FRIENDS OF ANAHUAC REFUGE
It was blasted cold for southeast Texas this past Saturday morning undefined 22 degrees according to the truck's thermometer undefined and ice coated the surface of ditches bracketing the gravel road carved through the marsh on the north side of East Galveston Bay.
My mind wandered as I watched a handful of ducks bore low over the flat, winter-browned landscape, looking for some patch of unfrozen water into which they could pitch and settle. I imagined the swarms of waterfowl I'd have seen had I been at this spot 115 years ago.
The year 1895 was on my mind as I drove toward the edge of East Galveston Bay on this coldest morning in more than a decade. It was, in fact, the reason for my destination.
The unusual cold snap was severe enough to raise concerns of a die-off of fish in the bays undefined such severe freezes can decimate populations of coastal fish whose physiology can't handle water temperatures much below 45 degrees.
I decided to spend that frigid Saturday morning checking to see if, indeed, fish were dying from the cold and shooting photos documenting the icy conditions and any deceased fish that showed.
I knew the perfect spot: Frozen Point.
Frozen Point juts from the north side of East Galveston Bay nearly directly opposite of Rollover Bay on Bolivar Peninsula. Since it's toward the back of the bay and adjacent to shallow water, any freeze-killed fish are likely to show up there.
Many anglers know of Frozen Point; it's on all the maps and is a popular access spot for wade-fishers and kayakers.
But few of those folks know its history .
Here in the wake of the recent frozen weather, Frozen Point's story seems worth telling. It is, I believe, a fascinating tale that involves one of the most extreme cold-weather events documented to have hit the Texas coast and illustrates the challenges our ancestors faced.
Frozen Point didn't have a name before February 1895. The angular protrusion into East Galveston Bay was just a part of the sprawling Jackson Ranch.
Also called the JHK Ranch, it was one of the original cattle-ranching operations in Chambers County. Started in the mid-1800s by patriarch James Jackson, the ranch included thousands of acres of prairie and marsh on the north side of East Galveston Bay.
On Feb. 13, 1895, a severe cold front hit the upper Texas coast. Snow began falling on the prairie and marsh and on the 6,000 head of cattle on the JHK Ranch. By the next day, more than 20 inches of snow had fallen on Houston, Galveston and the surrounding region undefined the most ever recorded.
And that blizzard, with its record snow, blistering north wind and the below-freezing temperatures, set the stage for events that gave Frozen Point its name.
Ralph Semmes Jackson, grandson of James Jackson, recounted what happened in his book, Home on the Double Bayou undefined Memories of an East Texas Ranch.
“During the winter of 1895 a severe blizzard swept across Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving misery and destruction in its wake. When the storm was over snow stood three feet deep on the prairies at Double Bayou.
“As the storm struck, the some six thousand head of cattle that were pastured on the Jackson Ranch turned tail to the driving snow and started drifting south with the wind.
“When they reached the shores of East Bay they walked off into the warmer waters of the Bay and were drowned by the thousands.
“Of the six thousand head of cattle, only a fraction of this number escaped the disaster, leaving a pitifully small herd with which to start over again.
“After the storm abated, the men of the family saddled their horses and rode toward the Bay shore, fearful of what they would find.
“Reaching East Bay, they saw dead cattle lying so thick in the shallow waters along the shore that a man could walk for several hundred yards out into the Bay on the bodies of the dead cattle.
“There was a point of land extending out into the Bay where most of the cattle made their last stand before stepping off into the water to their death.
“From that day forward this point of land was known as Frozen Point.”
The parking area at Frozen Point was empty that morning two Saturdays ago. I walked the shoreline shooting photos of the frozen puddles on the bay bottom exposed by a strong north wind, a great blue heron trying to choke down a freeze-killed sand trout and clumps of pelicans and gulls feasting on the scattering of cold-killed mullet .
Standing on an icy tuft of cordgrass just short of the tip of Frozen Point, I squinted my eyes and imagined that Valentine's Day 115 years ago. I tried to conjure the cold and the snow and the rafts of dead livestock.
Nearby, a handful of cattle looked chilled and miserable.
If they only knew the history of the ground upon which they walked ...
The Friends of Anahuac Refuge was established in 1997 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Anahuac, TX.
For questions, call the refuge office at 409-267-3337.
P.O. Box 1348
Anahuac, TX 77514
Refuge Office Address:
4017 FM 563, Anahuac, TX 77514