To preserve the rich history of Flour Bluff, The Paper Trail News, will run historical pieces and personal accounts about the life and times of the people who have inhabited the Encinal Peninsula. The stories are gleaned from interviews held with people who remember what it was like to live and work in Flour Bluff in the old days. You won’t want to miss any of these amazing accounts.
Tom Graham was born in 1899 in Mississippi. By the time he was 5 years old, his parents, Robert and Emmie Graham, moved him to a little-known place called Flour Bluff. There he grew like the scrub oak, planting his roots deep into the Encinal Peninsula sand and finding a way to survive and thrive. He was a man of local legend whose stories were known far and wide. The “Cowboy of Flour Bluff” was raised by a dentist who helped settle Flour Bluff and who served the ranchers in the area not by being a cowboy but by working on the teeth of the cowboys on the ranches. The Graham family found ledgers in Dr. Robert Graham’s office in Alice that indicate the ranchers for whom he worked. One was the infamous Parr family ranch. His son Tom didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, but he did become a cowboy, a rancher, a truck farmer, a hog farmer, a business owner, and a man who left a legacy of stories of living in what was then a wild place.
“My dad told me stories all my life about the way things were when he was growing up, living, and working in Flour Bluff,” said Tom’s son, Miles Graham. “I never knew what to believe, but over the years I have had many people who had dealings with Dad tell me the same stories. Evidently, they were mostly true.”
Tom attended Brighton School as a boy, but his real education took place off the school grounds where he became a highly skilled cowboy at a very young age. He often rode his horse to school. Perhaps it was there that he demonstrated tricks with a spinning rope because somehow the word got out about this kid who could spin a rope like Will Rogers. According to Cassandra Self- Houston who interviewed Tom’s family members and schoolmates, some folks showed up in Flour Bluff in the 1930s to record Tom doing his rope tricks and his sons riding horses.
Miles Graham tells of how his father worked for Patrick Dunn on Padre Island when he was a teenager. “There were cattle all over Flour Bluff and on the island,” Miles recalls his father saying. “Dunn had a place near Packery Channel. The old house is still out there. When the cattle needed water, they’d go up behind the dune line, dig a trough, line it with timbers to keep it open, and create a pond for the cattle to have fresh water. The low-water crossing spot near Pita Island was where my Dad said they moved cattle back and forth across the Laguna Madre. Dad was not a fan of the island. When people started moving there started developing, Dad couldn’t believe it. He said he’d never live out there where there was nothing but sand, salt water, and rattlesnakes.”
Tom grew up fast because he had to do the work of a man. He farmed and ranched in a remote, untamed area, so he learned to do things himself, fix what needed fixing, and create what he needed to do his work. On June 17, 1918, Tom married Mamie Grace Duncan. She must have been impressed with this very capable young man who could do anything. Soon after their wedding, Mamie’s father gave the couple a sixty-acre plot of land on the corner of Flour Bluff Drive and Graham Road. This became the family homestead. He constructed their first house there out of concrete blocks that Tom made himself. Their children were born there. Edward (known as Pete) was the firstborn and grew up to be a lot like his dad. Tom, Jr. (Bud) was born a few years later. Then came Louise (Sis), Lorraine (Babe), and Wanda. Tom got into construction and even helped build Don Patricio Causeway in 1927. Then, hard times hit the family. In 1933, a hurricane took the causeway and their home. In 1939, Mamie died at the young age of 39. Still, Tom forged ahead in life. The coming of the Naval Air Station would bring him work – and a new wife.
Sources: In 1998-1999, Cassandra Self-Houston, great granddaughter of Florine Jeletich Self and John Self, conducted interviews of members of the first Flour Bluff families still living in Flour Bluff at that time. The Graham story was gleaned from these interviews and multiple Corpus Christi Caller-Times, The Alice News, and Flour Bluff Sun articles written about Dr. Robert Graham and his family. More specific dates and information came from cards and letters of family members and from interviews with Miles Graham conducted in January 2019.
Be sure to follow The Texas Shoreline News to read stories from other longtime residents of Flour Bluff. To share these stories about Flour Bluff history with others online, visit http://www.thepapertrailnews.com/
The editor welcomes all corrections or additions to the stories to assist in creating a clearer picture of the past. Please contact the editor at Shirley.firstname.lastname@example.org to submit a correction or a story about the early days of Flour Bluff.
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.