They Made Their Own Law: Stories of Bolivar Peninsula, by Melanie Wiggins

They Made Their Own Law

I gave this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

We gave this book to my Dad in 2014, must have been a Father’s Day gift. After he finished it, he gave it to me to read.

This is a delightful book about a place in Texas that I had scarcely heard of before 2014. I knew there was a ferry that took people over to a place called “Crystal Beach,” just northeast of Galveston Island. Last year, we finally decided to take that ferry ride and found ourselves on the Bolivar Peninsula. There isn’t much on the Bolivar Peninsula. There are two roads. 87 runs the length of the peninsula, and on up into the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. 108 is a small square on the southwest end of the peninsula that connects with 87. That’s it. On the Google map, you see “Bolivar Peninsula,” “Caplen,” and “Goat Island.” There is also an old fort on the southwest end, right after you drive off of the ferry landing, called “Fort Travis.” We spent an hour or so, roaming around Fort Travis, during our last trip to Galveston. We probably only drove about halfway up the peninsula on that trip, stopping at Crystal Beach, which, to be honest, we were not terribly impressed with.

Melanie Wiggins has given us a book that does two things. The first half of the book is a well-detailed history of the peninsula, and the people who have lived there. There are some fantastic stories involving this area of Texas, some of which include the famous “privateer” (I always called them “pirates;” apparently, there is a slight difference), Jean Lafitte, who spent a great deal of time in that area. Stories abound of shipwrecks, intrigue, the building of lighthouses and railroads, and of course, storms. Oh, the storms. I’m already well familiar with the great hurricane of 1900. But it turns out that there was another big one in 1915, which was actually worse for Bolivar than the one in 1900. Pretty much the entire peninsula was under water after the 1915 storm. Both storms wrecked the railroad tracks that had been laid. Until the railroad was finally successful, there was no way to get from the peninsula to Galveston other than by boat.

The second half of the book is the most fascinating, in my opinion. In this section, Ms. Wiggins met with, and recorded interviews with, people who actually lived on the peninsula. With one exception, all of the stories in this half were verbatim transcripts of recorded interviews. The one exception was the first one, Louis George Hughes, who was already dead. Melanie used portions of his diary for his story. The stories are fascinating to me. Detailed accounts of hurricane survival, along with how people lived on the peninsula back in the early 20th century, take you back to a time when things were much simpler. People spoke of playing with seashells on the beach, pretending they were cattle and goats. They didn’t have toys. They didn’t have electricity until the 1930s, if I remember correctly.

Some of the stories are hilarious, some are heartwarming, all are lovely. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Texas history. And the next time I go to Galveston, I’m going back to that peninsula, and intend to drive the length of it to try to soak in some of that history.

TTFN, y’all!

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