Very few structures have survived to remind us of the park's long history. The Novillo Line Camp is the only one the public can easily see and it can be seen only from a distance. A few others are scattered down the island behind the dunes lining the island's eastern shore. Unless someone knows where to look and makes a deliberate effort to climb to the top of a dune and search for them, the other structures are, for all practical purposes, invisible.
But the past lingers on in another less obvious way: the place names found on maps of the park. Here are the histories of the better known places.
North and South Bird Islands.
These are two of the few natural islands in the Laguna Madre (the rest being spoil islands made from material dredged during the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway). For decades they have been known for the thousands of birds that nest on them during breeding season. For this reason, the park prohibits anyone from landing on them during breeding season. South Bird Island is located about one mile north of Bird Island Basin, and North Bird Island is about three miles north.
Bird Island Basin
Bird Island Basin was originally known as Permian Basin, because the Permian Oil company kept an oil storage tank there as well as a landing ramp for boats. After the tank was dismantled in the 1970s, the park named it for the nearby islands.
Novillo Line Camp
“The Novillo Line Camp is the last historic resource within the National Seashore that reflects human use and occupation of Padre Island. Located a few miles within the northern boundary and entrance, the camp was the northernmost line camp used by the Dunn cattle ranch in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is also largely intact with a collection of small buildings, a pump well, wind mill with concrete water holder, and barbed wire and board corrals.“
-From the Padre Island Administrative History
“Of the four smaller tribes comprising the Coahuiltecans, the Malaquitas are associated most often with Padre Island. This tribe records its beginnings in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. First called "Malahueco," the name Malaquitas apparently is a later name documented to 1756 as a description for Indians living near Mier, Mexico. In 1766 Ortiz Parrilla recorded the Malaquitas on Isla Blanca or Isla San Carlos de los Malaquitas, the name [at that time for] for Padre Island, in the area now covered by Kleberg County and northeastern Kenedy County. By 1780 the tribe is documented on the coastal islands near Copano Bay… This tribe provided the inspiration for second Superintendent Ernest Borgman of Padre Island National Seashore to name the Malaquite Beach in 1968.”
-From the Padre Island Administrative History
Yarborough Pass was dredged in 1941 at a spot then known as Murdock's Landing. It was named for W.O. Yarborough, a former member of the Texas Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission in recognition of his work.
Millions of fish had died in the Laguna in the summer of 1938 and it was believed that the Laguna's high salinity was the culprit. Therefore a pass was proposed to allow the less salty Gulf waters to dilute those of the Laguna.
The issue was contentious, but many people advocated the dredging because they wanted to see fishing restored to the Laguna, Baffin Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, and other waters in the area, which they saw as being effected. Burton Dunn, who had inherited the Dunn Ranch from his father, Patrick Dunn, allowed the Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission (forerunner of Texas Parks and Wildlife) to dredge the channel, even though he stood a chance of not being compensated in any way and the channel would make operations on his ranch costlier and more difficult.
The pass was dredged, but unfortunately over the next several years sand filled it up again and again forcing the Pass to be dredged again and again. Eventually the State gave up on dredging the Pass and let nature reclaim it. By 1950 the pass had filled and the beach was once again unbroken.
Little Shell Beach and Big Shell Beach
Little Shell and Big Shell are located where northerly and southerly long shore currents meets. The northerly current deposits little shells on the beach and the southerly current deposits shells a little bigger on the beach immediately south of Little Shell. Shells found at both locations are usually of very common types. Both beaches tend to have very loose sand making driving normally difficult.
The Mansfield Channel
The Mansfield Channel was originally dug as a private channel with protecting jetties in 1957, but was destroyed later that year by storms. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then built the present channel and jetties, completing them in 1962. The Channel was named for the nearby mainland community of Port Mansfield, which had been named for U.S. Representative Joseph Mansfield, who introduced the Mansfield Bill, which authorized the extension of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. Previously, it had been known as Redfish Landing.
Source: The Handbook of Texas Online
And here are the names of some places that once existed but that you may find now only in history books or archives.
The Curry Settlement
The Curry Settlement was the name for the community that developed on Padre Island starting around the time of the Civil War and which continued for many years. Most sources agree that it was about twenty miles from the island’s northern tip, but some place it at other places, including as far south as Big Shell. So far as can be determined from local (Corpus Christi) records, it probably contained a dozen or less ranching families. Other occupations on the island during its existence and which probably involved members of the settlement included harvesting salt from the Laguna Madre, working at the Quarantine office at Corpus Christi Pass, working at the meat packery, hunting birds for feathers, selling live sea turtles for meat, ferryman or boatman, and working for the county office of Wreckmaster. Reportedly, some families moved out to the Curry Settlement from Corpus Christi in order to escape the Yellow Fever epidemics of 1867 and 1873.
The settlement's name comes from Cary Curry, a primitive Baptist minister and his family from Alabama, who settled on the island in the 1840s. Cary and his wife lived on the island until they passed away and were buried here in the 1880s. Their numerous children and descendents established their own families and eventually moved away into nearby communities such as Corpus Christi and Port Aransas.
The Griffin Settlement
The Griffin Settlement is known only from a 1941 hydrographic chart showing its location on the Laguna Madre a few miles south of the current Malaquite Visitor Center. As this coincides with the most frequently reported location of the Curry Settlement, the two may be the same. Who Griffin was is unknown, but there are records of a Griffin family on Padre Island in the late 1800s. A nearby bit of land jutting into the Laguna Madre is recorded as Griffin’s Point on some maps.
According to one park document, this is the traditional name for a spot about two miles south of the current Malaquite Visitor Center. This is probably related to the Griffin Settlement or could be another name for the Settlement. It is possible that, as with Murdock’s Landing [q.v.] this was a landing for ships on the Gulf shore so that cargo could be transported to Griffin’s Settlement on the Laguna shore.
Murdock’s Landing (or “Murdoch’s” in some sources)
Murdock’s Landing was a transhipment point at the present site of Yarborough Pass for lumber (and probably other goods) going to the King or Kenedy Ranches. The Laguna Madre is naturally deeper in this area than anywhere else within miles of Baffin Bay. Because the Laguna was too shallow, ships would offload their lumber on the Gulf shore near what is now the 17 mile marker and float it ashore. Ox carts would then transport it across the island to Murdock’s Landing, where it would be loaded onto shallow draft barges and transported to docks in Baffin Bay. No one knows for certain who Murdock was, but the 1860 census for Kingsville shows a William Murdock as a wagoneer for the King Ranch.
During the over two decades salt was harvested from the Laguna, Murdock’s Landing apparently had warehouses for housing the salt. One newspaper account of a hurricane striking the island in 1874 records that warehouses containing 25,000 bushels of salt were destroyed at Murdock’s Landing.
Murdock’s Landing apparently continued to be used for various purposes well into the twentieth century. One story reports that it was used as a stopping point for smugglers of alcohol during Prohibition on what was then known as “the Tequila Trail”.
The dredging of Yarborough Pass in 1941 erased whatever was left of Murdock’s Landing.
The Devil's Elbow
“During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Padre Island was the site of a number of shipwrecks. Near Big and Little Shell Beaches is a slight bend that became notorious for its shipwrecks. "Devil's Elbow," actually the point of tidal convergence, wrecked many otherwise seaworthy vessels.”
-From the Padre Island Administrative History
Green Hill and Black Hill Line Camps
These were the other two line camps used by the Dunn Ranch. Their remnants (only a few fence posts and a loading chute for cattle) are deep in the park's back country and may be seen only from the tops of nearby dunes. They, along with the Novillo Line Camp and the corral (which no longer exists) at Packery Channel, were spaced about twelve miles apart. The Packery channel corral was northernmost, then Novillo, then Black Hill, and finally Green Hill.
If you see one of these line camps from a distance, please help us preserve it by not removing anything from it. Please also remember that, because of the presence of rattlesnakes, walking through the grasslands and back country may be hazardous.
Medanos de Magdalena (the Magdeline Dunes).
The “Magdalene Dunes” was the name given to the dunes on the southern part of the island by the Spanish in the 1500s.
Corpus Christi Pass
What remains of Corpus Christi Pass is now known as Packery Channel. Originally, Packery Channel was one channel through Corpus Christi Pass. Corpus Christi Pass was very different from Packery Channel. Instead of running almost directly east-west, maybe a hundred yards wide, and a couple of feet deep at most, Corpus Christi Pass was about a mile wide, ran southeast to northwest, and was about seven to eight feet deep. Sailing ships used it to transit to and from Corpus Christi Bay. What happened to it? Maps show Corpus Christi Pass existing until 1938, when a hurricane struck, filling in a lot of it and placing a sand bar at its mouth, which blocked maritime traffic. Since then, Corpus Christi Pass has dwindled until it has become the Packery Channel of today.