Galveston, TX Tarpon Pier Collapse, Jul 1909 - How the Pier Was Swept Away

How Tarpon Pier Was Swept Away

Story As Told By Negro Waiter, Who Escaped With Life Preserver.

Details His Experiences

Structure, He Says, Went Almost Piece by Piece, Driving Occupants to Roof Near Last.

Special To The News.
Galveston, Tex., July 22.-C.D. Hopkins, a negro waiter at the Tarpon Pier, after undergoing the harrowing experiences of a day and night in the bay, riding the billows with nothing but a life preserver, was at last picked up, none the worse for his experiences save numerous bruises and cuts from the flying timbers of the wrecked pier. After being revived, he described the destruction of the pier and his experiences as follows:

“We got up about 4:30 a.m., or as soon as the wind began to blow pretty hard. When we got up the steps and the platform leading to the rocks were gone. The water then was going over the rocks, and the sea was awfully rough. The wind kept getting harder all the time, but still Mr. Bettison and others didn’t seem to think that there was any danger and said that they has as soon be there as on the land.

Nothing more of the house was washed away till about 9:30 a.m., when the gallery and the wall on the east end went with a big wave. I thought when the east wall went that the house would end up, but it didn’t. It stood and seemed to be firm enough. Next the water got high enough to get into the house and was standing two or three inches deep all over the floor when a wave would come. The big waves, when they would come, would strike the bottom of the floor, and pretty soon the floor of the dance hall was burst up by the waves. When this happened they all went upstairs. The next to go was the floor of the barroom and the barroom fixtures went with it. Soon after this the floor of the dining room was burst up too. This happened, I suppose about 10:30 a.m.

“Before we went upstairs, the man there who had no legs but some wooden ones, and myself were in the dining room and he was pulling off his wooden legs and putting them on the table and I was putting a life preserver on him when the big wave came and burst up the floor. It was a big hole in the floor and threw the man with no legs in the hole head first. I caught him and pulled him out and then carried him upstairs, where the others were.

“We hadn’t been on the second floor very long before the eastern part of the building began to settle. It didn’t go with a big wave all in a heap, but it just began to settle steadily. When this happened, Mr. Bettison said that we had better go on the roof. So we went up there and got in the lookout. We hadn’t been there more than two minutes when the whole house dropped so that the second floor was resting on the pilings. It just dropped with a quick fall and the second floor was where the first floor ought to have been. Just a few minutes after this a big wave came and knocked the whole top of the house off and everybody with it. They all stayed on the housetop and it began to float off. This, I think, was about 10:30.

“Everybody stayed on the roof except myself and another negro named John Forrest. Forrest jumped into the water as soon as the top began to go. I stayed till it went down, but as it settled into the water I got my leg fastened and was pulled under the water. When I got it loose I floated away from them. When I came up from getting my leg unfastened. I heard Mrs. Bettison had got caught by some timbers in the fall, but Mr. Bettison got her loose and put her on a mattress and they stayed on the roof. They were all alive and on the roof when I saw them last. I drifted out into the channel, but they were going toward the rocks when I saw them last.

“I didn’t have anything but my life preserver, but it kept me afloat and I drifted out into the channel and tried to get into the channel and tried to get to an oil barge, which was anchored in the channel. The high seas and the swift current kept beating me back from the barge and I just drifted on.

“I didn’t see Forrest any more after he jumped into the water, until about two hours later, when we drifted together. He had two long scantlings, using them as a raft, and told me to get on one end of them and he would get on the other and we could go to land at Texas City. I got on one end of the scantling and he stayed on the other and we drifted on till we came in sight of the lights of Texas City. We could also see the lights of a boat, but they could not see us. We were about a mile and a half from the land and Forrest said, ‘You take one of the scantlings, and I will take the other and I believe we can get to the land quicker.’ I took one scantling and he kept the other, and thus we became separated again.

“There was a heavy surf and the wind got up from the land and kept us beat back so we could not get any closer. I thought I could get along faster without the scantling and so turned it loose. We just drifted about and I lost sight of Forrest.

“When day came I was so hungry, tired and thirsty that I thought I was surely gone. I didn’t give up, though and managed to keep afloat with my life preserver. Along in the afternoon I looked in the channel and I saw a little launch about to run over a white man. I had not seen him before and did not know he was there. The men in the launch did not see him, but I waved a stick and hollered and they saw me and came and picked me up. They picked up Forrest and them I told them that there was a white man over on the other side. They did not see him, but I showed them and they went and picked him up too. He was a man that was on the pier from Houston.

“They gave us something to eat and drink on the launch and we met another boat, which took us and brought us to town. I feel all right now, except that my eyes are sore and I have a fever from the experience. I am all bruised and skinned up by the timbers of the wreck, but I will be all right in a few days.

There were eleven people on the pier, six white people and five colored. The boats came out several times and tried to rescue us, but they could not get close enough on account of the big waves.”

Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX 23 Jul 1909