Bass complex on San Jose Island
Barrier islands (Part 1) - When was San Jose Island settled?
By Pam Stranahan
Aransas County Historical Commision chair
The island of San Jose was named and mapped by the Spanish. Many Spanish ships sailed into Aransas Pass and Copano Bay as they built their missions in Texas.
In the 1840s a village called Aransas was established on the south end, bay side; later the town was known as St. Joseph. From 1851 to 1861 Captain Peter Johnson carried the U.S. mail from Indianola to Corpus Christi. Mail and passengers were transported by boat from Indianola to Saluria at Pass Cavallo. From Saluria they went overland by stage along Matagorda Island to Cedar Bayou where they crossed on a ferry. The route continued along the beach of St. Joseph’s Island to St. Joseph settlement. Lastly people and goods went by boat to Lamar, Copano, St. Mary’s, Aransas City and Corpus Christi. Johnson erected a two-story building on the bayside of St. Joseph’s. The ground floor was a warehouse and commissary. Upstairs was lodging for the family and passengers who waited for the stage or boat. Union forces destroyed this settlement in the 1860s. After the war, Captain Peter Johnson lived in Lamar and sold his schooner Frances to Captain Theodore (Charlie) Johnson who sailed it until 1898.
During the Mexican War campaign as troops were staged, the US flag was planted on the island by Gen. Zachary Taylor who later set up camp on north beach near Corpus Christi. A warehouse was built on St. Joseph for 1845 operations. A U.S. Light Station was built on the south end of San Jose in 1855. Families who lived on St. Joseph included Ballou, Benson, Bludworth, Brundrett, Clark, Collins, Johnson, Little, Mercer, Paul, Plummer, Roberts, Stephenson, Thompson and Wells. Dr. Joseph Austin Seward and his wife Eliza learned to dig shallow wells for fresh water.
During the Civil War the Confederates establish Camp Semmes on Mustang Island. Other fortifications were on Shell Bank Isle and Fort Washington (later Fort Esperanza) on Matagorda Island. In the spring 1862 the Union set a blockade along the Gulf of Mexico. They conducted raids on the islands and shelled the wharves and homesteads. By the summer of 1862 the island was deserted. Few families returned after the war.
Around the turn of the century, R.H. Wood and his sons, Tobias De Cantillion Wood and Will Welder Wood, established a ranch. In advance of the storm of 1919 Will crossed the bay with power boats and a cattle barge and transported all the ranch hands and families to the mainland. The storm wiped out R. H. Wood and sons – only 350 head of 6,400 head purebred Hereford were left. This loss was devastating to Wood and sons.
In 1922 Wood sold to Cyrus B. Lucas who in turn sold to Giesecke & Frost of San Antonio in 1930. In 1936 Sid Richardson of Fort Worth bought the island. Richardson ran 2,000 head of cattle, kept a hunting reserve, and built a landing strip. His nephew, Perry Bass who later inherited the island, built a house. In 1973 the name of the island was officially designated San Jose by the Texas Legislature.
To learn more about San Jose Island, view the “Barrier Islands” exhibit at the History Center for Aransas County, 801 E. Cedar St. You are invited to the exhibit opening on April 27, 10:00 AM. The Center is open on Saturday 10 AM– 4 PM and Sunday 1-4 PM. FMI call 361 727-9214 or visit www.thehistorycenterforaransascounty.org.