In 2005 I purchased an old glass negative from a Syracuse, NY vendor on an eBay auction. Because of the great clarity of the negative, the image was easy to date: the American Flag flying on the stern of the ship carries 45 stars, a flag that came into effect in 1896 when Utah was admitted to the Union and was superseded in 1908 when Oklahoma became a state.
Because the negative was from Syracuse, I rather thought that the scene was from Buffalo, the port city closest to Syracuse, but the grain elevator was strikingly similar to Elevator A, once found on the 17th street pier in Galveston, now long since demolished. Finally I found the above postcard, and it became clear that the ship at the elevator was indeed the William Windom, which had been stationed at Galveston.
The Coast Guard Cutter USS Windom was comissioned in Baltimore, MD 30 June 1896, and served along the Chesapeake and Cape Hatteras until the Spanish American War in 1898. For much of the war, she was part of the blockade of Cuba, then returned to the Chesapeake Bay area. The William Windom served two tours guarding the port of Galveson and the Gulf of Mexico from August 1906 until August 1911, and from June 1912 until November 1914. Renamed the Comanche, she served in Galveston again from February 1916 until June 1930.
The cutter was named for William Windom (May 10, 1827 – January 29, 1891), a Congressman and Senator from Minnesota, as well as the Secretary of the Treasury under President Benjamin Harrison. It was in this capacity that he was one of the political figures initiating organizations that later led to the Coast Guard. He was also the great-grandfather of actor William Windom, principal actor for the television series, My World and Welcome to It, as well as roles in To Kill as Mockingbird, Star Trek, Twilight Zone and other performances from the 1960’s on, including Murder, She Wrote of the 1980’s.
Postmarked: Rosenberg, Tex. Sep 16 1912 6 PM
To: Mrs. Lula Mackey
[12.00] Sep 15, 1912
Dear Sister, I drop you a few lines this morning to let you know we are all well hope you the same I wrote to you about four weeks ago and have never heard from you well Carl has sold three bails of cotton and have got about 8 ore 9 bails of course we do not know, but we have been having bad luck about getting hands but they are going after some this afternoon
Houston in 1912 was a railroad hub with rail lines radiating out into the central United States. Connecting the farming interior with the new port of Houston and the older port of Galveston, the railroads transported crops South to the ports and imports North to the farms and towns of the midwest. The rails also brought immigrants into the farming center of America, and job seekers from the interior to the Gulf Coast where the growing economy was a mecca for those seeking opportunity.
Among those looking for work was Carl and Kate Oakley, fresh from Hirvasse, Arkansas, who brought their family to Houston for a chance to improve their prospects. Cotton was still the main crop in the area, and Carl managed to get his hands onto a small crop of cotton. Whether this was by cotton farming or through speculation, cannot be known.
They left behind their families in Arkansas, including Kate's sister, Lula Mackey, and a host of other relations. Kate Oakley was formerly of Dickson, Benton County, Arkansas, where she is found on the census of 1910 with her husband, head of household, Carl W Oakley (27 years old, born about 1886 in Arkansas). Kate's parents were from Tennessee, and also listed on the census are their daughters, Cora, age 3, and Mary H., six months old.