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RE: [texasczechs] A Czech Texan Family Rides Out the Great Hurric ane of 1919

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  • Ammann, Jan
    Hi everyone.... This is truly a wonderful story....I forgot where I was as I was reading it....I felt I was there in that house....Thank you so much for
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2000
      Hi everyone....
      This is truly a wonderful story....I forgot where I was as I was reading it....I felt I was there in that house....Thank you so much for sharing this with us...I guess it behooves all of us to try and get our family stores written down and circulated....its the only way the future generations can understand what the beginning was like for our great grandparents and other relatives.....and it sure makes me appreciate them even more.....
      Jan Ammann
      -----Original Message-----
      From: SRektorik@... [mailto:SRektorik@...]
      Sent: Tuesday, April 04, 2000 6:56 PM
      To: texasczechs@egroups.com
      Subject: [texasczechs] A Czech Texan Family Rides Out the Great Hurricane of 1919

      This is my first message on the new group e-mail system.  I want to share
      with you the family story of the Great Hurricane of 1919.  I know it is a
      lengthy tale; however, much more could be written about what happened in
      Corpus Christi where there was a large settlement of Czech Texans.  Thank you
      for your time and I dearly appreciate hearing any other storm tales which are
      out there.

      Forever on the flat coastal prairies of Texas, the winds have been at war. 
      One day a fierce sustained wind of 35 mph, with gusts over 40, rushes from
      the south to the north.  The next day an equally fierce wind rushes savagely
      from north to south. In our times, the same litter can be seen coming and
      going for days (just kidding, sort of). These wind battles between high and
      low pressure areas usually occur in the spring, fall, and some of winter. 
      The summer gales and thunderstorms usually move inland from the Gulf of
      Mexico.  It must have added a whole new set of circumstances for the Texas
      Czech settlers who moved down here after the land opened up for development. 
      They came because the black clay soil was thought to be so fertile that it
      could be farmed and fertilizer would never be needed.  In addition, the land
      was basically flat which made it easier to farm and less likely to erode.

      By 1919, my paternal Grandparents, LOUIS REKTORIK AND JENNIE MRAZEK REKTORIK,
      had been married and living on their farm for over 10 years.  They had three
      sons: Frank; born in 1911, Julius; born in 1913, and Edward, born in 1915.
      They had a house, large barn, several outbuildings and even a garage for
      their first car, a Model T Ford.  My grandfather was a forward looking man
      and he always strove to have the newest technology.  While the family home
      was constructed of wood and set on a pier and beam foundation (due to the
      shifting clay soil), the construction of the garage for the Model T relied
      heavily on the use of concrete and brick.  This would become important when
      the family feared that the house would collapse on them during the worst of
      the great storm.

      AGNES AGATHA REKTORIK was one of Louis Rektorik's younger sisters. In 1915
      she had married RUDOLPH E. HRNCIR, one of the sons of FRANK HRNCIR and JULIA
      HOLUB HRNCIR.  Their first son, Wilson was born in 1918 in Lavaca County. 
      Rudolph, Agnes, and their baby son made the move to South Texas in early
      1919.  At first they stayed with Louis and Jennie Rektorik and then they
      rented a farm adjacent to the Louis Rektorik farm which was owned by the
      JALUFKA family.  This land had been picked by the Jalufkas because it was
      free of the "running mesquite" which was the bane of early settlers.  It was
      only after a house was built and the rains came that they learned that the
      land was clear of mesquite because it would stand water for month and months
      at a time.  A number of young Czech families rented the house and farm and it
      was said that anyone who lived there went on to be successful.

      Again, unless you have lived on a farm on the coastal prairies of Texas, you
      cannot realize how constant a factor the weather is.  Young Rudolph planted
      his first cotton crop that year.  In early September, it was still in the
      field.  Over the years, the Czech cotton farmers would learn to pick the same
      field of cotton several times as the bolls opened.  This diminished the
      amount of cotton which would be lost if a hurricane came.

      The farms of the Coastal Bend were isolated.  Back then anyone who lived
      within 25 miles was considered a close neighbor.  The Weather Bureau Office
      in New Orleans issued hurricane advisories via the telegraph.  The advisories
      were read in the nearest city, Corpus Christi, but no warning was made to
      those in the outlying area.  And, in truth, those advisories were of little
      use for they usually told of where a storm had been and there was no way then
      to predict where it would go.  Louis Rektorik was, as were many farmers of
      that time, a keen observer of the weather and nature.  He had noted during
      the week starting on September 9th, 1919, the appearance of high clouds which
      we know as "Mare's tail's" or Cirrus clouds.  These clouds usually only
      appear down here during the winter.  About midweek the wind shifted and blew
      to the northeast.  For three days this unusual wind blew.  And, towards the
      end of the week, flocks of sea birds could be seen flying inland.  Until this
      very day, we look for these signs to alert us to coming of a hurricane.

      Saturday night the winds grew in intensity.  Early Sunday morning, September
      16th, 1919; Rudolph, Agnes, and Wilson, went to the home of Louis and Jennie
      Rektorik.  Sunday dinner was the weekly gathering time for the extended
      family.  Jennie and Agnes began to make kolaches.  In a big, heavy crockery
      bowl, they placed cakes of yeast, sugar, and warm water.  The earthy scent of
      the yeast filled the kitchen as it dissolved, fed on the sugar, and
      multiplied.  Squall lines of heavy rain overran the farm with greater and
      greater frequency.  By the time the scalded milk, salt, and flour had been
      added to the yeast mixture and kneaded into dough, there could be no doubt
      that they would be hit by a hurricane...they just didn't know how hard.  The
      dough doubled beneath a clean white cloth.  Jennie and Agnes pitted the still
      steaming prunes with which they would make the filling for the kolaches.  The
      sugar, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla were worked to proper consistency for the
      popsika while the men silently watched the storm.  Sheets of rain fell.  The
      wind ripped the leaves from the trees and plastered their shredded remains
      against the windows of the house.  The women punched down the dough and began
      working it into egg-sized balls which they placed into the baking pans.  A
      drumming sound came from under the house as the wind funneled and surged
      through the pier and beam foundation.  The men looked out but could see
      nothing but dark.  The kolaches were filled, buttered, and rising when Louis
      truly became alarmed.  He had been through the hurricane of 1913; but, it had
      not reached this intensity.  The house groaned and cracked.  It felt as if it
      would rise off the very foundation.  The decision was made, they would wait
      until the kolaches were baked, and then they would move to the garage which
      would be able to stand more than the house could.  It must have been around
      11:00 that morning when the last coat of melted butter was dabbed on the
      still hot kolaches and the popsika sprinkled.

      At about this time in Corpus Christi, Texas, some thirty miles to the east,
      the strongest part of the storm was just hitting North Beach. This was a
      Class Four Hurricane packing winds of up to 150 mph and a storm surge of what
      is believed to be over 20 feet.  Buildings not shattered by the wind were
      crushed by the surge.  There was no sea wall then. The devastation caused by
      this storm still gives it the dubious honor of being named the third most
      deadly hurricane to hit the mainland of the United States between 1900 and
      1996 (latest records to which I have access).  The bodies of its victims
      would was up for months after the storm.  Mass graves became necessary.

      The Rektorik and Hrncir families bundled up and headed for the garage.  The
      littlest of the boys were carried.  It was only with great difficulty that
      progress was made towards the garage against the force of the wind.  They
      walked through quickly rising water and the rain stung like a swarm of
      hornets as it hit them.  Once in the garage, they all climbed into the Model
      T Ford which kept them above the water level.  They listened as the wind
      shifted from north to west, and finally south.  For hours after hours after
      hours they sat in the car.  The sound of the wind was so loud and intense
      they could not hear the nearly constant crack of thunder.  The rain fell so
      heavy and was driven so fiercely by those hurricane force winds that the
      great white-light bolts of lightening which hit all around could not be seen
      if one were adventurous enough to look out.  The storm finally passed and by
      Monday morning calm prevailed. 

      When daylight came, the two families found that the houses and other
      buildings were still standing.  The cotton fields were flattened, the cotton
      ripped from the bolls, and standing in water.  Rudolph silently observed the
      scene while he himself stood in the dirty, debris-filled water.  "Rudolph,
      please say something!" beseeched Agnes again and again.  Not a word did
      Rudolph say.

      "If this is what life is like in South Texas, I think it would be best to
      move back to Moravia (Texas)!" is what Rudolph was actually thinking at that
      time...according to family lore.  Rudolph and Agnes stayed.  They had two
      more sons and a good farm of their own.  Uncle Rudolph died early so I do not
      recall him but dear Aunt Agnes was one of the highlights of my childhood.

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