This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.
The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 came ashore September 8, taking the prosperous city by surprise. With an estimated death toll of 8,000, the storm remains the deadliest natural disaster in the United States. Waco native Mary Kemendo Sendón recalls one happy ending to emerge from the hurricane. The story begins after waves washed family friends who were living in Galveston out of their home:
"Well, Paul Darro and his wife were floating on this mattress, and he noticed something paddling like in the water by the mattress. And he reached down; there was a tiny little puppy, a little black puppy that was trying to save itself by swimming along by the mattress. He picked it up, put it in his pocket."
The Darros decided to give the puppy to Sendón's grandfather, who had helped them escape Galveston and travel to Waco:
"Well, the family went crazy over that dog. It was a cute little old dog. And Grandfather gave it a name to celebrate the Spanish-American War. He called the dog Dewey after Admiral [George] Dewey. (laughter) And that dog was famous. Everybody wanted to see that dog because that was a Spanish-American—got that name of Admiral Dewey. That little old dog could go all over the neighborhood, and we'd know where she was because we'd hear her tags jingling. When my grandmother would come to see us in the afternoons—she'd come down to our house—we always knew that our grandmother was coming because we'd hear those tags. (laughs) And she walked right behind my grandmother like a guard. That dog could—she could just get around. And she'd go off, and they wouldn't know where she was for a long time. And all of a sudden, she'd come back home."
Dewey was a faithful dog whose protectiveness knew no bounds:
One day, my grandmother wanted to change the furniture in her house. And she bought some new furniture, and they took the old furniture in trade. And there was a baby buggy included in all of that furniture. Well, later that afternoon, (laughs) the furniture man called my grandfather and said, 'Will you please come down? We've got to do something about some of your furniture.' My grandfather went down, and there sat Dewey in the baby buggy. And somebody wanted to buy the baby buggy, and he wouldn't let them touch it. They said, 'This dog will not let us touch this baby buggy. You've got to come and get this dog.' That dog, you see, had watched over the children in the family and was so attached to that baby buggy, he wouldn't let them have it. So my grandfather had to pick Dewey up and bring her home."
The hurricane brought many changes to Galveston, most notably the raising of the city and building of the Galveston Seawall, as residents hoped to prevent the storm's outcome from happening again. When a storm of comparable strength hit the island in 1915, 53 people died, a fraction of the lives taken in 1900.
Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For more information about this program or the Institute for Oral History, visit us at baylor.edu/livingstories.
Search our collection of full transcripts available online.