And Then There Were Two. How North and South Padre Island got their names


The Port Mansfield "Cut" is not visible on this map produced and distributed by The State of Texas.

The Port Mansfield “Cut” is not visible on this map produced and distributed by The State of Texas.

And Then There Were Two

© 2013 Steve Hathcock

Arlis Kivistad emailed to ask, “Can you tell me a little bit of the history of the Mansfield Channel?”

In 1930, Port Mansfield, or Redfish Landing, as it was once called was an isolated fishing camp located on the sandy shores of the Laguna Madre. Newspaper reports from the time refer to giant redfish over 4 feet long and trout so numerous that a fisherman could walk from his boat to the shore without getting his feet wet. I don’t know about the size of the fish, but it was possible at that time to wade across the shallow nine-mile-wide Laguna Madre to the mudflats situated along the western shores of Padre Island. A short jaunt over the dunes and one could find some of the best surf fishing in the world.

In September of 1933 an unnamed hurricane hit near the mouth of the Rio Grande. The Island was inundated with a twenty-five foot tidal surge and the storm, which lasted for over thirty hours, dumped thirteen inches of rain over a wide part of South Texas. Eighteen people were killed and an estimated five-hundred were injured. Fifteen to twenty foot waves crashed ashore at Redfish Landing. Eleven people rode out the storm in several crudely built fishing shacks – only one person drowned. The road to the fishing camp was washed out and for a short while the camp was once again isolated from the outside world.

In late 1933, the Civil Works Administration, or C.W.A., was established. In addition to building bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, parks and playgrounds, C.W.A. funds also went toward the repair and construction of highways and roads. Soon after, in 1934, Congress allocated $7,000 for construction of a new all-weather road to Redfish Landing.

Redfish Bay remained fairly isolated during the war years, while the Army Air Corps used a good sized section of the Laguna Madre as a practice range by pilots training at the air gunnery school in Harlingen. About four miles south in the back bay, large round pilings were placed in the shape of an aircraft carrier with canvas stretched between the posts.

planes over Padre (640x504)


The Air Corps pilots used these targets for bombing and machine gun practice.  One can only imagine how many shells and bombs litter the laguna here but old-timers will recall that for  years when wade fishing, one had to beware of holes, up to ten feet deep, left by those exploding bombs. Hurricane Allen struck south of here in 1980 filling in the holes and washing away what pilings were left, but that area is still called “the targets.”

50 caliber bullets found by Steve Hathcock while using a Garrett  AT Pro Metal Detector near the "targets"

50 caliber bullets found by Steve Hathcock while using a Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector near the “targets”

In March of 1950 the Navigation District petitioned the court to condemn the 1,760 acres of land immediately surrounding the port facilities of “Red Fish Landing”.  Siding with the plaintiff, the court ordered the District pay the American Legion three dollars an acre for the land it owned. The site was renamed Port Mansfield in honor of State Senator Mansfield from Columbus, Texas, who headed the commission that moved legislation through the U.S. Congress to have the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway extended from Corpus Christi south to Port Isabel. The new harbor at Port Mansfield was completed by 1956.

dredge port isabel

All that remained now was to open a jetties-protected channel across Padre Island to the Gulf of Mexico. This would provide the new port with recreational opportunities and enhance its commercial uses.

4 Reale Spanish coin (Carlos and Johanna)found near Padre Island Shipwrecks of 1554

4 Reale Spanish coin (Carlos and Johanna)found near Padre Island Shipwrecks of 1554

The initial operation proceeded smoothly until the day the dredge ran its hoses right through an old Spanish galleon, the Santa Maria de Yicar, that had lain hidden under the mud since 1554. Suddenly there was a rumbling and the pumps seemed to hesitate for a moment. Then a twinkling of silver flashed in the afternoon sun as the hoses spewed a fortune in old Spanish coins into special holding areas built to contain the spoil banks. Work was briefly stopped as workers scrambled through the cloying mud gathering as many of the shiny orbs as possible but after a short time the hoses were once again lowered and the men resumed their task.

The first cut through Padre Island was completed by September of 1957.

Going against the advice from the Army Corps, local engineers constructed their jetty with oddly shaped concrete blocks called tetra pods that resembled toy jacks used in sidewalk games. The blocks were placed with three legs touching the sandy bottom and the fourth leg sticking straight up. The rocks of the north jetty were placed atop the shattered remains of the Spanish galleon. However, no other base was laid down that would provide a proper footing to support the weight of the massive stones.  Several storms hit along the Texas Coast in November of that year and the erosive power of the waves washed around and beneath the three legged stones and with nothing below but Padre Island sand, the jetties soon sank completely out of sight. The channel itself was almost completely filled in. The Island might have healed itself if it were not for the intervention of the Army Corps of Engineers, which in July of 1962, re-dredged the channel and built a new stone jetty of granite boulders to protect the channel through Padre Island.,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.43828540,d.b2I&biw=1263&bih=901&wrapid=tljp1363460313188016&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

The government assumed maintenance of the jetties, channel, harbor, and navigational aids.  Today, the Port Mansfield Gulf Channel, now known as the East Cut, serves as the dividing line between North and South Padre Island.

Steve Hathcock serves as chairman of the City of South Padre Island’s Historical and Preservation Committee, vice president of the South Padre Island Historical Foundation and past vice chairman of the Cameron County Historical Commision. IN addition, Steve Hathcock is a member of the Military Writers Society of America and has self-published several books about Local and Natural History of Padre Island and the rest of the world. His weekly column can be found in the Coastal Current Weekly

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