1900 Galveston Hurricane, 1/8: Introduction and Overview

By October 20, 2008

Hurricanes have been on my mind of late?and more literally in my yard and in a great many houses. Instead of writing about recent storms, however, I?d like to discuss the 1900 Galveston Hurricane that nearly obliterated the city of Galveston, Texas, before smashing its way into the continental interior. Estimates vary, but the modern consensus centers around eight-thousand dead. Four Mormon missionaries and one member (presumably) were in Galveston that night and a hand-full of Saints and other missionaries?probably less than a hundred?encountered the storm before it disintegrated. Over the next few days I will examine elements of the Mormon experience of, response to, and interpretation of the storm. This page will function as a homepage of sorts, with links added as the posts become available. The projected posts are:

1: Introduction and Overview
2: Landfall
3: The Institutional Response
4: Finding a Merciful God in the Whirlwind Life Continues
5: Finding a Vengeful God in the Whirlwind Finding a Merciful God in the Whirlwind
6: Life Continues Finding a Vengeful God in the Whirlwind
7: Wild Conjectures about Consequences
8: Random Reflections to Wrap Up

To set the stage: Though the ?southern states? reopened to proselyting in 1875, Mormon missionaries did not return to Texas until the late 1890s. They worked south from the mission headquarters in Kansas, baptizing in the Austin area in 1897 and coastal Southeast Texas beginning in 1898. Galveston was in the South Texas Conference of the Southwestern States Mission. The conference boundaries were roughly south and east from Bryan to the coast and the Louisiana border, respectively. By 1901, enough members clustered together to form a few Sunday Schools.

Texas was wet in 1900, even before the hurricane. There was so much rain, flooding, and death that newspapers in Utah reported it [1]. Missionaries reporting from the marshes, swamps, scrub-oak savannahs, and semi-tropical rain-forests of the South Texas Conference frequently mention walking in rain, through floods, and despite the consequent malaria. Typical, and somewhat ironic, is one Elder?s preparation for a baptism: ?We appointed the place to perform the baptism?. It was very wet walking. We had to wade waist deep before we got there.? A few days later he was more sardonic: ?It was a very bad wet day? [2]. The missionaries hailed, of course, from drier climes in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Their diaries contain phrases like, ?rained harder?than I had ever seen it before? and ?one of the worst rain storms I ever saw? [3]. In June it rained 12.70 inches in Beaumont, Texas, which more than doubled the 5.52 inches at one of the Elder?s homes near Mesa, Arizona, the previous year [4]. The Elders and Saints of the South Texas Conference slogged through, baptizing upwards of fifty people that year, about a third of them after the hurricane hit.

The principle sources for this post-series are a smattering of newspaper articles and three missionary diaries: Elder Heber Nephi Folkman (grandfather to bloggernaclite kevinf), Elder Joseph Allen Brooks (the wading missionary from Arizona cited above), and Mission President James Glendhill Duffin [5]. The storm made landfall on Saturday, September 8, 1900. Elder Folkman was in Galveston, Elder Brooks was east of Beaumont (about a hundred miles northwest of Galveston, which with the orientation of the Texas coast is relatively close to the ocean), and President Duffin was away from his Kansas headquarters visiting missionaries in Arkansas .

Special thanks to Ardis Parshall of Keepapitchinin.org and kevinf for conversations on the storm.

[1] ?Texas is coming to be the flood section of the country. Again a large area of cultivated land is under water from heavy rains.? Deseret Evening News, ?Local News,? 1900 Apr 07. See also (and in addition to the ?Weather Report? articles): ?Terrific Floods Inundate Texas,? 1900 Apr 07; ?Plunging and Foaming Waters, ? 1900 Apr 09; ?Storm in Texas is Terrific,? 1900 Apr 28; ?Wrought Death and Destruction,? 1900 Apr 28; ?Austin, Texas, Conference,? 1900 Jun 16 (a missionary describes the rain and flooding); ?Heavy Rains in Texas,? 1900 Jul 16.

[2] Joseph Allen Brooks diary, 1900 Aug 02, 06. The diary is 1899 Aug to 1901 Jun; transcription by Arlen Williamson Portie, copy in my possession; also available at the LDS Archives

[3] ?Harder?: Brooks Diary, 1900 Apr 08; ?worst?: Franklin Clark Diary, 1900 Apr 24. The Clark diary is available from Jerrold J Myrup (3318 N 500 E, Provo, UT 84604-4661, 801.374.0756).

[4] For Mesa, Arizona, 1897?1899 (the years preceding Elder Brooks? leaving home in 1899 Aug), the annual precipitations were 9.01, 7.85, and 5.52 inches, respectively. The thirty-year average (1900-1930) was 8.65 inches per year, with the peaks in July and August at 1.14 and 1.10 inches per month, respectively. In Beaumont, Texas, for 1899-1901 (which wasn?t precisely where Elder Brooks was, but it was very close and precipitation doesn?t vary that much in the surrounding areas), the annual precipitations were 29.57, 55.53, and 37.94 inches per year, respectively, with a long-term average of 49 inches per year. R.Q. Grant, Climactic Summary of the United States, Section 26?Southern Arizona. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Edited by R.J. Martin and W.A. Mattice. 1932; Lawrence H. Daingerfield, Climactic Summary of the United States, Section 33?Southeastern United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, Charles F. Marvin, Chief. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1932.

[5] Heber Nephi Folkman diary, December 1899 to April 1902, transcription by Nena Foster, copy in my possession. A copy is also available at the LDS Archives; Joseph Allen Brooks diary, August 1899 to June 1901, transcription by Arlen Williamson Portie, copy in my possession. A copy is also available at the LDS Archives; James Glendhill Duffin diary, 1899-1906. L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University. Photographs and transcription available online at BYU?s ?Mormon Missionary Diaries.?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Interesting stuff, Edje. As a Texan, a Mormon, and a historian, I’m looking forward to each successive post.

    Comment by Christopher — October 20, 2008 @ 2:10 am

  2. This sounds like some great work. I am very much looking forward to the posts.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 20, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  3. Thanks, Chris and J. I hope it lives up to expectations.

    Comment by Edje — October 20, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  4. I second Chris’ sentiment.

    Comment by Jared T. — October 20, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  5. If you want good insight to the storm, read “Isaacs Storm”. The account of a meteorologist who lived through the 1900 hurricane.

    Comment by PJD — October 20, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

  6. Thanks, Jared and PJD.

    Comment by Edje — October 21, 2008 @ 11:26 am

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