Oral History Interview of Katharine Vedder Pauls (Mrs. Cortes)

Accession#: OH – Pauls, Katharine Vedder (Mrs. Cortes)
Title: Oral History of Katharine Vedder Pauls
Interviewer: Susan Atherton
Format: Typescript; 3 tapes
Description: Pauls (1894-?) lived at 53rd Street and Avenue S in the new Denver Resurvey subdivision at the time of the 1900 Storm. Her interview runs 55 pages. Only the Storm-related pages are available here. An edited version of them appears in Casey Edward Greene and Shelly Henley Kelly, eds., Through a Night of Horrors: Voices from the 1900 Galveston Storm (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, c2000), 180-85.
Date: Feb 3, 1970
Terms: Houses; Denver Resurvey; Peek, Richard Hope; Minor, Lucian (Captain); Mason Family; Soldiers; Fort Crockett; Collum Family; Longineau, Thomas (Captain); Billings, Orville (Private); Beach Hotel; Olympia-by-the-Sea; Munn, James W. (Captain)

Interview with: Katharine Vedder Pauls (Mrs. Cortes)
Date of Interview: February 3, 1970
Interviewed: Susan Atherton
Transcriber: Shelley Henley Kelly

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Katharine Vedder Pauls. Topics for the interview included life in Galveston before and after 1900. The interview was done for the Community Research Committee of the Junior League. The interview consisted of 55 pages of which 16 directly concern the 1900 Storm. Only those pages are available here. To view the rest of the oral history, please contact the Galveston and Texas History Center.

Pauls, 32

But before we went into the house, we got out , our visiting cards and put on our white kid gloves. I wore a five and a half then. I wear a six and a half now. But we would pull these little white kid gloves on and push the fingers down. When we got all through, when our gloves were all in place, our hands looked like little fat white puddings.
My mother's day at home was Thursday. About 3 o'clock we would dress up and go down. The teapot would be put on and the little cookies or the sandwiches would be made and people would come to call on us. It was a very lovely custom and I'm sorry that it is no longer practiced.
Atherton: You have a beautiful story to tell about the 1900 Storm. I wish you would share that with us.
Pauls: I'll be very glad to. I think I've already told you that in 1899 my parents moved to a new residential addition in what was then called "down the island". Actually it was not so far, . the address being 53rd and Avenue S. But in horse and buggy days it was a good hours drive from town and so it seemed very rural.
This addition was called Denver resurvey, being built on a plan similar to that of Denver, Colorado. By the early part of 1900 some thirty houses were completed and occupied. The Vedder family spent Christmas 1899 in their new home, Bellview, and indeed it was a beautiful view for from the upstairs rooms one could see the sparkling blue Gulf of Mexico five blocks away.
There were many advantages in this semi-rural community. Good country air, all utilities enjoyed by city homeowners, a good school, and a fine bathing house on the beach with a roof garden for moonlight dancing.
On our quarter block there was room for chickens, livestock and a truck garden, all of which we had. We had many congenial neighbors while to the south lay the Coast Artillery fortifications and army post, Fort Crockett.

Pauls, 33

A park to the north of our property was named Denver Resurvey Park, but was never called anything but Vedder Park.
Sharing the Vedder block to the west were the Richard Peeks, with eight children, while around the corner to the north were the Carnie Mason's with three children. To the east the Ruth, Wilson, and Wheelis families, the latter with two children. Across the street on the south side of Avenue S lived Dr. Rogers, his wife and two sons and Captain Munn, his wife and mother-in-law. South on 53rd were the Collums, a middle aged couple with a house full of cats and parrots. Still nearer the beach, Captain Lucian Minor, his wife and four children.
All these families were friends and had many good times together. Bathing parties with dancing and refreshments on the bath house roof garden, watermelon feast and other community gatherings were held for the young people while hugo, whist, and poker were evening entertainment for the adults.
My father had made a loan several years before to the owner of a livery stable and unable to continue business, the man turned over to my father the remainder of his assets. These included several fine saddle and carriage horses, a small palamino pony Star, and a gray donkey named Whiskers. A carriage, a victoria, two sulkys, a donkey cart and a hearse completed the transaction. The Vedder children, Lola, Jacob and Katharine--myself--were the envy of the neighborhood when they played funeral.
My father and his friends ran many a race with the sulkys or gigs as they called them. My mother drove the victoria with staid old Beulah hitched to it, while my brother and I rode bareback on little gray Whiskers. Life at Denver Resurvey promised to be ideal, but at the end of eight short months disaster lstruck in the hurricane and tidal wave of September 8, 1900.

Pauls, 34

On Friday afternoon, September 7, about 5 o'clock we all stood on a little northeast gallery off the dining room. My father had heard that day in town of a hurricane in the Gulf and all scanned the sky for some sign of the approaching storm. It was a perfect late summer afternoon. The sky clear blue and cloudless. I saw a tiny cloud drifting from the southeast and asked eagerly, "Papa is that the hurricane?"
On Saturday the eighth, Ella, our cook, prepared the Sunday dinner as usual. She cooked a six pound veal rump roast and made a cake which was to go with a pitcher of boiled custard that my mother had planned for dessert. Everyone went about their usual tasks until about 11 a.m. when my brother, Jacob, eleven years of age, and our cousin, Allen Brooks, age thirteen, who was spending a month with us, came from the beach with a report that the Gulf was very rough and the tide very high.
We all ate a sketchy lunch and waited anxiously for my father to come home. Leaving town around noon, it took him nearly two hours to drive home, for by then the wind was rising rapidly and a steady rain had started. He was full of news of the approaching storm and immediately started preparing for what might come.
Two umbrella chinas flanking the front of the house were tied securely to the fence and then to the pillars of the front gallery. Blinds were tied together and everything with a lid was fastened down as tight as possible.
Periodically the two boys ran the five blocks to the beach to see how much nearer the Gulf had come in.
Captain Minor, closest to the beach, felt secure in the concrete retaining wall he had had constructed around his place, so planned to stay alone in his house, his family being in Virginia for the summer. His body was never found.
Every possible precaution was taken to protect our family home and animals from the approaching

Pauls, 35

hurricane, but no one even faintly suspected the disastrous tidal wave that so swiftly moving in from the depths of the Gulf.
About half past three Jacob and Allen came running, shouting excitedly that the Gulf looked like a great gray wall about 50 feet high and moving slowly toward the island. My father gathered us together and talked quietly to us. "This house is not as well built", said he, "as the Richard Peek house, so all of us must put on our wool bathing suits to keep from being chilled. If the house goes down, make a human chain and follow me down the fence line to the Peek house."
Little did he suspect that for once his good judgement had failed him. By 5 p.m. the tidal wave and the hurricane struck simultaneously and my father, seeing his family comparatively safe, set out in waist deep water to look after his neighbors. Among those he visited inquiring as to their welfare, were the Masons to the north of our home. They decided to remain in their home until the storm grew worse, which it soon did, for in the frightening hours before darkness settled over the city, the water had come in over the tops of the four foot fences.
The animals tried to swim to safety and the frightened squawking chickens were roosting everywhere they could get above the water. People from homes already demolished were beginning to drift into our house, which still stood starkly against the increasing fury of the wind and water.
The Masons soon came and with the family and a number of soldiers from Fort Crockett, all eventually totaling fifty, gathered in the front hall. My father removed a closet door and the hall door leading to the kitchen and nailed them crosswise to reinforce the front door.
The women sat on the stairs and Carney and Francesca Mason and I played in the hall near a cloak closet under the stairs. Suddenly there was a sensation such as one feels in a boat

Pauls, 36

being lifted by a giant swell. The house rose, floated from its six foot foundation and with a terrific jolt, settled on the ground. We children were submerged in five feet of water and the soldiers groping frantically about finally fished all three of us out and handed us, gasping and dripping, to our mothers, who had fled higher up the stairs.
I wept for my Papa, who took me on his back, J where with arms and legs wrapped around his neck and waist I stayed until the water reached nearly to his shoulders.
Transferred to the comparative safety of the stairs, I called out, "Papa, there's my kitten." He pulled a soaked, clawing bit of fur from the water and tossed it up the stairs. Mrs Mason caught it and shrieking, "It's a rat," tossed it back into the water. It was sometime before the kitten was safe in my arms.
The water rose higher and the women moved up the stairs. The roof had blown off of the two east bedrooms and rain was pouring in, but an 8 x 12 foot bathroom on the west side of the house was dry and it was here that 12 or 15 people spent the night in some degree of comfort.
Francesca and I were very sleepy and my mother found a bedspread and laid it in the tub and there we two little girls curled up and slept part of the night. Downstairs the situation was dangerous.
Construction of a new barracks at Fort Crockett had necessitated the use of 12 x 12 inch beams some 20 feet long and these floating through the water were like battering rams against the newly built homes. When my father realized this, he again nailed the doors, loosened by the settling of the house, to the space where the front door had been.
Standing with his powerful arms, reaching through the aperture, pushed the beams away as they floated close to the house, thus averting the terrible damage they would have caused.

Pauls, 37

Undoubtedly this action saved our home and its occupants, but for months after he suffered agony as the doctor probed and worked over his torn and lacerated arms and hands, for they were filled with glass, splinters and other foreign matter which swept by on the waters of the storm. His fingers bore the scars to the rest of his life.
Sometime during the early morning hours a cry for help came and from the dark and muddy water were brought Mr. and Mrs. Collum, Captain Thomas Longineau, his wife and six weeks old baby, Tom. Mrs. Collum told with tears flowing of how her cherished parrots kept calling to her all through the night, "Mama, Mama". They had delayed leaving until their home went to pieces, hoping to save their pets.
The Longineau's baby was unconscious and Morton Longineau cried out that her baby was dead. My mother took him and saw that there was still a spark of life. She crawled on her hands and knees through the darkness into the northeast room where, from an overturned bureau and cabinet, she pulled a knitted woolen petticoat and a broken bottle of blackberry cordial.
Making her way back in the pitch black dark, she stripped the baby of its wet clothing and wrapped it in the woolen garment and placed the now dry and purring kitten next to the baby's body for extra warmth. Pouring the cordial into a toothbrush mug, she told Morton to take some of it into her mouth with her teeth together, to keep out any broken glass, and then to put it drop by drop into the baby's mouth. This Morton did and gradually the tiny cold body grew warm and soon a wailing infant demanded food.
About daylight the storm began to subside, the waters to recede. As the light came, a call from outside brought help from the house and in shocked silence they saw standing stripped stark naked, except for a piece of mattress ticking, their neighbor from across the street, Captain Munn. His home, his wife and her mother were

Pauls, 38

all gone. He had floated all night on a ~ mattress and so was saved. As friendly sympathetic hands drew him into shelter, tears streamed down his face and there are no words to describe his desolation.
Mr. Mason waded out the north side of the house and in the half light saw his horne, but there was no home to be found. All that was left was part of a brick storeroom on whose shelf sat in defiance of wind and wave, a lone bottle of beer and a can of sardines. These he brought back and when all had sampled the contents, Mrs. Collum and I poured what was left of the beer into the empty sardine can and the mother cat lapped it up with gusto and meowed for more.
There was no smile on any face when daylight brought a clear view of the yard and surrounding country. My mother's first glance out of the window showed a little dead Negro child, its body entangled in the debris in the yard. Though she and all of us became familiar with the sight of violent death in the next few hours, to her that still small brown form epitomized the storm.
There was little talk. All were stunned by the catastrophe that had overtaken them. They gazed in silence at the desolate devastation. Then Jacob cried out, "Papa, where are the Peeks?"
Everyone looked to the west where their neighbors home had stood, a stone throwaway. Not a plank nor brick remained. Not even a trace of the foundation. Richard Peek, his wife, eight children, and two servants were gone. To this day their bodies have never been found.
My father said in shocked tones, "And it was to their house that I would have taken you all for refuge."
Some higher power had kept the Vedder family in their horne, one of only three houses left standing in that once thriving suburb. The rain and wind abated, the waters receded and by

Pauls, 39

afternoon our family and a number of others .decided to attempt to make their way into town. Our group to my grandparents and aunts on Broadway. The horrors of that trip are almost indescribable.
Clad in bathing suits, except for Jacob, who having torn his almost off wore one of Lola's blounce petticoats, we made our difficult way toward the beach where the debris was less high. No streets or roads were visible. The wreckage piled high obscured every familiar landmark. We picked our way where we could. Sometimes in ankle deep water and mud, sometimes in water waist deep where great holes had been created by the current.
I walked where the water was shallow, but most of the long journey I had to be carried. As we walked we exchanged snatches of conversation. One would say, "I wonder how this or that family came through." Once my parents saw the pitiful form of a little 12 year old girl entangled in a barbed wire fence. They thought they recognized Jacob's girlfriend, Abbie Vanderpool, but did not call his attention or even mention her name.
Along the road they saw a bicycle stuck up in the mud and sitting jauntily on it, hat on head and cigar in mouth, was a dead Negro man. Clearly death had caught him unaware.
Closer into town they saw an overturned cabinet and on the top shelf, wrapped in a quilt, the lifeless form of a boy of about three years. And most poignant of all, a nun with several children tied to her body. Their minds became numb to the horrors and they stumbled on in silence.
My mother carried in her hand her jewelry in a small chamois bag. Once she stepped on a barrel concealed by the water. It rolled and she went under with it, losing her grasp on the chamois bag. She groped frantically about and finally found it. She grabbed at something to pull herself up. It was the body of a small girl. Her self-control gave way and she wept

Pauls, 40

The group turned in from the beach at 35th Street and made their way to Avenue 0, then over to 33rd and on to Broadway. At Avenue L a little girl called out from a doorway, "Won't you all come in? Auntie has some hot coffee." She was Bernice Collins, who afterwards became my friend and schoolmate.
Broadway or Avenue J, about midway of a two mile wide island was comparatively clear and at the end of a five hour walk we were at my grandparents door on 28th Street and Broadway. I sat on the steps and cried, for I didn't want my grandmother to see me in my little wet red bathing suit. Once inside, Grandma Vedder gave us hot coffee and bowls of hot grits with butter melting in little pools in the middle. Nothing before or since ever tasted so good.
In the safety of this home, the family was suddenly overwhelmed

[End of tape one, side two]

Pauls: Everything was gone. Then Lola brought laughter to her disconsolate family. She held up her wet handkerchief and in its corner was tied 35 cents. For many days it was impossible to get back to their wrecked home, but on September 19, eleven days after the storm, my parents made a trip to see what could be salvaged.
One of the first things they found was the palamino pony, Star, grazing peacefully in the yard. He had caught in the branches of a tree above the flood waters and had been saved. As they went into the back yard, they saw the icebox standing upright by the kitchen steps. Opening the door, my mother exclaimed as she drew out the Sunday roast intact, but covered with a thick coat of mud.
Driving toward the house they had been puzzled by an apparent carpet of cadet blue allover the front yard. This turned out to be dozens upon dozens of fronts, backs, sleeves and pants cut

Pauls, 41

out and ready to be made into uniforms for the Fort Crockett soldiers. There were also cards of brass buttons. These had washed over from the fort. The material was of the finest wool and the color was unharmed by the water. My mother, with her usual ingenuity, washed and dried enough of them to make beautiful overcoats for Jacob and me and we wore them on our trip north a month later.
Every day my parents drove out to Denver to salvage what they could of their home furnishings. The dining room furniture was still usable and many chairs and tables were unharmed, although all were in need of repair and refinishing. While digging around in the yard, my mother managed to unearth more than three dozen pieces of violet Haveline china, which buried in the soft mud came out without a scratch or a chip. This was her wedding china and therefore doubly precious. Some few articles of clothing were washed and dried and made fit for use, but the house as a home was no longer to be considered and so my father made plans to send us north while the city was cleared of debris and free from threat of epidemic.
Meanwhile many amusing incidents took place. The Vanderpool family happened to pass the house on Broadway. They saw Jacob and Mrs. Vanderpool almost wept with joy, for they had seen a little dead boy who they had taken for Jacob and they could scarcely believe that he still lived. Abbie was with them and the children had a happy reunion.
Another day my sister Lola and our cousin Julia Stafford washed their intimate garments and had hung them on a fence to dry when along came their boyfriends to inquire as to their safety. Both girls faces were red with embarrassment as the boys stood and talked as though nothing was amiss.

Pauls, 42

I too had my moment, for when a barrel of clothing sent by kind friends from the North was opened, there was nothing small enough for me and for several days I wore a pair of ladies ruffled drawers buttoned over my shoulders, my little arms through the plackett. Soon Mrs. Leverett across the street sent over several complete outfits belonging to her daughter Clyde, and I was spared the ruffled drawers.
When mail service was again established, many letters were received from our northern relatives, who deeply concerned for our safety pleaded for word from us. All sent clothing and money with fervent thanks that we had been saved.
Of all the letters, I think the following will sum up the feelings of all who knew us. So I will close with this message from Private Orville Billings.
"Fort Sam Houston, Texas. November 20, 1900. Mr. Vedder, Galveston, Texas. Dear Sir: I, Private Orville Billings, was in your house during that fearful storm on the night of September 8th, and if you remember I helped you hold the door all night to keep the waves and timbers from washing in.
The favor I'm going to ask of you is this, if you ever had any photographs of your house taken since the storm, I would like to have two of them. I want to send one of them to my mother in the north so that she can see where my life was saved. I know some all-wise providence directed me to your house that night and I shall always feel thankful toward you. I also feel that your cool-headedness and encouraging words alone saved us all from a horrible death.
Since the storm I haven't enjoyed a real well day, when the barracks fell that afternoon I was caught in timbers and my back was strained and I suffer constantly. Although I have done my duty every day since and have never yet gone on the sick report.

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Trusting you will let me hear from you, and hoping you are well and prospering, I am very respectfully, Orville Billings, Battery 0, First Artillery, Fort Sam Houston, Texas."
Many years later I was on a bus going from New York to Philadelphia. A young lady came down and sat down by me and asked me if I minded her smoking. When I answered her, she said, "You're from the south aren't you?"
I said, "Yes, I'm from Galveston, Texas."
"Oh", she said, "my grandparents used to run the Beach Hotel in Galveston, but after it burned they came north and I have been living with them in New York." She said, "You know my grandmother told me the most fantastic story."
I said "What was it?"
"Well", she said, "she told me about a home down the island where a lot of people spent the night of the storm and there was a little baby that was brought in just about dead and the lady who lived in the home saved the little baby. She wrapped him in a woolen petticoat and gave him some cordial and brought the little baby back to life." And she said, "Isn't that the most remarkable thing?"
And I said, "Well, you don't know how remarkable it is, because it was in my home that the baby was saved and it was my mother who saved him."

[tape paused]

The Beach Hotel was a magnificent wooden structure that would be a block or so out into the Gulf if it was standing there right now, because the Gulf has come in so far since the 1900 Storm and since the 1915 Storm. It was a very handsome structure and as I've told you was run by this couple who later went to Washington after the hotel burned.

Pauls, 44

When fresh water was first brought to Galveston, a fountain was erected in front of the hotel and my mother and father attended the celebration of the turning on of the city water. The fountain was playing and colored lights were playing on it and my mother has told me what a beautiful spectacle it made. Everyone was drinking out of the fountain with tin cups and it really was a very fine occasion.
Alongside of the Beach Hotel, or near it, was another building called the Olympia. It was a three or four story building open all the way around. It was a circular building open all the way around. They had all kinds of entertainments there, dances and things. I saw my first moving picture there, a very jerky, very funny looking picture in which the devils--it was called the Devil’s Castle--and the angels and the cupids and the fairies would disappear in a cloud of smoke. I don't remember much more about it.

[tape paused]

Atherton: Would you tell us a little bit about the Tin Lizzie's and the automobiles and maybe your first automobile ride?
Pauls: > My first automobile ride was in Chicago in 1903. We went out to Lincoln Park and took a ride--I think it cost us about 25 cents a piece--in a great big red automobile. It had the drivers seat and a seat in back and in back of that there was another area that you entered from the back and there were seats on each side like the old pony carts. We rode through Lincoln Park at the most terrific speed, everyone of us hanging on to our hats and hanging on to the panels in the automobile. Later someone, one of the adults in the party, asked the man how fast we were going and he said fourteen miles an hour.
Atherton: How about the white Buick roadster?

Pauls, 45

Pauls: After the 1900 Storm, Captain Munn lived for a time in the old Mistrot house which was just south of us on 35th Street. He took me for my second automobile ride in a white Buick roadster. Later Captain Munn used to speed up and down the boulevard in the roadster. Heaven knows at what speed. At one time he had a young girl with him and as they approached 39th street, which was the end of the boulevard at that time, except Fort Crockett, he struck some obstacle and the little girl was thrown out and was killed. Her name was Dottie Nichols.

[Editor's note: Dorothy Nichols was killed during an automobile race on the beach near GIst Street on August I, 1911. She was the adopted daughter of Captain and Mrs. Munn. Captain Munn later married Ms. Nichol's younger sister.]

Atherton: Do you remember your father's first automobile?
Pauls: His first car was called an Atlas. It was sort of a wine color with brown trim. At that time, the battery box was on the running board and the brake handles were outside of the permanent left door which did not open. You had to get in from i the right hand side. The top was brown, sort of ! a canvas. It must have been treated with : something to waterproof it. It was held down to l the front part of the car with broad leather straps, with buckles on them. I have a picture of that.
Atherton: Can you describe what you remember about downtown Galveston and possibly Broadway?
Pauls: Broadway was strictly a residential street as way Tremont Street. They were both filled with residence from one end to the other, beautiful residence. Avenue I was also a residential street and was one of the most beautiful streets in Galveston. The trees on either side met overhead and all of the homes along Avenue I had beautiful gardens. Many years ago Mr. H. H. Morris, who was a prominent photographer had made up a perfectly beautiful album of the homes on Avenue I. Each

Oral History Interview of Katharine Vedder Pauls (Mrs. Cortes)