The Galveston Hurricane: September 8, 1900

The Galveston Hurricane: September 8, 1900

On September 8, 1900, Galveston—a low-elevation sand island just off Texas’s Gulf coast—was struck by a category 4 hurricane that decimated the island and killed thousands of people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

On the day before the hurricane struck, heavy swells were noticed in the Gulf, and by the early morning of the 8th, coastal areas of Galveston had begun to flood. Rain showers started later that morning, with heavy rains beginning by noon. By 3:30 p.m. water covered half the city, and it continued to steadily rise until about 8:30 p.m. In total, the storm surge rose about 15-20 feet, completely submerging the island (which sat just 9 feet above sea level). In addition to the flood of water, hurricane-velocity winds started around 5 p.m., topping out at an estimated 140 miles per hour and turning debris into deadly projectiles. The storm center passed over around 8:30 p.m., and finally, around 11 p.m., the wind began to subside.

The next morning, survivors discovered the hurricane had left mass devastation in its wake. The lowest estimate of those killed is 6,000, though estimates of 8,000 or 12,000 are also common. More than 3,600 houses (about half of the residence portion of the island) were totally destroyed, with all remaining structures suffering varying levels of damage.

The vast number of dead, combined with the heat and humidity, quickly created a horrible stench across the island. Residents originally tried to bury many of the dead at sea, but when the tide washed the bodies back to shore, they began to burn the bodies instead.

Path of the Galveston hurricane
A nationwide relief effort was launched to help Galveston’s devastated population, and in the months and years following the hurricane, Galveston rebuilt. Between 1902 and 1904 a 3-mile-long seawall was built to try to mitigate the damage of future storm surges. Likewise, from 1904 to 1910, sand was used to raise the city’s elevation 17 feet near the seawall, with a gradual downward slope toward the bay.

At the time of the hurricane, Galveston had been a major port and a leading city in Texas and the Gulf region. However, afterward, Galveston never regained its former glory, and Houston became the powerhouse in the region instead.

Did you have ancestors who lived during the Galveston Hurricane of 1900? Tell us about it! If you want to learn more about the hurricane, start a search on

Share using:

Related Posts

34 thoughts on “The Galveston Hurricane: September 8, 1900

  1. Two of my grandmother’s brothers lived in Galveston at yhe time of the hurricane. One survived, one died with his wife and daughter.

  2. My maternal grandfather lost his wife and two daughters in the 1900 storm. Also, my father and paternal grandmother lost family members. Names involved were Paysse, Witt, Brockelman.

  3. Hers a song about it sung powerfully by James Taylor and group

    Then there’s Bill Staines song about the Louisiana flood with some of the phrases just totally catching the desperation and hopelessness in the midst of it all ” if I live to be a hundred,one thing I will remember well that at one time in my life I’d seen enough water to put out all of the fires in hell.”

  4. May be related to the William Statum reported as missing in a Sept. 14th article in The Houston Daily Post, I haven’t yet “placed” him. According to that piece, 125 people from Galveston took shelter in the Bolivar Point lighthouse across the channel.

  5. When I was young my father and I worked at Lord Optical Co in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr E W Bass owned the company. His wife was Alice Kleberg who was a child at the time of the hurricane. She remembers family members collected in the large storied home in Galveston to ride out the storm. There were also several servants in the house with them. The men nailed all the outside doors shut. Children and women were put on the third floor. All men including servants were armed and on the balcony porches of the second floor where they used clubs to beat off snakes climbing up out of the water. They were shut up in the house for several days. Mrs Bass said the smell was terrible and they did not let the children go out on the porch for several days to view the damage.

  6. My grandfather was helping with the burials. The first try of burial at sea just didn’t work as the bodies kept washing up on the shore (many partially eaten by sea creatures). They then went to burning the victims bodies. He just could not stand the smell and left Galveston forever.

  7. I have a piano key salvaged from the Galveston storm that my father kept, but I don’t know the full story.

  8. Read Isaac’s Storm – a heartbreaking book about the Galveston hurricane. One of the most moving nonfiction books I have ever read.

    1. Isaac’s Storm is a riveting book about the storm and how mistakes were made by those who monitored storms. There had been many false alarms about incoming storms that never happened. Isaac decided not to notify the citizens thinking that this too would be a false alarm. Devestating mistake!!

  9. My grandmother was 15 in 1900, and lived hundreds of miles inland in Central Texas (Milam County). She remembered a huge storm (wind and rain) blowing through her area. It blew the roof off several buildings, blew down several barns, and was pretty devastating to her neighborhood. They had no idea where it had come from until a couple of days later when her uncle came by their farm and brought a newspaper to show her parents the account of the hurricane. Having lived through some Gulf Coast hurricanes myself, it is pretty amazing to me that the storm packed that much punch for that long.

  10. My paternal grandfather was a boy of 15 at the time of the Great Storm. His family survived, and there were 130 refugees at their home on M 1.2 St. I found a ten page account he wrote, later published in another fine book, THROUGH A NIGHT OF HORRORS: VOICES FROM THE 1900 GALVESTON STORM. These are all primary source accounts written by survivors and published on the 100th anniversary of the hurricane.

    1. My grandmother was 15 in 1900. I would love to get a copy of this book. Do you know where it can be purchased or the publishers name? Thanks, Joyce


  11. My grandparents and two of their children died in the flood of 1900. Surviving members of the family relate that about 100 people gathered in their home. Holes were drilled into the floor in the hopes of survival. However all were washed away. His body, William Miller, was found on Pelican Island. His wife, Charlotte Miller, was never found. We have a vase left. A servant to the family said she rode on the safe out of. the house and survived.

  12. My mother’s great aunt was a nun at Ursaline Convent in Galveston during the great storm of 1900. If you look up Ursaline on the web, you will see it was a gorgeous, huge building. It was one of the only structures that made it through the storm, but it was later torn down years later. It is said that the nuns were on the second or third floor pulling people in the water into the windows of the convent.

    1. That is so crazy that it looked like that back then. My grandfather built a house right across the street in the 1960s and I was born while my parents lived in the house next door (1973). Both houses are still there. I played kickball in the grass at the convent (at that time it was no longer a convent) when I was younger. I remember my parents telling me they were going to take me to the Nuns, if I didn’t behave. I never understood why they thought that would scare me. HAHA.

    2. The nuns had also tethered the children to them during the storm. My ex wife’s family was there during the storm taking people into their home for safet . It was two brothers. One was a doctor. I don’t recall their last name. Where the orphanage sat I believe is where the Walmart now stands. Ex mother in law knows loads about it all and has photos, articles and numerous books on it. She contributed to most of the book .

  13. My neighbor, Narcissa (Cissy) Willis Boulware was the great granddaughter and namesake of the original owner of the Willis-Moody Mansion in Galveston. When Narcissa Worsham Willis died the year before the great storm the mansion was to be sold. The Moody family bought the ravaged mansion for 20 thousand dollars. Many people took refuse in the mansion during the storm and lived, many were swept out windows and died. Cissy kept extensive records and letters and has some from her Great Grandfather, Joseph H. Hawley to his wife who was out of the state at the time of the storm. The letters are very graphic and sad. He told of friends they had lost, the friends he had helped identify, and of all the damage the mansion had sustained. He said with deep gratitude that all of their immediate family had survived. His wife never returned to Texas after the storm. Cissy donated the letter to the Rosenberg Texas Library October 23, 1967 archives division. She kept a copy of course!
    I am in the process of getting ‘Cissy’ Boulware into our Texas Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum. She died in a trailer house fire in 2010 at the age of 93. She was an awesome historian of south Texas and her life and stories should be shared!

    1. Nancy,
      Have you ever thought about writing that book about Cissy yourself? You seem to be a perfect match. Eloquent and interested.
      Good luck!

  14. Fascinating histories here!
    For more, turn to Island of Color: Where Juneteenth Began, available on Amazon. It recounts the impact of the storm on this Texas island. It also opens a door into the past — as early as the post-Civil War years and on until the years that followed the Civil Rights movement — to share the rich African-American experience and reveal a history that reaches far beyond the island.

  15. My grandmother lost her brother who was swimming out to save other people. He managed to save two or three before he perished. They also suffered extensive damage to their home.

  16. My dad, Louis L’Amour, wrote book that takes place in Galvaston and part of it takes place during the hurricane or at least a hurricane like this one. The book is Matagorda, and it was interesting for me to read this article which spoke about that time.

  17. I have heard of this hurricane but did not know these horrifying details. I love non-fiction books and documentaries about historical events such as this, and I will definitely look for the books mentioned. Thanks to those who have shared the accounts of how their families were personally affected by the tragedy.

  18. My first cousin 3 times removed was James Frederick Shepherd. His wife and infant daughter were visiting Galveston from Cedar Bayou and were lost in the storm.
    He never found her body, but buried an unknown woman saying that if he could not bury his wife, he would at least bury the wife of someone else.

    1. Your cousin, three times removed, sounds like an amazing man. If there were more people around like him what a better word we would live in.

  19. Our grandmother was a young woman at the time and her father an engineer with the city. They lived inland a few blocks with his two adult sisters. Our grandmother told the family that they all leaned against the front door to keep it from opening but the water rushed in underneath. Luckily they survived but her father moved to Kansas City and was driving over a country bridge that collapsed, killing him and his second wife, injuring the young people that they were transporting..

  20. I grew up in Galveston. My best friend’s great grandmother lived through the 1900 storm. She was a young girl, and her mother was a seamstress in Galveston. and they lived on Broadway. During the storm, they went up to the second floor, but their house was weakened and was starting to lose pieces. They opened up a window on the second floor, and their neighbors pushed a board across the gap between their houses, from an upstairs window to their window. The neighbors implored them to crawl across the board to get into a safer house. Finally, they did, through high winds and rain. They made it across and spent the rest of the storm in their neighbor’s house. Their own house sustained damage but was still intact. The next day, they thought they saw pillows from their house in the back yard, floating, but it turned out that it was a deceased woman floating face down in the water behind the house.They stayed in Galveston throughout the terrible days and weeks that followed, and eventually saw their lives stabilize on the island. My friend’s great grandmother went on to become a wife and mother, and bore a baby girl, who became “Nana,”… my friend’s grandmother. Nana had married a sea captain: Captain Howell. They had one child, my friend’s mother, Winnie. Winnie married and raised three children in Galveston. Nana would speak of the things things that her own mother had seen during and after the storm, and she spoke of the middle of the night crossing between one house and another two stories up, to get to safety. Strong and brave, these were two women who faced the storm and won.

  21. My son in law bought his fathers home when his dad died ,when you look up into the section that was added you can see an old rail road box car in the front section ,it is told that they moved old box cars in the area between the main road into Galveston & the sea wall back then to house people who had no homes ..all of the box cars are gone now but the one Flores family has ….I don’t know if any other rail cars are still there or not .or if this is fact or fiction .but it sound like a maybe true fact .

  22. My grandmother, Mary Jane “Nannie” INFERNAISE (nee HELMOND) told us countless stories about the 1900 Storm. I will mention a few here.
    They lived on the bay-side of Water St. When the water started to rise one of her brothers put her and her two children (Robert & Rose) in a skiff and pulled them down to the police/fire station on about 19th Street. The water was already waist high and was hard to move through it. They came across a man in a tree who was injured by flying debris but would not come down and get in the boat. The police station was crowded and the small babies were put in a “tub”. People wanted to move into an office on a corner of the building but the chief said it would collapse when the storm kicked up and it did. A decision which saved lives. No one knew where the other family members were. One of her cousins was pulled to safety by a priest off of a roof of a floating house which had been lifted off of it piers. All of the houses in her neighborhood collapsed and were pushed toward town which may have acted as a ‘sea wall’, so to speak. To her anything west of 25th Street was ‘down the island’.
    Afterwards, her husband, Adam, and her brothers helped load the dead bodies into the holes of ships to be taken out to sea. When they came up they would “be sick”. They were plied with more whiskey and carried more corpses down into the holes. Those bodies that were not weighted properly were washed up onto the beaches; they were put into piles and burned. Nannie said she could still “smell” the stench fifty-five years later.
    The only thing they had to eat was boiled tomatoes for some days; something she never did again. The large family was fortunate not to have even one death or serious injury during the entire event, but lost close friends and all their possessions.
    Before the storm they lived about 25 feet from the bay; afterwards they lived a half of a city block from the bay! All of her children and most of her grand children were born and raised there. She said the people of New York donated a huge sum of money for the relief of the area and that she would never forget that. I mention it here so we won’t forget.

  23. My mother, Mary Adeline Mahaffey, was 13 months old when the storm hit Galveston. She and two of her brothers, Verne and David, were in a two-story frame house for a vacation with their mother on the island.
    Her father had stayed in Houston. She told many stories which I took to be accounts of things that happened to them during the storm. Later, reading a book about it, I realized that she probably did remember that terrible night but that she had just absorbed most of the stories. To be that traumatized so early in life, enduring the tears of families and friends lost, the stench–It must have been beyond comprehension. We never questioned her veracity, and she died 71 years later believing all the stories were of her and her immediate family.

  24. My grandmother (Agnes Schwarzbach) was a child living in Galveston during the storm. The most interesting story I recall being told was that their home split apart and floated away in different directions. It was later put back together with a new room that was built to attach the separated pieces. My grandparents (the Plattes) later purchased the home (2215 Ave P) and my mother was raised there. As kids we always congregated there for gatherings, and the home still stands.
    My mother (Francel Platte Parsons) was educated by the Ursaline nuns in the building described in one of the stories above. She was interviewed by a Houston TV crew on the 100th anniversary. The Ursaline buildings were destroyed by hurricane Carla as I recall.

  25. My wives great great great grandfather came to
    Galveston from Prussia around 1800.Family name was Erb.During the flood her great aunt Fina and husband clung to a tree.He was swept away but Fina hung on.Family later moved to Houston.My wife and I live in El Paso.In those days the Lutheran Church acted as a bank.We researched the records and it showed their deposits and withdrawels.

Comments are closed.