1941 Texas Hurricane

The following is an excerpt from a previous post about the Texas hurricane which made landfall east of Matagorda Bay, Texas, in September 1941. It is from my post entitled “Military Service,” dated April 16, 2016. I believe naming hurricanes did not begin until 1953, and this unnamed hurricane was about the same pressure (942 mbar) as Hurricane Harvey (941 mbar) was when it made landfall at 10 pm CDT on August 26, 2017. The linked Wikipedia article offers a small clue of how far technology and meteorology have come since 1941.

When Daddy [James M. Towner] entered into active service [on September 11, 1941], he went directly into artillery, where he said the army was placing all engineers at the time. Before the U. S. entered the war in 1941, he was ordered to duty on his Asst. Lt. Reserve Officer commission for one year and one day active service and reported to Camp Wallace south of Houston, Texas. Daddy wrote that he remembered the hurricane along the coast in 1941 while he was stationed at Camp Wallace. As the hurricane became more severe, he was told to evacuate Pat and one-year-old daughter Patsy from Galveston Island. All residents were being evacuated. He drove their 1941 Ford into Jack Tar Courts, picked up Mother and Patsy and drove them into Houston, where Mother’s brother Fred lived. The highway from Galveston crossed a causeway about two miles long. He drove about five miles an hour in a solid line of cars along and guided by tall poles attached to the edge of the pavement. He wrote, “The water was over the edge of my running board, it was pouring down windy rain. For about a half an hour we could not see land – just barely the car ahead “

Madsen Aunts and Uncles

Today’s post is quite long. I could not figure out an acceptable way to break it up without losing the flow, so I didn’t. Keeping the Madsen branch of the tree straight in my mind was/is a challenge, mostly because a lot of my Madsen ancestors have similar (if not the same) names. There were a lot of immigrants with the last name Madsen who also had first names Hans, Anna, Peter, Christina, Christian, Christopher, Mads, etc. In fact, just my father’s aunts and uncles had a few similar or same names. Only while writing this post did I discover that my Dad’s Uncle Christopher Madsen and my Dad’s Uncle Christian Madsen both probably went by the name Mads at one time or another. The descriptive details of the Madsen family come from letters and journals my father wrote in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1888, my grandmother Petrea (who was the baby of the family), her seven brothers and sisters, her mother Anna Marie, and her father Hans emigrated from Taulov, Denmark, to Fairport, Kansas. Daddy wrote that his mother Petrea was about four years old when she came to America, but, if 1888 is correct, which seems to be a substantiated fact, she was about six.

Fairport, Kansas, was a one-country-store town along the clear sandy Saline River. When the family arrived around 1888, they settled in the house that my father’s Uncle Pete and Aunt Christina built when they came to America ahead of the rest of the family just for that purpose. The home was similar to the home they left behind in Denmark – a 15 X 30 foot limestone block house with dirt floors, bare walls, and openings for windows. The next step for them was to locate homesteads from the government for family members who were eligible. My father’s Uncle Pete was twenty years old and eligible for homesteading. Dad’s Aunt Christina was eighteen, which means her future husband Jim Nielsen was about twenty years old and also ready to marry and homestead. Daddy said that his mother Petrea proudly told him stories about growing up in this home, going to school, and graduating from what she called the “Normal” in Hays, Kansas, about 25 miles away. Normals were colleges or institutions for training teachers, usually for public elementary schools. She became a teacher and rode her pony across the prairie to teach school every day.

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Hans Anna Peter Christina Madsen Denmark abt  1866
Hans and Anna Marie Madsen holding son Peter and daughter Christina, abt 1866

Daddy’s GRANDFATHER HANS and GRANDMOTHER ANNA MARIE (1840-1925):  Daddy didn’t write anything about his Grandfather Hans. I guess that’s because he was very young when his grandfather died, and he never got the chance to get to know him. He did write about his grandmother. She spoke nothing but Danish, and his mother and his Aunt Christina spoke a lot of Danish to each other and to her. Daddy said he learned a lot of Danish from his grandmother, although he didn’t use many Danish words around me when I was growing up. I recall Daddy telling me that when he was about 13 years old, he brought home their first radio. In a letter his cousin Jennie Marie in 1990, he described it as a crystal set radio, “which means it operated without electricity or batteries. It would pick up Topeka [Kansas] off and on through all the popping and squawking. I put the earphones on her [grandmother’s] head and turned it on. A man’s voice came through all the popping as I turned the dial to set it clear. She just laughed and poked her finger at me as she smacked her toothless lips and said, ‘Ah Pshaw!’” Daddy told me that his grandmother always thought the radio was magic.

UNCLE PETE (1862-1943):  My grandmother Petrea’s oldest brother was named Peter. Daddy said that his Uncle Pete and Pete’s wife Minnie homesteaded a quarter section of land along the Saline River, a mile out of Fairport. They built a two-story limestone block house and outhouse against and into the foot of a wooded hill. This was along a flood plain and about a quarter of a mile away from the river. Daddy never knew his Aunt Minnie, who died in 1904 about nine years before Daddy was born. Uncle Pete’s and Aunt Minnie’s three children, Fred, Dorothy, and Esther were five, four, and two years old, respectively, when their mother died.

Daddy wrote fondly of the time he spent on his Uncle Pete’s farm when he was about ten years old. He said his cousins Fred, Dorothy, and Esther were all grown but still unmarried and living at the farm. Esther was a buxom brunette and seemed to do most of the cooking for the family and farm hands. Dorothy was a frail, thin, good-looking blonde, who did the house work and managed the household. Fred was short and strong, with a ruddy complexion, and he helped his father with the heavy farm work. Daddy reminisced about visiting the farm by writing that if he wore much at all, he wore overalls. He rode ponies, rounded up milk cows, and watched his cousins milking the cows and squirting streams of milk into buckets and into the mouths of a whole row of cats waiting ten feet away. He carried four to six pails of milk to the separator shed, poured the milk into the separator, and cranked the machine. As he continued to crank, he caught dippers full of the fresh warm skimmed milk as the cream and milk came out of their spouts and ran down chutes into large milk cans. He drank milk until he could drink no more.

AUNT CHRISTINA (1864-1931):  Daddy’s Aunt Christina’s and her husband Uncle Jim’s 160 acre farm was located about five or six miles from his uncle Pete’s farm. They built a two-story wood frame house with eight rooms and a basement – also a barn, corral, hog shed, chicken house, and an outhouse, only 150 feet from the edge of the clear, babbling, sandy river. Daddy described the Blue Hills in the distance across the wheat fields and the beautiful full moon at night. He used to lie in the open window upstairs and listen to the howling wolves and the yipping coyotes.

Daddy’s Aunt Christina kept a tidy house. She was short and round and giggled constantly. She always wore her hair pulled straight back with a knot pinned nearly on top of her head, which made her light blue eyes pop. Everything was funny to her, and when she giggled, she always slapped the counter and doubled over. It was contagious. Aunt Christina was always smelling her food. Daddy said he never saw her take a bite of food when she didn’t pass it in front of her nose first to sniff it. She was a very tidy housekeeper, and the front room was off limits, unless she gave Daddy special permission to enter. Occasionally, she did let him go into the front room after dark and listen to the Victrola. He wrote, “I would crank the machine, put on a ten inch disc and lie on the floor and listen. There was no electricity, and the light came from a pump-up gasoline lamp hanging from the ceiling. It was an extremely hot lamp and gave off a very bright white light. I was not permitted to touch it.”

One day, some neighbors came to help Uncle Jim Nielsen put up the hay. After a day’s work, they pulled the wagon with an enormous load of hay into the yard. Daddy’s cousin Alice and her mother Aunt Christina greeted them with a tray of bottled beer, which had been cooled with river ice cut the previous winter and stored in an ice cave. This beer was home-brewed and was made in the basement by Aunt Christina from a recipe brought from Denmark. His aunt told him later that she had mistakenly put in pints of sugar instead of cups of sugar. She knew something was off when the corks started popping during the aging process. She just thought she had done a poor job of corking. This, however, resulted in beer with some very high alcohol content. Daddy wrote, “Needless to say, the men really enjoyed the beer. Even Uncle Jim came in and got another round for everyone. Suddenly we noticed hollering and laughing coming into the kitchen from the yard. I recall [cousin] Alice commenting, ‘I never heard the men having so much fun pitching hay.’ I stepped out on the back porch and watched the workers. Two men were standing on top of the load of hay. One was trotting from a large pile of hay on the ground just as another leaped from the top of the wagon into that pile. The men were drunk.”

Aunt Christina and Uncle Jim raised three children: John, Harry, and Alice. John became a farmer at the edge of Fairport on the Saline River. Daddy’s cousin John and his wife (name unknown) had two children: Ellen, who married a veterinarian from Kansas State College, and Mary, who never married and became a school teacher. Daddy’s cousin Harry graduated as a geologist from Kansas University and settled in Midland, Texas. He explored for oil in Mexico, South America, and Canada. He married late in life and never had children. Daddy’s cousin Alice became a teacher and a nurse. She married, divorced and had no children.

Madsen family reunion
Madsen reunion at home of Petrea Madsen Towner, Dwight KS; L to R: Christina (Madsen) Nielsen, Peter Madsen, Petrea (Madsen) Towner, James Madsen, Margretha (Maggie) (Madsen) Brown, Christian (Mads) Madsen, 1930

UNCLE MADS (Christopher, 1866-1916):  Uncle Mads and Aunt Anna Marie also homesteaded a 160 acre farm near Christina’s farm. They had one daughter Louise. (Daddy believed that his Uncle Mads died before he was born, which would have been before 1913.) Louise inherited the farm when she was a child, and her father’s brother Chris and Chris’s wife Anna held it in trust for her. Louise also inherited her Uncle Chris’s farm after Harry died.

UNCLE CHRIS (Christian, Mads 1872-?):  Daddy’s Uncle Chris and Aunt Anna homesteaded a 160 acre farm, also along the Saline River, near Aunt Christina’s farm. They opened a hardware and farm store in Natoma, Kansas. Daddy said his Uncle Chris was slender and lanky, and he was quiet, with a deep voice. She was bouncy, busy, and talkative. Daddy’s description of their home was “exquisite.” He said it was so clean and neat that it made him feel uncomfortable. He was afraid to touch anything and never got used to their modern indoor toilet, which he said smelled too sweet. He never stayed at his Uncle Chris’s more than one night at a time, and he thinks that was his aunt’s idea, not his mother’s. Daddy said it wasn’t until he went to Kansas State College and moved into the SAE House that he realized the modern indoor toilets were here to stay.

AUNT HATTIE (Hannah, 1874-?):  My father wrote that his Aunt Hattie married a man named Jim Nielsen (also from Denmark but no relation to Dad’s Aunt Christina’s husband, who is also named Jim Nielsen.) He even made a point about his name being the same as his other Uncle Jim Nielsen, and he wrote details about a conversation he had with the other Jim Nielsen’s son Harry regarding Aunt Hattie’s Jim Nielsen. (This is when my head started spinning.) To add to my confusion, the documentation I found for Aunt Hannah on Ancestry.com indicates she was married to a man named Peter O. Nielsen, not Jim. I confirmed in my ancestry research that Peter and Hattie Nielsen had three children – Hobart, Clifford, and Mary, who Daddy named specifically. Daddy wrote that he and his mother visited them one summer when he was nine years old during (as he called it) the “Indian” celebration of “Newalla.” The correct spelling of this is “Neewollah,” which is Halloween spelled backwards. Neewollah is a celebration which began in 1919 in Independence, Kansas. It was created to give the children something more positive to do besides the usual Halloween pranks. (Neewollah.com) His cousin Mary, who was about 13 or 14 years older than Daddy, dressed him in an Indian maid costume, with black hair braids, headband, Indian skirt, moccasins, and beads. Boys chased him all over the streets, while Mary laughed.

AUNT MAGGIE (Margretha, 1875-?):  Daddy’s Aunt Maggie married George Brown. They made their home at the edge of town in Hays, Kansas. Their home was a large two-story frame house with a full basement, which was full of nooks and crannies to hide in.

Daddy’s Aunt Maggie was much like his aunt Christina. They favored each other in appearance and in the way they acted. They were two of a kind, except Aunt Maggie had dark hair, which was turning gray when my Daddy knew her. Maggie’s eyes weren’t as popped as Christina’s, but they were still prominent. He said she laughed a lot and was the noisiest one of all. She spoke with a much more pronounced Danish accent than her brothers and sisters. Sometimes he could hardly understand her, and occasionally, she would slip completely into Danish and not realize it. Daddy said no one paid much attention to her when that happened, because no one could understand her anyway.

Uncle George was the County Sheriff of Ellis County during his early family years. He looked the part of the Wild West. Daddy said he was tall, broad shouldered, slim, weathered-brown, rough, and gruff. After he retired as sheriff, he owned and ran a blacksmith shop behind his house. George and Maggie had three children: George, James H. (Buster), and Anna Marie. Anna Marie was three years younger than Daddy. When Daddy wasn’t playing with his cousin Anna Marie or being chased by all of cousin George’s and cousin Buster’s good looking girlfriends, Daddy said he was watching Uncle George fire up the forge and pound the red-hot plowshares on the anvil to sharp V points.

Daddy remembered his Uncle George’s commanding presence at the head of the long table in the huge dining room. Daddy said he always wondered why his Uncle George never ate anything except cornstarch pudding and cream. Every day he smashed open the screen door, stormed noisily through the back porch door, then trooped through the kitchen without saying a word to anyone. He marched through the dining room to the far end of the table, plunked down into his chair, and waited for Aunt Maggie to bring him his cornstarch pudding and cream, which she faithfully did. Daddy heard from other adult family members that Uncle George never ever spoke to any other member of the family. He never greeted anyone who came to visit except Daddy and his mother Petrea. Daddy confirmed that he never heard his uncle greet anyone else. He described his Uncle George as follows: “Uncle George was unique. The first time I witnessed him storming in for his pudding I was scared to death. I found out real quick that despite his actions and looks, he was gentle as a mouse and he liked me. We got along fine.” He loved his Aunt Maggie, and he liked to stay there and play with his cousin Anna Marie.

Daddy said he spent several summers at his Aunt Maggie’s and Uncle George’s and he had a lot of fun playing with George’s and Maggie’s daughter Anna Marie. Occasionally, he went from there to visit his other aunts and uncles along the Saline River. When Daddy was 77 years old, he wrote, “Years after all were gone, the city bought their [Aunt Maggie’s and Uncle George’s] property along the river to include in a city park.”

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19 Newlywed Towners2 1939

Daddy said all of the homesteaded farms long the Saline River eventually developed oil, including the Madsen properties, and their children all benefited from the oil – except, that is, Uncle Pete’s children. Uncle Pete lost the farm to the bank. His wife blamed this unfortunate event on their son Fred and his wife Idabelle. Daddy heard from someone in the family that Idabelle talked Fred into borrowing money against the farm and investing in Kentucky thoroughbreds.

Mother and Daddy were married on June 8, 1935. They spent their wedding night in the Hotel Abilene, which cost them $3.00. A couple of days later, on June 10th, they spent one night at Daddy’s Aunt Maggie’s home. Mom and Dad were still on their honeymoon and were on their way from Dwight to Edmond, Kansas, where Daddy was going to work for the Kansas State Highway on a highway project. His cousin Clifford Nielsen was District Engineer for the State Highway in Norton, 20 miles away. Daddy said he rented a three-room furnished house with electricity, pump, and a two-holer outhouse for $8.00 a month. The photo above is that house in Edmond.

There are two members of the Madsen family still to talk about: my Dad’s Uncle Jim and Dad’s mother Petrea. His Uncle Jim played a prominent role in Dad’s upbringing.