riprap from the bottom of the channel to the high-water line. These additionssucceeded in stabilizing the northern tip of Mustang Island (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
1900). On March 22, 1890, the Aransas Pass Harbor Company was incorporated as a result of the limited annual appropriations.
By 1932, the channel between the jetties had been dredged to 30.7 feet (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1932). Both north and south jetties were repaired in 1936 (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1936) possibly as a result of the 1934 hurricane. In 1937, the channel was deepened to 34.5 feet between the jetties and 35 feet over the outer bar (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1937).
In 1947, these areas were again deepened to 33 feet and 39 feet, respectively (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1947-1948), and in 1958, the channel was 38 feet deep between the jetties and 39 feet over the bar (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1958).
1961 Hurricane Carla
Hurricane Carla (1961) caused extensive damage to the jetties but the damage was later repaired (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1962b). The channel was also re-dredged to 39 feet (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1962c). Hurricane Beulah caused only minor damage but restoration of the channel to its project depth required dredging of over 605,000 cubic yards of sediment (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers,1968b). A 1968 act provided for a deepening of the channel to 45 feet between the jetties and 47 feet over the outer bar. These depths were attained as reported in 1972 (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1972a).
Intermittent opening and closing of Packery Channel, Newport Pass, and Corpus gave impetus to construction of a jettied channel across Mustang Island connecting Corpus Christi Bay with the open Gulf. The Fish (or Water Exchange) Pass was completed August 1972. Detailed changes of shoreline position and bathymetry in and around the pass during its first year of operation were studied by Behrens and Watson (1974); analyses of tidal hydraulics and inlet stability in the first six months were also conducted by Defehr and Sorensen (1973). Maximum discharge recorded at the Fish Pass was about 4,000 cubic feet per second. Maximum tidal current velocities averaged about three feet per second; however, most measured flow velocities were less than two feet per second (Behrens and Watson, 1974).
Corpus Christi Pass,Newport Pass, Packery Channel
Three passes located within a four-mile segment of southern Mustang Island have functioned intermittently as natural tidal inlets (fig. 6). Documentation through the literature of their migration and periods of closure is difficult because Corpus Christi Pass, identified on the U.S. Coast Survey topographic chart (1881-1882), was later referred to as Packery Channel. The northernmost and middle passes are now Corpus Christi Pass and Newport Pass, respectively. Beginning in 1939, attempts were made to reopen Corpus Christi Pass; however, the project was soon abandoned because of rapid siltation and closure (Lockwood and Carothers, 1967). The inability of these inlets to maintain tidal exchange for extended periods may be due to the deepening of Aransas Pass (Collier andHedgpeth,1950; Price, 1952).The three passes are reopened periodically by hurricanes but close within a relatively short period of time.
Dunn Ranching Dynasty on The Island Began in 1879
July 6, 2017 | Issue #690
Editor’s note: Islander Greg Smith is a descendant of the Dunn family which operated a ranch on The Island for many decades beginning in 1879. He is currently the Corpus Christy City Councilman from District which includes The Island.
By Greg Smith
Last article I left off with storms of the 19th century and promised to tell tales of the 1916 storm. After chewing the fat with Dale the other day he wants to celebrate these tales of devastation on their anniversaries, so the number six storm of 1916 is gonna have to wait till August.
Island by another name
With this respite in time I am going to back up a bit and start a century or two before.
Over History Padre Island has been called several names. In early Spanish times it was referred to as la Isla Blanca (White Island) or sometimes Isla de los Malaguitas after a band of Coahuiltecan Indians that lived on the southern portion of the Island. By the time Padre Balli purchased the Island from the Spanish Crown it was called Isla Corpus Christi. When the good Padre had his title reaffirmed by the Mexican Government in 1828 the name Padre Island took root. Thank goodness the next major owner’s name didn’t stick, Nicholas Grisante. Who would want to say they lived on Grisante Island?
When the Dunn clan started ranching the Island in 1879 some folks started calling the Island the Dunn Ranch along with Padre Island. With tourism dollars in mind Col. Robertson in 1927 and then his successor Bertie Jones went back to promoting the name Padre Island. The Great Western folks came around and wanted a fancier name, Padre Isles. That not being uppity enough, the Corpus Christi Tourist Bureau uses the moniker “Upper Padre Island.” Just one last thing to confuse our out of town visitors we have them take our highway South Padre Island Drive to; North Padre, Padre Isles, Upper Padre and Padre Island National Seashore. The only place that South Padre Island Drive doesn’t go is to South Padre Island.
It’s the name Dunn Ranch from beginning in the 1870’s and ending with the last cow shipped off in 1971, that I’ll be earning my next few free copies of the Island Moon writing about.
Some background on the Dunn’s, Corpus Christi was founded by Col. Henry Kinney in 1839. Col Kinney, twenty-five at the time was an adventurer, land promoter and somewhat of a rapscallion. When the United States decided to annex Texas in 1845 Kinney convinced the Powers That Be to come to his little settlement on Corpus Bay.
One of the civilian’s attached to Taylor’s army was Matthew Dunn, an Irishman who came to the US in 1835. Kinney being the good land promoter he was and of Irish decent befriended Matthew. After the Mexican campaign was over Matthew returned to Corpus and bought 160 acres from Kinney along Nueces Bay. To Matthew coming from Ireland where to own a one acre farm was a wish, to have 160 acres was a dream come true. For Kinney to sell land for two dollars an acre that he paid four cents an acre for was a good “friend” to have. Matthew had four brothers still in Ireland and wrote to them to come to Texas for cheap land and opportunity. Ireland at that time was a land of oppression for Irish Catholic’s being only a generation since the repeal of the Penal Laws that prevented Catholic’s from owning property and going to school among other hardships. To add to their misery the potato blight brought hunger and starvation to the Eire people beginning in 1847. When the four Irish Dunn brothers heard of Matthew’s land of Eden (He forgot to mention heat, droughts, rattlesnakes, Indians and outlaws) they started saving for the passage to Texas. First to arrive was Thomas and Catherine Dunn in 1849 who would help start the Padre Island dynasty, brothers John in 1851, Peter in 1852 and Uncle Patrick in 1868. Left behind were their Parents, Lawrence and Ellen, never to see their sons or the twenty-two grand children born in far away Nueces County, Texas.
Settlement at Bird Island Wiped Out by Storm
June 29, 2017 | Issue #689
Editor’s note: Editor’s note: Greg Smith is a descendant of the Dunn family that first came to Nueces County with General Zachary Taylor's Army in 1845 and ranched the Island from 1879 to 1971. Smith went to Flour Bluff School. He is on several boards and committees including the Coastal Windstorm Task Force, the Island Strategic Action Committee, the Nueces County Beach Advisory Committee and the board of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce. He is currently the Corpus Christi City Councilman from District 4 which includes Padre Island. Smith is the CEO of Pioneer Beach Resort in Port A.
We will be featuring his history columns in the next few issues and we thank him for taking time to write.
By Greg Smith
Over the past several years Dale and I have been swapping history stories and tales about South Texas and the Islands in particular. It so happens that my Granddaddy Burton Dunn was intimately involved with Padre Island from his birth in 1889 to his death in 1970. His great uncle Matthew arrived in Corpus with General Taylor in 1845 and Granddaddy’s grand parents Catherine and Thomas Dunn crossed the Aransas bar in 1849 from Ireland via New Orleans.
The beginnings of Island ranching
Tom took the fever and died in 1863 just as his unit, the Eighth battalion of Texas Volunteers prepared to ship out to Galveston leaving a widow Catherine and three small children. The Dunns didn’t hit the Island until 1879 when Catherine and young sons Patrick and Tom formed a partnership to run livestock on the Island and South Texas. With this bit of history and Dale always looking to fill up space in the Moon, he has been bugging me to write a bit of Island History for the paper. I warned him that when if I wasn’t sleeping in Miss Aven’s class forty sum odd years ago at Flour Bluff School it was only because we were skipping school so don’t expect much in the writing department. He did say if I had some of my history speeches written up he’d do the writing for me. Well heck, if I’d written my yakking down writing it wouldn’t have been a problem.
Anyway I did agree to give it a stab. If anyone has a beef with the prose complain to Dale better yet line the bird cage with the paper cause I’m telling up front I wouldn’t know a dangling participle from one that’s been properly attached. Dale did say to write anything but did “suggest” some storm stuff since the season is just starting and I’ve spent the last year trying to convince the fine folks in Amarillo and other points inlands that we’ve got a problem paying half again as much for Windstorm Insurance as our coastal brothers in Florida, North Carolina and other such spots. Been about as successful as staying awake in Miss Aven’s class.
Settlement at Bird Island
Back to storms, the Island was pretty immune from Storms from Corpus’s founding in 1838 till 1916. There were a few blows, the biggest being the 1880 storm that hit Point Isabel in August. The Corpus paper guessed the “damage to buildings and lots will not fall far short of $6,000.” The Curry Settlement which was located close to where Bird Island basin is today took a bit of a hit in first 1874 and then from the 1875 storm that devastated Indianola.
They lost a couple of thousand barrels of salt and told stories of the fish swimming under the houses (houses then were built on wood pilings). What we called the head of the Island (Padre Isles) didn’t have much in the way of building at the time, some Packery operations and a few houses. Some of those were lost, probably from flooding. All in all not much in the first 78 years since the founding of Kinney’s Trading post. In fact the folks in Austin said in 1908 “this Island has never suffered much from storms and floods. It is in the west or outer edge of the storm current” as they were trying to peddle lots on Mustang.
The local paper wrote in 1886 “Corpus Christi as the only really safe place on the Texas coast.” An article in 1909 continued to sing praises as “the oldest inhabitants cannot recall a storm of sufficient severity to alarm even a timid woman” and “nine-tenths of the area of Corpus Christi is on a bluff 30 feet high, probably the safest point in saltwater America,” . That changed on August 18, 1916 but your going to have to buy another free copy of the Moon because Dale’s out of space and I’m ready to skip.
Next time: A history of the changing times on The Island.
Surfing The Island in the 1960s
June 22, 2017 | Issue #688
In January of 1963 four tractor trailers arrived in Corpus Christi loaded down with Corvettes. The cars were part of the scenery for two episodes of the popular television show Route 66 which filmed in Corpus Christi and in Port Aransas even though the actual Route 66 never got closer than 600 miles to the Coastal Bend.
Port Aransas at the time had a burgeoning and very active surf scene which attracted the attention of the series’ writer Stirling Silliphant during a previous visit. That scene is also the subject of an exhibit at the Port Aransas Museum this month.
In the series Martin Milner starred as Tod Stiles, a down on his luck recent college graduate and George Maharis, a friend. It ran for four seasons and was very popular, featuring guest stars from Joan Crawford to Buster Keaton, Tina Louise (before Gilligan’s Island), Martin Sheen, William Shatner, Ben Johnson, and Robert Duvall, among dozens of others.
The premise of the show shot in Port Aransas, titled “In the Closing of a Trunk” was that Miler’s character, Tod Stiles and his sidekick Buz Murdock played by George Maharis drove around the country trying to help strangers solve their problems. In the two shows shot here Tod travels alone to Corpus Christi for a job at a grain processing plant and encounters a thieving 13 year old boy. The boy and his sister are orphans who dislike their foster parents and are looking for a new life in a different town-and a father figure and Tod is a possible candidate.
Along the way they crew set up a full commissary in Port Aransas for the crew and spent a total of almost two months in the area.
Several locals found their way into the cast as extras or met the cast and crew. One was Islander Billy Holmes who was four years old and living near Six Points when Milner and company rolled into town. His mother was in a book store there when she ran into Milner who was traveling for the show with his six year old daughter. Mrs. Holmes struck up a conversation and told Milner that since his daughter was on the road all the time she might not get to spend much time with other kids so she invited father and daughter to her six year old daughter’s birthday party and they attended; arriving in two beautiful Corvettes which soon became a major attraction for kids and men alike in the neighborhood.
T.R. Garcie, who works at Children's Health Associates of Corpus Christi, was another who by complete accident ended up as an extra in one of the episodes shot at the HEB Tennis Center where they were approached by a person who asked if they would be interested in becoming “stars” on a national TV series. They were totally unaware that the film crew from Route 66 was present but before it was over they were chasing the young runaway who had run off with their club treasury in it, chasing him down the hill in front of the Corpus Christi Cathedral toward the seawall.
Between takes the socialized with Martin Milner and the guest star, who was “Packy” on a Saturday morning program called “FURY”, and got a close up look at several Corvettes kept in safe storage in 18 wheelers and got paid $25 for their television debut.
In Port Aransas a resident shot a home video of the production process which, along with the two episodes, is available on YouTube.
Teflon Inventor was an Islander
May 25, 2017 | Issue #684
If you cook or have a certain type of hip replacement you have a connection to long-time Islander Dr. Roy Plunkett.
Prior to his death in 1994 Plunkett was an avid golfer at the Padre Island County Club after retiring to The Island but it wasn’t his golf game that made him world famous; it was something much slicker than that, Roy invented Teflon.
Plunkett, born in Ohio in 1910, went to work for DuPont after graduating with his doctorate from Ohio State University. His first assignment was at Jackson Laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey working with chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants with an eye toward producing a replacement for refrigerants containing sulfur dioxide and ammonia which had the side effect of poisoning factory workers and residential users alike.
Like many great inventions the discovery came by accident. Dr. Roy PlunkettPlunkett decribed the Eureka Moment like this:
On the morning of April 6, 1938, Jack Rebok, my assistant, selected one of the TFE cylinders that we had been using the previous day and set up the apparatus ready to go. When he opened the valve — to let the TFE gas flow under its own pressure from the cylinder — nothing happened...We were in a quandary. I couldn't think of anything else to do under the circumstances, so we unscrewed the valve from the cylinder. By this time it was pretty clear that there wasn't any gas left. I carefully tipped the cylinder upside down, and out came a whitish powder down onto the lab bench. We scraped around some with the wire inside the cylinder...to get some more of the powder. What I got out that way certainly didn't add up, so I knew there must be more, inside. Finally...we decided to cut open the cylinder. When we did, we found more of the powder packed onto the bottom and lower sides of the cylinder.
What he found inside was described as a waxy solid covering which was resistance to corrosion and had low surface friction – Teflon. The gas hadn’t accidentally escaped. It had solidified into a smooth, slippery white powder as the result of its molecules bonding, a process known as polymerization. This new polymer was different from similar solids like graphite: It was lubricated better and extremely heat-resistant, due to the presence of dense fluorine atoms that shielded the compound’s string of carbon atoms.
Setting other work aside, Plunkett began testing the possibilities of polytetrafluoroethylene, eventually figuring out how to reproduce the polymerization process that had occurred accidentally the first time. DuPont patented the polymer in 1941, registering it under the trade name Teflon in 1944. The first products — most having military and industrial applications — came to market after World War II. It wouldn’t be until the early 1960s that Teflon became a household word when it was used to produce the most effective, heat-resistant cookware yet seen. Aside from the uses we are all familiar with it was also used in early hip replacement surgery
The word even entered the lexicon of popular culture as in, “A Teflon President” to which nothing sticks.
Plunkett later was the chemist behind the production of tetraethyllead which became a widely used gasoline additive.
For his work Plunkett was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame alongside Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur and the Wright Brothers. DuPont named an annual award in his honor the DuPont Plunkett Awards. In 1990 President George Bush presented DuPont with the National Medal of Technology for its work with polymers. He later went into the management at Du Pont and retired in 1975 after almost 40 years of service in Wilmington, Delaware, as the director of operations producing the company's Freon refrigerants.
Shortly thereafter he moved to The Island, on Jackfish and was well known and liked around The Island. He was a dedicated golfer known for taking his time over a shot.
On his death in 1994 his obituary in the New York Times eulogized him thusly:
Dr. Roy J. Plunkett, the scientist whose accidental invention of Teflon 50 years ago not only changed the way Americans cook but also helped develop a multibillion-dollar plastics industry, died on Thursday at the Wooldridge Place Nursing Home in Corpus Christi, Tex. He was 83.
But at the Country Club he was just Roy, another accomplished person who was rewarded by living his golden years right here on The Island.