From what she was, she's the biggest ghost of them all, but not to the eye. At the terminus of Texas 316 south of Port Lavaca, all is clean tranquillity - a deception. Sea and desert have defeated many towns. The sea is more ruthless - implacable until every trace is scoured away, until all is virgin sand where the footprints of men apparently never trod.
The prints of 6,000 and more did tread here, when concrete and stout-timbered structures lined what was considered the finest harbor on the Gulf of Mexico. Piers thrust into the bay for half a mile, funneling rich cargoes to and from great ships. In the 1840s German colonists landed, led by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels. In the 1850s, an army depot supplied the frontier forts of all Texas. Here two shiploads of Arabian camels landed, beginning that imaginative experiment of Jefferson Davis. Warehouses stored ice, winter-cut on the Great Lakes, prized during Texas summers.
The bustling, prosperous town survived shelling, capture and recapture during the Civil War, yellow fever epidemics, and a storm thought severe in 1866. But all were only prelude to Sept. 17, 1875. The sea that had created and nourished Indianola rose in monstrous salty gray hummocks, lashed by shrieking winds - hurricane! Nine hundred perished, and three-fourths of the city lay in matchbox shambles. Disaster on an unimagined scale.
But Indianola was too prosperous, too vital to quit because of one freak tragedy. Larger warehouses were raised; new piers of heavier pilings sprouted. Eleven years passed before a brutal fact was driven home: that earlier black September was no freak. An even more savage storm sounded the city's death knell.
Indianola was literally gone. Even wreckage was scarce. The few citizens who somehow survived did not return. The county seat, in name, was moved to Port Lavaca for there was really nothing left to move. Today the tide laps at a few stones of the courthouse foundation. Inches above the smooth sand, outlines of a few shattered concrete cisterns remain. Some fishermen's homes have come of late, and the state has erected an historical marker.
One thing more, appropriately: a solitary rose granite statue of Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. The French explorer was first to leave a boot print on the sands of Indianola more than 300 years ago. Today his stone likeness surveys the same featureless, unmarked sands.