By STEVE HATHCOCK
Special to the PRESS
When the North Americans started moving into this area in the mid-1840s, they ignored the warnings of the native Mexican people, building homes and businesses in areas that historically had been considered hurricane susceptible.
Writing for the “Latigo de Tejas”, a Matamoras newspaper, Andres Piñeda reported on one bad storm that struck near the mouth of the Rio Grande in 1844.
“I arrived at the Burrita with two objects in view,” Piñeda wrote. (Burrita was located on the south or left side of the river and a few miles upstream from Bagdad).
“The first was to inform myself of the condition of its inhabitants and the second was to ascertain whether those saved from the mouth of the river were congregating there. It was to my great surprise, I found all the inhabitants of the rancho collected on the side of the hill mentioned, naked and bruised. One child was dead and nothing to be heard but lamentations. As soon as I had informed myself of their situation, I embarked immediately for the Tarayes, took horse and proceeded to the hill of the Tomates. I have no words to picture to you the state in which I found them-naked as well as maimed.”
Horrified by his discovery of so many dead, Piñeda sent the captain of his launch to obtain food and clothing for the survivors of the rancho while he and a rescue party continued to the settlements at the mouth of the river.
Bagdad, on the present Mexican side of the Rio Grande and an unnamed settlement located on the spot which Clarksville would later occupy on the north bank of the river).
“There the storm had barely left a vestige of its having been inhabited,” Piñeda noted. “The principal part of the population had utterly disappeared! Those who remained I found in the greatest misery.”
The same afternoon, Piñeda and his men traveled to Fronton or modern day Port Isabel, where they found a few survivors from Brazos de Santiago and Boca Chica. From them he learned both those settlements had completely vanished.
So impressed by the total destruction done by the storm, Piñeda wrote:
“I am of the opinion that neither of them should be allowed to be inhabited again. At Fronton, the only house remaining standing was the one owned by Hipolita Gonzalez. As this is the highest point, it is the most eligible spot to establish the maritime custom house.”
Of the dead, Piñeda wrote: “Annexed is a list of the names of those lives lost, of them only about twenty were buried. Of the others, the bodies were in such terrible condition and mostly in pieces. They were buried in a common grave.”
The storm killed 73 people and forced Juan and Dolores Ballí to abandon the ranch of his uncle, Padre Ballí, located about 26 miles up the southern end of the Island.
Upon reading Piñeda’s report, the Governor of the State of Tamaulipas, passed a law prohibiting his constituents from rebuilding along the river.
In his book, “Hurricane Almanac,” writer Michael J. Ellis talks of a storm called Racers Storm that formed up in the Yucatan in 1837. The storm was named for the British Sloop of War, “Racer.” The ship ran ahead of the storm for some time before the storm’s eye made landfall south of present day Brownsville. The storm blew back out into the Gulf and proceeded up the coast laying waste to Corpus Christi and Galveston before again making landfall somewhere in Louisiana. The storm maintained its strength and reappeared on the Atlantic Coast where it caused considerable damage and loss of life.
It was this kind of storm that blew up so unexpectedly on October 8, 1867. There was little warning and in the ensuing deluge, both Bagdad, and Clarksville were completely wiped out. Many people lost their lives and stories still remain of the treasures that were hastily thrown into privies and cisterns. The theory was these structures would surely survive any storm. When the people returned, their cities had been utterly destroyed and there was no way to locate the site of their impromptu stone treasure chests.
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