A Texas tragedy, and its Worthington ties
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — One of the cartoons this week has an old guy who can think of absolutely nothing to do. He resorts to television. The guy watches something on the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, the sixth anniversary of the stolen airliners crashing into the New York City skyscrapers and the second anniversary of the hurricane splatting over New Orleans. In the final panel, the old man finds a note from his wife taped to his chair:
“You forgot our anniversary. Good-bye forever.”
In the current swirl of anniversaries there is one more which seems important. Last Saturday (Sept. 8) was the anniversary of the 1900 hurricane which destroyed Galveston, Tex. It was the worst tragedy brought by forces of nature in the history of the United States.
Six thousand children, women and men died — or maybe it was 10,000 who died. No one knows today, and no one ever did know. This is what seems so very sad.
Several thousand Americans lifted from their beds that September morning, dressed themselves and had their breakfasts. They picked up their day’s responsibilities.
By the next morning many of these people not only had perished, but they had vanished completely. Their bodies were gone, their families were gone, their neighbors were gone, their homes were gone, their possessions were gone. Thousands were erased totally. There was no way to know they ever existed. There was no one even to remember some of them.
At Worthington in that time there were a number of people — men mostly — looking for Eden on earth. Some believed southwest Minnesota was Eden. Others weren’t so sure. They decided to push on with their search. Some went to North Dakota, some went to Texas.
J.B. Moberly of Worthington rented a boxcar, filled it with his belongings and took his family to Texas. He believed he might find his fortune at League City, Tex. League City is just north of Galveston. Johan Santana could throw a baseball from League City into the Gulf of Mexico.
In this week — one week after the great storm was past — Moberly found a writing pad and sent a public letter to Worthington and to his Worthington relatives.
The storm, he said, was “worse than I could possibly tell you. In and around our little city all houses were damaged, a great many torn to fragments and all crops entirely destroyed.”
J.B. reviewed his own loss:
“Last Saturday night I had a fine home, one to be proud of. Sunday morning revealed desolation on every hand. The house was thrown off the foundation and moved five feet — badly wrecked, windows all broken and everything soaking wet.
“The barn is down and three horses underneath — one is dead and the other two are badly used up. Fine shade trees are uprooted and others broken off, leaving nothing but stumps.
“I have put all I had into my home here.”
Trains were not running. “The newspaper reports are not overdrawn.”
President McKinley did not (of course) go to Galveston. There was no FEMA, no government aid. Americans, including Worthington residents, reached out with gifts. Moberly reported:
“There are car loads of provisions and thousand of dollars in money being sent but it passes us by and goes to Galveston where there are thousands … suffering for the necessities of life.”
J.B. believed there might be 15,000 people dead. He wished there he never had left Minnesota.
Those times were unusual, however, and there were things that had prodded him to move. Earlier that summer at Worthington, the jobless were getting the best of local people.
“Thursday afternoon (Worthington police) officers Rushon and Bryan and special officer Steinberger rounded up twenty-one loafers on the lake shore.” The 21 were marched “up to the court house and Judge Hobson was called for.”
The Judge “came down and gave them an impromptu Democrat speech after which the strangers were dispersed to the outskirts of the village with very strict injunctions” never to be seen at Worthington again.
A road crew was working near town. The cooks dug a cellar to store food. Another stranger — No. 22 — was found rummaging in the cellar.
“…the cook, Shoomaker … took after the stranger with a gun and captured him.”
Times were tough everywhere.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.