Beautiful day on Matagorda Bay with Captain Larry Wheeler

Beautiful day on Matagorda Bay with Captain Larry Wheeler

Did you hear about the 23 soldiers who died in the waters of Matagorda? It is true. In March, 1864 troops camped at DeCrow’s Point sailed to Indianola, marched to Bynio’s Point, crossed what they called a ‘stream’ at Saluria Bayou (also known as McHenry’s) and then built a wooden ferry platform type floating bridge to haul troops and gear across approximately 150 yards of deep water hoping to arrive onshore at Matagorda Island. They misjudged the tenacity of those waters, and they paid a hefty price.

Black troops labored first at the ropes connecting the four or five stages across the divide. The day was windy and chilly and the chop on the water made for tough going. After two successful ferries, the tide shifted, water roughened and the ferry boat platforms began filling with water. The black soldiers and the troops who were ordered onto the makeshift bridge began to sink. Panic and terror set in and many good men fell into the water and began rushing down the narrow bayou cut.
In the gripping diary account of Lieutenant Cordon W. Smith the life and death struggle to survive amidst floating men both living and dead, personal gear and military supplies is recounted in breathless detail. Lt. Smith repeatedly thought he had reached a safe plank or a handhold nearer shoreline in the rushing water, only to again be swept away. Twice he grappled with others who were drowning. He was held under, choked and almost killed in the struggle. In Smith’s diary, he tells of forcing his attackers under to preserve his own life, then realizing he had taken life’s breath from the other. This 69th Indiana Union Regiment, well documented in Civil War History, lost 23 of their own to the volatile waters of Matagorda that day.

This story prompted Katherine Meyer of Round Rock, Texas, a descendant of one man lost that day to travel to our area, take an historical boat tour with our own Captain Larry Wheeler, Fishing Guide and History Buff. The group traveled to the approximated site where the mass drowning happened and honored the memory of her ancestor Albert Cranor, a young 22 year old who perished along with the others. They left flowers and spent time remembering that these men were heroes once, and died tragically in service.

The area known as the Army Hole is maintained by Texas Parks & Wildlife and has great informational signs about the history of the bases.

The area known as the Army Hole is maintained by Texas Parks & Wildlife and has great informational signs about the history of the bases.

So, whether you love Matagorda Bay or you happen to be a real history buff, there is much to discover in the waters and sands of the Matagorda and surrounding areas. Pass Cavallo is the pass LaSalle used to enter Matagorda Bay, but he was likely lost. Did you know that the Karankawa Indians helped LaSalle survive?

This story, the tragedy of the Indiana 69th drowning, the history of the much battled for Confederate Fort Espiranza on Matagorda Island (seemingly lost now except for some slight embankments still visible on the historic fort site); the old Army Base or Army Hole, Saluria, Calhoun and DeCrow township sites, the old Lighthouse, knowing the difference between Matagorda Peninsula and Matagorda Island, and other sites we often simply call fishing holes today were major sites of important significance in Texas and US History. Impact on the war, major bearing on the ups and downs of both regional and national economy, business development and fluctuations in population, settlement and community development and digression were all directly dependent upon events such as the weather, geophysical and geographical changes, hurricanes and the unpredictability of the area in and around Matagorda Bay.

One storm season during the war, Cavallo Pass shifted and cut off groups of troops from the remainder of their regiment. The beautiful 150 year old lighthouse was shipped into our area in numbered pieces much like a puzzle. It was then moved across sandy stretches from its deep water delivery to be assembled and erected in its current location where it was and remains the highest spot around. This made it a much fought over landmark and troop lookout station during the Civil War.

Several old veterans once stationed at the Army Base have told of the loneliness of such a post. One said his only assignment was to get up early each morning and remove all the rattlesnakes from the runway that crawled up to sun themselves. They did not want arriving or departing planes hitting the many that were there each day.

The Jetties were built in the mid 60’s, the ICW much earlier and the Victoria Barge Canal was at its height in the 50’s, but have you heard why? They each had influence on the economy of our coast and settlements of population.

On a recent boat tour with Captain Wheeler, I learned he is now offering his history tour for hire. You can hear the stories of the history of the area, walk in the sand where history happened, and learn little known lore of our Texas past. Captain Wheeler’s breadth of knowledge is impressive and his entertaining and fun delivery is a treat. A comfortable boat tour, a walk on pristine and undeveloped island sand unspoiled by population, shell seeking and beach combing, and the real story of what happened here long and not so long ago makes for a special outing and a time you won’t forget. You will enjoy yourself, that’s for sure. And you are sure to learn something you never knew. I know I did.

If you would like to inquire about a tour, or you just want to talk Texas History, no problem. Get in touch with Captain Larry Wheeler. ( or 361-649-6409). He’s a real talker; you won’t have any problem getting him to tell you more about the coastal area we love to call home. The tour he offers is a hobby and the information is a passion of his, so the price is reasonable, the trip enjoyable and appropriate for children to seniors. He can tailor your outing to fit your needs if you like. In fact he says that he and other guides will shuttle groups to the island for a day of exploring on their own, returning to pick them up at an appointed time, if they would like.

Just one more opportunity to have fun and learn new things in our wonderful area that you should know about. There are some really good books detailing the information at our local library as well. Message Captain Wheeler and ask for his ‘best of’ recommendations. You will see our waters in a whole new way when you know the long and dramatic history…

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