The S. S. Nicaragua
From the Padre Island National Seashore Archives
The following is a reprint of the text from a Corpus-Christi Caller-Times article from the early 1960s that is held in the Padre Island National Seashore archives. Photos of the article, along with accompanying photos and their captions, may be seen in the archives photo gallery.
Legends Grow from Padre Hull
By Jack Baughman
Growth of a legend is slow, and it took nearly 50 years for the old steamer “Nicaragua” to change from the very prosaic lumber carrier that she was when wrecked on Padre Island to a treasure ship and gun runner for Mexican revolutionists, a part she never played, despite popular tales to the contrary.
The slim, white ship was built in 1891 in Bergen, Norway, and her plans show that she was 190 feet overall. Lloyd’s of London [illegible] at 611 gross tons.
Carrying cotton and miscellaneous cargo, she left Tampico bound for Port Arthur. Five days later, on Oct. 16, 1912, during a great storm that sank vessels all over the Gulf of Mexico, the “Nicaragua” went down on the shores of Padre Island, in that section of the coast known as the Devil’s Elbow.
It was 10 days before her fate was known. Then on Oct. 22, members of the crew turned up in Port Aransas in a small boat and were rescued by crew members from the U.S. Coast Guard Life Boat Station.
According to the captain’s story, the “Nicaragua” was due east of Padre when hit by the hurricane raging over the Gulf. In the fury of the storm a strained rudder chain broke, and the ship, at the mercy of the storm, drove aground in the breakers.
Capt. Eschevarria and nine crew members took one of the ship’s boats and headed northward, tossing on the turbulent [illegible] for five days before they were spotted by the coast guard. Twelve other men, said Eschevarria, had headed south in two other boats, hoping they could reach a Texas port.
Before Eschevarria and his crew were rescued, the U.S. Revenue Cutter “Windom” had left Galveston at the request of the Mexican owners, to search for the “Nicaragua”. It was hope that the “Windom” would find the remaining 12 crewmen, but on return, Lt. Carnes, its commander, said that no trace of them had been seen.
They were believed lost, but on Oct. 29, footsore, weary, but well, six of them arrived at the Port Isabel life boat station, after having footed it 54 miles along Padre. They said that no one had left the “Nicaragua” after Eschevarria, but had stayed on board until they could reach shore, and then started to walk down the coast. Four more were on their way down Padre, and two had been left at the wreck, too ill to be moved.
Two are Rescued
A week later, men from the Port Aransas station, under Capt. Ed White, accompanied by Dr. J. A. Orr, made the long, rough trip down the Gulf and took the two sick men, a Spaniard and a Mexican, aboard without any trouble.
But their good luck didn’t hold. After they had proceeded only a few miles toward Port Aransas, the Gulf became too rough for their 30-foot power boat, on which 11 men were crowded--including the two sick ones.
Capt. White ordered the anchor put over, and five men took the surf boat they were towing and went ashore on Padre, where they contrived rough shelters out of driftwood. The others stayed aboard, and for two days and nights were drenched with spray from the breaking waves. Huge breakers tossed the craft so badly that it was impossible to cook, and the men aboard went without food, shivering with cold, as the spindrift sheeted over the decks.
Then the storm broke; they were rejoined by the five men who had been ashore, and proceeded to Port Aransas. Their errand of mercy kept them four days and nights at sea.
Various efforts were made to salvage the “Nicaragua,” none of them successful. Finally she was abandoned to the sea and the legend makers, who evolved the story that she had been a gun runner and treasure ship for Villa’s revolutionists.
A newspaper man who saw her 10 years after she was wrecked said:
“Her bow was headed northward, and from the storm-swept bridge deck you felt as though she had just plowed through the breakers, and was about to part the sea oats at high-tide mark and sail off into the shimmering mirages of the dancing and ever-shifting sand dunes.
“Her stern sloped off into the water, as her bow rose abruptly from the sandy beach. A rope ladder still dangled over her side…The deck cleaned and weathered by 10 years of sun, was tilted; and what was left of the superstructure gave you the impression of a ship starting a climb after wallowing through the trough of a wave.
“A galley door still swung protestingly on rusty hinges as the steady Gulf breeze swept through the ruined cabins. In the main salon the molding that had trimmed the doors and adorned the ceiling had long since sprung loose from the nails and hung at grotesque angles, like long fingers pointing at you.”
First at Beaumont
Far different did she look from the day in October, 1908, when the “Nicaragua” was the first ship into the new port of Beaumont!
About 1933, when the Texas Highway Department surveyed Padre Island, only a little of the hull had survived the Gulf storms of 20 years.
Today, only a few rusty ribs, awash at low tide, remain along with the old engine, which the plans say was triple compound, with three cylinders.
Barnacles mark the high tide line on the rusty mass of iron, and sea lettuce paints its salty sides a brilliant green.
There it wastes slowly away as the waves wash around it, fit companion for the galleons of Spain, French brigs, pirate ships and the schooners of a later day that litter the sea floor in the region, or are covered and uncovered by the shifting dunes of the island.
Sources: Letters from numerous Southwestern and Mexican libraries; Lloyd’s of London; U.S. Coast Guard; Mrs. W.C. Tyrell, widow of “Nicaragua’s” owner; and Beaumont Enterprise files.