The City ofnMan — Texas Stylenby Carl C. CurtisnIndianola: The Mother ofnWestern Texasnby Brownson MalschnAustin: State House Press;n351 pp., $19.95nWe all know something of citiesnthat thrived once and then fornone reason or another ceased to exist —npreclassical cities we read about in mythnand epic; Homer’s Troy or St. Paul’snEphesus. So used are we to thinking ofnthese extinct places as ancient and,ntherefore, remote, that it is hard tonconceive, as Macaulay once did, of thencities we know and live in being ruins,nor worse, grassy mounds in emptynfields.nThere can be little doubting thatnmost of us tend to take our world forngranted. This tendency was certainlynevident in the lives of men and womennof Indianola, Texas, in the middle 19thncentury. Like us, they were too busynwith too many things to even begin tonconsider the eventual, much less thenimminent, disappearance of their city.nTo the contrary, the 19th-century faithnin progress led them to hold expectationsnof infinite growth and prosperity.nAnd in many ways they had goodnreason.nIndianola, originally called IndiannPoint, began in 1844 as little more thanna landing spot for ships of Germannimmigrants. Under the auspices of thenAdelsverein of Biebrich am Rhein, thenimmigrants landed in Texas with thenintention of traveling inland to centraln(or, as that region was then called,nwestern) Texas settlements that in timenwould become New Braunfels andnFredericksburg. Disease and difhculhesnin traveling overiand persuaded a numbernof the Germans to remain at IndiannPoint and scratch out a living as bestnthey could.nMuch to their surprise, what thenGerman and, later, American settlersndiscovered was that the place they hadn28/CHRONICLESnREVIEWSnchosen out of necessity for their refugenwas an excellent location for a port. Itsnwaters, though not quite as deep asnGalveston’s, were of a good depth;nbetter, in fact, than almost any othernplace on the Texas gulf coast. Within anperiod of 15 years, the small settlement,nwhich renamed itself Indianola, becamena prosperous port, smaller than Galvestonn(then the largest city in Texas) butnlarge enough to pose a serious threat tonthe bigger city’s interests.nCharles Morgan, the New York shippingnmagnate, slowly shifted the bulk ofnhis business from other Texas ports tonIndianola. His vision, shared by mostnIndianolans, was to make the city thengateway of commerce to the New Mexiconand California territories acquired innthe aftermath of the Mexican War. Itnwas not such a wild dream. The distancenfrom Indianola to Santa Fe, ElnPaso, and Chihuahua was much shorternthan the route from Independence,nMissouri, then in use. As the city grewnin importance, the addition of a railroadnseemed all that was needed to insure thenprosperity of the city into the 20thncentury.nThen suddenly it all ended. In 1875nwhat we might now call “the hurricanenof the century” made landfall atnIndianola with winds estimated at 150nmiles per hour. Located barely abovensea level, the city did not stand anchance. At least 300 of the town’snpopulation of .3,000 died — mostly byndrowning. Ninety percent of the buildingsn(including the gulfside warehousesnof numerous tradesmen) disappeared —nas complete a picture of devastation asnthe men and wornen of that day couldnimagine. It was the first hurricane tonstrike a populated region in Texas.nIn the aftermath of the storm, eflFortsnwere made to move the town threenmiles inland along Powder Horn Laken(actually a bayou connected to the Gulfnof Mexico by a narrow strait). The townnfathers proposed some minimal dredgingnto open the lake to shipping innhopes that the town could recover. Thennew site might well have protected thentown from the ravages of future hurricanes.nBut one of Morgan’s lieutenantsnvetoed the action, threatening to cut tiesnnnwith Indianola should the move takenplace, an act that would have destroyednthe town commercially as certainly asnany hurricane.nAs a consequence, the newly rebuiltnIndianola stayed in its original place,nsomewhat smaller than before in bothnpopulation and physical size, and just asnvulnerable to hurricanes. When thennext “hurricane of the century” hit thengulf coast a mere 11 years later, againstnall odds it again made landfall atnIndianola. The results were similar tonthe first. Within days following thensecond disaster, a special election wasncalled to address the question of movingnthe county seat from Indianola to PortnLavaca. The proposition passed, andnmost of the people moved away — tonGuero, Victoria, or San Antonio. Thenhandful that remained would face onenmore disappointment. Two years later, anfire destroyed the few buildings left innthe business district. After that, the postnoffice was moved out, and the town wasnofficially declared dead.nBrownson Malsch’s history ofnIndianola is not exactly Gibbon. Fornone thing, it lacks clear focus. Chaptersnthat state one topic as their theme havena bad habit of rambling over half andozen others. (My favorite is one entitledn”The Government Depot,” innwhich the author treats not only thatnsubject, but music, the rivalry with PortnLavaca, a yellow fever epidemic, andnthe local bawdy houses—all in thenspace of nine pages.) This scattergunnapproach has its virtues: the book isnloaded with facts of all kinds. No onencan say Malsch doesn’t know Indianola.nBut tbe reader who leaves the booknscratching his head can certainly benexcused.nIn spite of this hailstorm of ratherndisconnected facts, a picture of life, notnonly in Indianola but in 19th-centurynTexas, does emerge. It was a world innwhich a fever-infested wasteland becamena town of/Saloons and ginger-beerngardens, gas-lighted homes and streets,nand churches of all denominations fillednwith people who worked hard and hatednhigh taxes. They respected the Yankeensoldiers who occupied their town duringnReconstruction almost as much as theyn