Stephen F. Austin State University

The 1915 Hurricane (August 2014)

The 1915 Hurricane
By Kevin Ladd

One of the most devastating events in the history of Chambers County was the hurricane that hit this place on August 16-17, 1915. The following newspaper account was published in "The Progress" ten days afterward and vividly captures the enormity of the destruction. There are, of course, many other stories. The destruction of the Cummings Sawmill led to financial ruin for Charles R. Cummings, plus his death by heart attack a few months later. The devastation of the Hugh Jackson ranch house, which he and almost everyone else thought was impregnable, could fill an entire story. Likewise, the story of young Elmer LaFour, who sacrificed his life to save his sister is and always will be the stuff of legend. Each para- graph and sometimes each sentence signifies tragedy, pathos and heroism on an epic scale.

Friday, August 27, 1915
Warehouses, Wharves and Lumber Yard Washed Away -- Bulkhead Damaged.
Wallisville Almost Entirely Destroyed -- 1,400,000 Feet of Lumber Floated Off.

Chambers County suffered seriously from the ravages of the storm of August 16 and 17. Besides the damage in the destruction and wreck of buildings the loss of stock and crops is considerable. At Anahuac the wharf buildings were completely swept away, four-fifths of the Anahuac Canal Company warehouse was ripped off, leaving the rice cleaner and engine only slightly damaged, the Farmer's warehouse was floated bodily off its blocks into Turtle bay and totally destroyed, the lumber yard of F. W. Lotz was swept out and the saw mill badly wrecked, the foundation at the flume torn out. The damage to the pumping plant building and machinery is slight.

The bulkhead constructed by the Trinity River Irrigation District is washed away in two places on the east side of the lock and on the west side a greater portion of it is destroyed. The lock, which was the most difficult and expensive to build, remains with only small damage. It is reported that the levees on the north bank of the river, which were built to prevent the overflow of salt water into the reservoir formed by the bulkhead, are almost intact. The dancing pavilion, just completed and to be opened in grand style on the 19th, was totally destroyed.

None of the main buildings of the town of Anahuac, situated on an elevation of 22 feet, were destroyed. The tin roof of the Anahuac hotel was ripped off and the interior of the building flooded, a few barns, fences and outhouses were blown down, some window lights broken and roofs slightly damaged.

Water reached a depth of ten feet above ordinary tide and the islands to the west were deluged, forming a vast gulf, with rolling waves. Most of the buildings that were washed away went between the hours of 5 and 7 a.m. Tuesday. The foundations of these structures were on a level with the wharves and it was the force of water that carried them away.

The north shore of Turtle bay is strewn with the wreckage of boats and buildings and it is estimated that ten thousand dollars worth of boats are stranded there. The heaviest individual loser at Anahuac is F. W. Lotz, estimated at ten thousand dollars. In the warehouse, which floated away like an ark, were his automobile, some household furniture and lumber.

The lines of the Chambers County Telephone Company are out of commission over the whole county. The line to Beaumont via Winnie was hurriedly repaired in order to get connection with the outer world, but local lines are still out of order and being put into condition as rapidly as the weather will permit.

The drowned at Anahuac were the two little children of L. P. Thompson, keeper of the lock. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and the children were washed out into Turtle bay. The children were drowned, but the father and mother drifted to shore and were saved. Dad Chapman, a fisherman, went down.

The government snag boat No. 1, which was working in the Anahuac channel, lies stranded high up on the north shore of Turtle Bay. None of the crew was lost. Capt. Nelson and Engineer Kirk were here Tuesday in regard to recovering the boat. The boat is obstructed with a mass of wreckage and driftwood, and they propose to place it on rollers and move it the river at Wallisville, going over the public road a distance of two miles. The boat is not materially damaged.

The Katie M., owned by Alvin Horton, the Mayflower, by J. E. Broussard, Capt. Eli Hill's boat, Bob Ingersoll's boats, and several small motor boats and skiffs are within the pile of wreckage on the north bank of Turtle bay. Most of the large ones are beyond recovery. One of the Double Bayou light houses is gone and both of the Anahuac lighthouses are absent. The mouth of the old Trinity river which was recently filled up by the snag boat Trinity, is now open again and the old river now flows majestically with renewed vigor.

Wallisville was almost entirely washed off the map, only eight houses left standing. The store of the Wallisville Mercantile Co. was completely destroyed, the building containing the stock of merchandise of F. H. Holmes survived the storm but the merchandise was ruined. The remaining houses are those of W. F. Mayes, W. P. T. McManus, Mrs. B. Murphy, F. R. LaFour, Clint Mayes, W. R. Sherman and Doc Shelton, all more or less damaged.

The stock of lumber belonging to the C. R. Cummings Export Co., consisting of 1,400,000 feet, was scattered promiscuously over the country in a territory where it will be difficult to recover it. The mill is badly wrecked. Water at this point rose to a height of 20 feet, the highest ever known.

Elmer LaFour perished after saving his sister [Oma LaFour], whom he placed in the top of a tree.

Chester Knight and Landon Kilgore were the life-saving heroes of the night. Landon, under difficulties, succeeded in starting the engine of Archie Middleton's boat, and Knight, with a skiff, gathered up the people and loaded them into the launch. They were then carried to safety in Archie Middleton's house on the hill half mile from the town. Repeated trips were made until all were rescued. But for the work of these two men probably the death toll of Wallisville would have been 100.

W. F. Mayes was the only occupant of his home at the time of the storm and he took refuge upon a big log, fearing that the house might go down. Mr. Mayes reports a thrilling experience and that the water robbed him of $100.

Left without homes or food, the people of Wallisville were soon in distress and the Chambers County Progressive Leagueon Wednesday sent some supplies. Three wagon loads of provisions were also sent down from Liberty.

In the Double Bayou portion of the county the water rose to a depth of from 6 to 10 feet and the loss of property, crops and stock is appalling.

The house of A. L. Beason, occupied by A. G. Comstock, mail carrier, was badly wrecked. Mr. Comstock lost everything. J. W. Frost's store and residence are a total wreck. Judge Watson's residence and Willie Watson's shipyard are wrecked completely. Forest Watson's home gone; lost everything.

Sam Cochran's home is a total wreck. E. L. Crone's places are badly damaged and he lost 100 head of sheep.

The "Select Farm" at Eagle, owned by E. C. Mull and managed by his son, Arthur, suffered seriously. In point of modern improvement this farm was the pride of the county. The chicken ranch is a total wreck and 500 chickens were lost. The result of four years of patient, hopeful work was obliterated in a night.

The store of Mrs. Mary Fritsche was washed away. E. H. Wilson suffered the loss of his crops.

Charley Morgan's warehouse was badly wrecked. The new school at Graydon, uncompleted, was scattered over the prairie. George Johnson lost his crops and a large quantity of seed and fertilizer.

Dick Measles lost everything. J. C. Hale washed out of stock and home. Four feet of water came up in the store of J. C. Jackson and the stock was ruined.

Paul Lipp, A. J. Hedberg, Jno. Hoagland, D. Rambone, Charley Nelson, G. B. Rayner, Lars Hanson, C. M. Nelson and others lost heavily in crops and equipment. In fact, nearly all the inhabitants of that part of the County were damaged more or less.

A number of families without bedding and scantily clad are huddled uncomfortably within the buildings left standing. Those drowned at Double Bayou were Mrs. J. C. Slade and daughter, Bessie.

John Jackson of Double Bayou gave his check for $250 for the relief of the flood sufferers in that vicinity.

At Smith Point all the homes were destroyed and the residents barely escaped with their lives.

At Hankamer the damage by wind to residences, barns and outhouses was on an average with other places. Charley Harmon's house was badly wrecked and roof of I. A. Hankamer's store was torn off, damaging the stock of goods somewhat.

Winnie and Stowell were damaged only slightly.

It is reported that the cattlemen of the County have lost from 12,000 to 15,000 head.

Hugh Jackson of Beaumont, who was at his ranch in the southeast part of the County, was drowned, also his nephew Claude Roberts [actually this was his grandson Benjamin "Bennie" Roberts].