Oral History Interview of William Mason Bristol

Accession#: OH – Bristol, William Mason
Title: Oral History of William Mason Bristol
Interviewer: Marilee Neale
Format: Typescript; 1 tape
Description: Bristol (1879-1973) lived at 917 Avenue C at the time of the 1900 Storm. His interview runs 8 pages. An edited version of it and another, shorter interview he gave on February 18, 1972, 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), 161-64.
Date: Mar 1, 1972
Terms: Martial Law; Bodies; Grade Raising; Canal

Interview with: Mr. William Mason Bristol
Date: March 1, 1972 in Mr. Bristol’s apartment at the Gulf Breeze complex.
Interviewer: Marilee Neale

The following is an excerpt from the interview. Only the Storm-related pages are available here. To view the rest of the oral history, please contact the Galveston And Texas History Center.

Q: Now do you recall, Mr. Mason Bristol, back in the 1900 Storm, a little afterwards, that there was a state of martial law?
WB: Yes, it was during...it was after, after the storm was over;it started right up. It was quite a few people that they had to shoot...for stealing.
Q: Well who was doing the shooting?
WB: Police.
Q: Was it the Galveston police?
WB: Oh yes.
Q: Did they have policemen from other places?
WB: I don't know whether they did or not.
Q: Well did you see a lot of policemen around?
WB: Did I see...Oh yes, they were allover, they kept the bad places ...people would be found in.
Q: What do you mean, "They kept the bad places... ?"
WB: People...where they thought somebody might get in and try to rob 'em. They'd take and go through their pockets, and they had or- ders to shoot them.
Q: Did they go through the pockets of people who were...?
WB: Of the robbed...of the drowned ones.
Q: And I suppose that there were people who were drowned who were found just allover the Island?
WB: It was allover the Island.
Q: Now do you remember anything else about right after the Storm?
WB: Did I tell you 'bout the floats going down...?
Q: No you didn't.
WB: Load 'em on a barge and take 'em out in the Gulf and dump 'em out there. And they all floated back.
Q: And the bodies floated back? Right.
WB: And they had to burn 'em.
Q: You said they burned them on the beaches?
WB: Yes.
Q: Did they just pile bodies up?
WB: They piled some of 'em; it wasn't that many, that floated in. It was just what floated in they burned. Maybe it would be one, maybe two.
Q: Whereabouts on the beach did they burn them?
WB: Wherever they found 'em, on the East beach or the West beach.
Q: Well do you know who did the burning?
WB: The ones that were cleaning up, that were going to the wreckage.
Q: Well would these have been Red Cross people or policemen or just people in general who were cleaning up?
WB: Yeah.
Q: Yeah, you mean people in general?

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WB: They were...I didn't get you on that one.
Q: . K. Who was doing the burning of the bodies?
WB: Well the men that were working, cleaning up, going through the wreckage, clean1ng up the wreckage; they were the ones that was burn1ng 'em.
Q: Well let me ask you about what you think about Galveston, the changes in Galveston Island? Say from the early 1900's as compared to today. What would you have to say about any topic about the changes of Galveston Island?
WB: There's lots of changes since then. The Seawall and the esplanade on the beach.
Q: Do you remember when there wasn't a Seawall?
WB: I was a kid when they was walking...workin'...making the Seawall. And they dug a passage, a route for the boat to go in loaded with sand, with filling and that boat'ld go from 7th Street where the canal was, and the canal all around the Seawall up to Tremont Street. And they unloaded the sand~ what they got out of the bay off that, at that point. As they filled in, they went West, they come back East. They filled that place up. I was a kid at the time and they had a railroad track over the canal with a draw bridge in it...
Q: A railroad track over the what?
WB: Over the, over that canal. And we used to jump in at the canal and swim to Tremont Street.
Q: SO that was from 7th Street down to Tremont?
WB: Yeah. That canal ran all the way down, right inside of the Seawall. A big ship that carried the filling, it went down there. . . Q: And it took the filling that far, down to Tremont? Well now you recall when there wasn't a Seawall. Well how about every time that it rained before there was a Seawall? Did the water rise quite a bit?
WB: No it never did. When it went out, it went out for good; but tides always make some change.
Q: Well now what about changes in Galveston Island, in, well the people for example; people now who live here as opposed to people, Galvestonians, that you remember of the early 1900's?
WB: Very few of them that I know.
Q: >Well how about the people that you knew then, as compared to some of the people that you know now.
WB: Very few.
Q: I'm not asking if they are still alive.
WB: Oh, I don't know, about 2 or 3 that are still alive.
Q: O.K. I'm not asking that: I'm asking about the people in general, the way of life, compared to what it is now?
WB: I guess it's about the same.
Q: You think it's about the same. Well now they didn't have television, for example, then?
WB: No they didn't have a television.
Q: Well what did people do for entertainment on the week-ends? For example, whereas now they might be watching television? –

Bristol, Page - 3 -

WB: Well they didn't have much of anything; the moving pictures ..hadn't come in yet. They didn't have much of anything. Well they used to have a dance. They had a place called Woolam's Lake that was out by the, where the Orphan's Home was. And they used to have boats in there, and they would have dances out there. That's where we'd go most of the time.
Q: On Saturday nights?
WB: Any night would do.
Q: Well did you have young ladies that you escorted to dances for example?
WB: Yeah. I married one of 'em. Q: You did? Who did you marry?
WB: Oh I married, I was 21 years old...I was older than that. I'll show you when I was married.
Q: Oh, this is your wedding announcement; no, this is the announcement of your 50th Wedding Anniversary. You were married in 1905. Now what was her name?
WB: Her name was Searle, Searle.
Q: That was her last name?
WB: Her last name.
Q: What was her first name?
WB: Katie.
Q: Katie Searle?
WB: Katharine, that's on her tombstone.
Q: Where was she buried?
WB: In the Episcopal Cemetery on 39th Street, 40th Street.
Q: Well you all lived together in wedded bliss for 50 years, at least?
WB: Yeah.
Q: Well that's wonderful. And you lived over at 2808 Avenue Nt?
WB: Yeah. That was my daughter; I didn't live there. That was my wife's mother's place. That's where we lived at that time.
Q: Now what about your parents? What were their names?
WB: My parents. His name was William H. Bristol. Katharine and Cassy, Cassandra, Cassandra Bristol.
Q: That was your mother's name?
WB: Yeah.
Q: Now let me ask you, were you in World War I?
WB: No.
Q: You were not. You were about in your 20's at that time?
WB: Yes, 'bout that.
Q: But you stayed in Galveston?
WB: Yes, I stayed in Galveston.
Q: You were too young at the time of...
WB: I was too young for World War I.
Q: What about the Spanish American War?
WB: Well I had a little bit of that.
Q: You were in that?
WB: Yeah, but that was before World War I.
Q: It sure was; your company went over to New Orleans, didn't you tell me?
WB: Yeah.

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Q: Now is that as far as you got?
WB: a Went to New Orleans and I lost one man. ..
Q: Did the company not get out of New Orleans?
WB: No.
Q: Was the war ended by then?
WB: No, the war...they sent us back home.
Q: Sent you back to Galveston?
WB: Yeah.
Q: Well do you recall anything about the 1915 Storm?
WB: Well I can tell you 'bout it, but I don't know a whole lot about it. I was in it. I know that. In it by myself.
Q: You were in it by yourself?
WB: I sent the family to Houston.
Q: You sent your wife and your children up there?
WB: Yeah.
Q: And you stayed here alone?
WB: Yeah. Stayed where we lived.
Q: Where was that?
WB: I forget now where it was. I don't know nothing any more.
Q: Well you were living in a house at that time?
WB: Yes.,
Q: What do you remember about that Storm?
WB: Not much; I knew it blew pretty hard.
Q: Did you have a lot of rain?
WB: Yeah; and the tide was way up high.
Q: Was the water up real high around the house?
WB: It couldn't be bad, because the Seawall, you see, kept the water out that time. I know it dug big holes in the esplanade. Not the esplanade, but the roadway it traveled; it dug part of that away in places. That was from the wash over the Seawall.
Q: Well they didn't have many die at all in that Storm did they? Especially compared to the 1900 Storm.
WB: No, very few. You mean people that were caught in it? I don't think it was more than two, if it was that many.
Q: Well how long did that Storm go on?
WB: It was over just like the 1900 Storm. As soon as the thing passed by it was all down. The water goes right down.
Q: And it went right down?
WB: Yeah. The 1900 went down about 11 o'clock, and I got out of the house and went to see if my girl was alright. And there was 6 bodies on the other side of a gully, laying on the grass. Well I turned around and went back home.
Q: You didn't get to see her that night?
WB: No. It was 3 or 4 bodies laying there. Some that they had picked up along the road.
Q: Well they had been picked up or...and placed there?
WB: Well the girl I was going to see, she went to the hospital.
Q: To stay?
WB: Yeah.
Q: And you had stayed at home. Not many people did stay at home during that storm?
WB: What?
Q: Not many people stayed at home during that storm? . . .

Oral History Interview of William Mason Bristol