Stories of Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was(#5)

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history
This picture was published in the Brazosport Facts on June 6, 1976.

 

     “Make a loose fist of your hand.  Imagine that the fingers and palm are the major part of Corpus Christi.  The space between them and the thumb corresponds roughly to Cayo del Oso.  The thumb is Flour Bluff,”wrote Bill Duncan in a Corpus Christi Caller-Times article from 1963.  He, like many others, agree that the geographical location of the Encinal Peninsula greatly affected the historical – and even current – events of the area.  Though settlement of the area did not occur until the turn of the 19th century, this sandy “digit” attracted some human activity.

     With the discovery of several burial sites of the Karankawa Indians (Carancquacas) on the shores of the Oso, one could logically conclude that these nomadic people would travel across the shallow Oso waters onto the great “thumb” seeking fish, shellfish, and turtles.  These were staple foods for the pre-historic people called “dog-lovers” or “dog-raisers”, who, according to Carol Lipscomb, writer for the Texas Handbook Online, “kept dogs that were described as a fox-like or coyote-like breed.” The name Karankawa was a general designation of several bands of Indians who shared a common, though limited language, including the Capoques, Kohanis, and Kopanes.  According to one source, the Karankawa word for “dog” translates to “kiss.”  In addition to their limited vocabulary, they communicated with whistles, sighs, and guttural grunts.

Courtesy of Brazosport Facts, June 6, 1976

     Many theories exist about how the Karankawa came to the Gulf Coast of Texas.  This thoroughly coastal oriented tribe left an impression on all who encountered them.  According to a May 24, 2016, Corpus Christi Caller-Times article by local historian Murphy Givens, “The men were over six feet tall and carried long bows of red cedar.  Women wore deerskin skirts and smeared their bodies with alligator grease.  The men’s hair was braided with rattlesnake rattles, which made a dry rustling sound when they walked.”  Linscomb wrote that the bows “reached from the eye or chin level to the foot of the bearer” and that the men were tall and muscular and wore deerskin breechclouts or nothing at all.  She goes on to relate how they painted and tattooed their bodies, and pierced the nipples of each breast and the lower lip with small pieces of cane.  It seems that even the women tattooed their bodies and wore “skirts of Spanish moss or animal skin that reached to the knees.”

     Most accounts of this extension of Paleo-American man claim that the Karankawa tended to travel in groups of 30 or 40 and broke into smaller “family” units to facilitate foraging.   They could be hostile and warlike – even in their “play.”  Givens relates in his article that Cabeza de Vaca was kept as their prisoner for years after he was shipwrecked on a barrier island in 1528.  Twenty years later, all but two of a group of 300 survivors of a shipwrecked Spanish fleet were attacked and killed by a Karankawa band.  Linscomb tells us, “Karankawas also participated in competitive games demonstrating weapons skills or physical prowess. Wrestling was so popular among Karankawas that neighboring tribes referred to them as the ‘Wrestlers.’ Warfare was a fact of life for the Karankawas, and evidence indicates that the tribe practiced a ceremonial cannibalism that involved eating the flesh of their traditional enemies. That custom, widespread among Texas tribes, involved consuming bits and pieces of the flesh of dead or dying enemies as the ultimate revenge or as a magical means of capturing the enemy’s courage.”  Frequent encounters between the Karankawa and the European explorers, missionaries, and settlers led to many deaths from combat – and from epidemic diseases brought to the coastal areas by the invaders.

Map of 1853 Encinal Peninsula with names of the impresarios who were granted land on the Encinal Peninsula by the Mexican government

     Though the Karankawa managed to survive 300 years of European contact, 1821 brought a different challenge for the indigenous group.  Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, and the new government invited Anglo-Americans to the province of Texas.  Over the next 15 years, the Karankawa would battle not only with the Anglo-Texans, but also with the hostile Tonkawas and Comanches.  By 1836, the number of “dog-lovers” had diminished to the point that they were no longer considered a threat.  It is believed that the few who remained moved into Tamaulipas, Mexico, where they suffered attacks from the Mexican authorities and were eventually pushed back into Texas, perhaps back to the shores of the Cayo del Oso (El Grullo), where they slowly disappeared into history.

    By 1850, Texas and Mexico were attempting to untangle the land ownership of the El Rincon del Grullo, “The Corner of the Grey.”  According to Duncan, “It eventually went to Leonardo Longoria de la Garza of Tamaulipas by order of Texas Governor O. M. Roberts. Still there was no great rush to settle the area. One of the first surveys of the area, which appeared in the map, ‘The Public Roads of the Nueces County,’ and was adopted by the Commissioners Court in February, 1879, lists the entire tract from the Oso to Laguna Madre to Alazan Bay as ‘M. (Miflin) Kenedy’s Pasture.'”  The land speculation of the 1800s by a Union colonel, Elihu H. Ropes and others, was responsible for the first breaking up of the large parcel and the arrival of the first settlers.  Ropes filed a survey plat May 6, 1891, of the “Laguna Madre Farm and Garden Tracts”, which covered all of present Flour Bluff. It turns out that Ropes actually listed the 18-square mile plat (11,520 acres) as “Flower Bluff (sic) Farm and Garden Tracts”, some say to make the land seem more desirable.   There seems to be some question as to whether Ropes ever actually owned land in Flour Bluff.  Duncan writes, “More likely is it that the promoter made a deal with owners to survey the land and sell off portions under a ‘lot lease clause’ deal.” Sue Harwood, staff writer for the Caller-Times in 1959 wrote that Ropes did indeed buy the Flour Bluff land at $8 an acre.  Regardless, this idea – like the ones that got him run out of town – fizzled.

       By 1890, the Texas Land Development Co. of San Antonio bought what was left of the peninsula after Kenedy bought much of the original grant from heirs of the Mexican grant.  They started selling land between 1890 and 1900.  Some of the first to buy this property have descendants living in Flour Bluff today.  Mrs. Louisa Singer, G. H. Ritter, and E. Roscher were three who became some of the first settlers on the peninsula.  At about the same time, Mrs. Henrietta M. King, who had acquired much of “Kenedy’s Pasture” in a partition of their lands, sold off by 1907, creating the southern boundary of Flour Bluff that joins the King Ranch.  There, on the “thumb” between the Oso and the Laguna Madre, families started to take root in Flour Bluff, the little town that almost was.

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Sand, Smugglers, and Santa Anna Helped Name Flour Bluff

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history
Texas GLO 1839 map of Aransas and Corpus Christi Bays

     In 1839, an unnamed cartographer sketched a map of areas surrounding Aransas and Corpus Christi Bays.  This map (depicted above) is in the hands of the Texas General Land Office.  The area circled in red indicates the first printed use of the name Flour Bluffs, an area at the tip of what is now called the Encinal Peninsula.  According to Bill Duncan in a Caller-Times article from 1963 on the subject of Flour Bluff, “In 1835, Mexico parceled out most of South Texas in grants to its citizens, a vast tract stretching from the Oso (then called El Grullo, the Grey) to Baffin and Alazan Bays” to families who probably never even saw the property because it was far off the beaten paths.  The Encinal Peninsula, like the rest of South Texas, became part of the Republic of Texas in 1836.  Two years later, the remoteness of this land, Duncan suggests, is what attracted smugglers to the area during the Pastry War.

      According to Christopher Klein, writer for History.com, the 3-month war was actually a military conflict sparked in part by an unpaid debt to a French pastry chef.

     “In the years following Mexico’s 1821 independence from Spain, rioting, looting and street fighting between government forces and rebels plagued the country and damaged property, including the ransacking of a bakery near Mexico City owned by a French-born pastry chef named Remontel. Rebuffed by the Mexican government in his attempt at compensation for the damage caused by looting Mexican officers, Remontel took his case directly to his native country and French King Louis-Philippe.

     “The pastry chef found a welcome ear in Paris. The French government was already angered over unpaid Mexican debts that had been incurred during the Texas Revolution of 1836, and it demanded compensation of 600,000 pesos, including an astronomical 60,000 pesos for Remontel’s pastry shop, which had been valued at less than 1,000 pesos. When the Mexican Congress rejected the ultimatum, the French navy in the spring of 1838 began a blockade of key seaports along the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula to the Rio Grande. The United States, which had a contentious relationship with Mexico, sent a schooner to assist in the blockade,” Klein reports.

     This action, according to Bill Duncan, made the price of many staples jump in price, including the price of wheat. “Smuggling,” writes Duncan, “became a highly profitable, though precarious occupation.  Corpus Christi Bay was a natural landing spot.  The new Republic of Texas, seeking French recognition, took a dim view of the smuggling and in the late summer of 1838, Texas militiamen spotted a group of Mexicans unloading cargo on the beach east of El Grullo.  They approached and the Mexicans fled.  The principal item left behind was 100 barrels of flour.”

     But, flour was only part of the story.  It turns out that giant, white sand dunes graced the shores of Flour Bluff Point where the smuggling occurred.  According to those who leveled the sandy giants in 1940 to build NAS Corpus Christi, they stood 40 feet high.  Sand naturally collected in this area, according to R.A. Morton and J.G.Paine who studied the area and wrote about it in the 1984 publication, Historical Shoreline Changes in Corpus Christi, Oso, and Nueces Bays, Texas Gulf Coast.   Evidently, this was apparent to the cartographers in 1845. because the Texas GLO map below shows the area with a second name, the Poso, which means “deposits” or “sediments” in English.  This sandy peninsula with giant white sand dunes and 100 barrels of flour naturally led to the name Flour Bluffs, now simply referred to as Flour Bluff.

Texas GLO map showing Flour Bluffs or the Poso, 1845  (Poso translated into English means “deposits” or “sediments.”)

    Santa Anna’s connection to the naming of Flour Bluff may have been ever so slight, but the story of his involvement in the Pastry War adds a little seasoning to the tale. Matthew Thornton, Texas history teacher and historian, tells of Santa Anna’s role in the Pastry Wars:

“In 1838, Santa Anna seized an opportunity for redemption while fending off a French invasion of Mexico. He once again led Mexican troops in what became another major Mexican military loss, but negotiations between France and the Mexican government eventually settled the dispute and brought end to the invasion. Though he had notched his belt with another difficult loss on the battlefield, Santa Anna was met with renewed support from the Mexican people for his will and ability to quickly rally troops and come to the defense of the country. For his troubles during the conflict, Santa Anna managed to lose his leg to cannon fire, an incident for which he chose to hold a formal burial with full military honors for his sacrificed limb. He famously donned a wooden prosthetic after the leg was successfully amputated.”  (Read the full story about Santa Anna here.)

     All in all, the grey, muddy waters of the Oso have long separated Flour Bluff from the rest of Corpus Christi and Texas.  This geographical separation has created a difference in the land.  Corpus Christi proper is black gumbo.  Flour Bluff is sand.  It has also created a difference in attitude, an attitude that the people of the Bluff understand and defend.  Social media pages such as “I Grew Up in Flour Bluff,” “It’s a Bluff Thing,” and the like keep the current citizens attached to each other.  This writer’s goal is to attach them to their history so that all can appreciate being separate but also see how they are tied to those beyond the Oso and the Laguna Madre.

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