To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Paper Trail News, runs historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. The stories gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days are intended to connect the past with the present.
For Greg Smith, City of Corpus Christi District 4 Councilman, understanding the needs and wants of the Flour Bluff community is second nature. Smith’s passion for the City of Corpus Christi and its future is apparent when he speaks to various groups about the history of the area and the role that his family has played since they immigrated here nearly 175 years ago. This 5th-generation Corpus Christian understands the importance of using the information gleaned from past to make sense of the present and set goals for the future. More importantly, he knows – just as his ancestors knew – that achieving those goals requires hard work, sharp negotiating skills, and the ability to stretch a dollar.
Smith, who grew up in Flour Bluff and graduated from Flour Bluff High School in 1970, no doubt has roots that run deep in the sandy soil of the Encinal Peninsula. But those roots don’t just run deep; they stretch east across the Laguna Madre to the island where Smith’s great grandfather, Patrick Dunn, settled and ran cattle and west across the Oso where his great great grandparents, Thomas and Catherine Dunn, settled after emigrating to America from Ireland in 1849.
Thomas was the fifth son of Lawrence Dunn and Ellen O’Riley. He was born in the village of Milltown, Ireland, and married Catherine Hickey on October 14, 1849, in St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin. Thomas and Catherine boarded a ship to America soon after and arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 1, 1849. Thomas decided to leave his home and move to Corpus Christi at the request of his older brother Matthew Dunn who had already found his way to Texas.
“A native of Ireland, Matthew Dunn was the first of five brothers to immigrate to the United States and settle in Corpus Christi. Their descendants have served prominently as active business and civic leaders throughout South Texas.
“Upon his arrival in this country, Matthew Dunn enlisted as a sutler, or handler of goods, with Gen. Zachary Taylor. Taylor’s army of occupation, at that time in New Orleans, was bound for Texas and arrived in Corpus Christi in 1845. Here Dunn met Col. Henry Lawrence Kinney who, having established a trading post, was encouraging settlement in the frontier town.
“Kinney encouraged Dunn to send to Ireland for his four brothers. Between 1849 and 1868, Thomas, Peter, John, and Patrick Dunn migrated to Corpus Christi. In return, Kinney deeded some of his acreage, including the land around this site, to Matthew. He and his wife, Sarah (Pritchett), and three sons lived in the only house on the road between Corpus Christi and San Patricio.
“Although neither a death date nor gravesite for Matthew Dunn have been found, he is important to local history as the leader of the migration of his family to this part of Texas” (Nueces County Historical Marker, #6313, 1985).
“Thomas Dunn was an upstanding, hard-working, non-drinking man,” said Smith. “He acquired a letter of recommendation from the parish priest just before setting sail for the United States. In this frontier town, that letter – though written by a person who was considered an authoritative figure in Ireland – probably carried no weight at all in this frontier town.”
“The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was their honeymoon,” Smith said. “The average temperature in Ireland at that time of year was a cool 66 degrees. When they got off the boat in New Orleans, the oppressive heat and humidity must have seemed unbearable, especially wearing the kind of clothing they would have been wearing. They boarded a schooner in New Orleans and made their way to Corpus Christi. They arrived late in 1849.”
Like his brother, Thomas secured land for a home and farm from Henry Kinney near the Nueces River. He paid $200 in gold for 100 acres adjacent to his brother Matthew’s property. There he and Catherine started working the land and raising their family.
“Thomas and Catherine had eight children in all with three dying within the first month of life. The first hospital in Corpus Christi was Spohn Hospital, but it didn’t exist until 1905,” said Smith. “But that was after Catherine lost her three babies in the late 1850s.”
“In Ireland, to have a half of an acre was about all they could hope for, so 100 acres was really something to work with. Thomas put in the first cotton gin in the area,” said Smith. “He raised cotton and corn, and by 1860, according to the census, he had $2500 in assets, which was a lot at that time. Catherine worked beside him every step of the way.”
Be sure to watch for Part II of this story when we learn of how Thomas Dunn gets involved in the Civil War. (Source: Interview with Greg Smith, 2019)
Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Flour Bluff, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer a glimpse into the past and present of the little community of Flour Bluff. She wrote for The Flour Bluff Messenger, wrote and edited for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper that existed from December 2017 to April 2020, served as copy editor on three books, and continues to tutor students of all ages in the lively art of writing.