Uncovering Lost History
Southwestern professor finds missing information about the 1921 flood in Williamson County
On Sept. 10, 1921, Williamson County awoke to the greatest natural disaster in its history. The remains of a powerful hurricane brought a deluge to central Texas and some cities received more than 38 inches of rain in 24 hours. The San Gabriel River overflowed its banks, flooding much of Georgetown and Taylor. At least 92 people in the county lost their lives.
While the flood is included in history books that have been written on the county, an important aspect of it has never been documented – until now. That aspect is how race and class affected who died in the flood.
“Like most natural disasters, the county’s poor suffered disproportionately,” said Erik Loomis, a former visiting professor of history at Southwestern. Loomis spent the summer of 2009 researching the flood. A sign based on his research was placed in San Gabriel Park this month. The sign was designed by 2010 graduate Carlos Barron.
Loomis received $2,000 for the project from a grant Southwestern received from 3M to do projects related to the San Gabriel River Trail.
Loomis said the white people who died in the flood were well documented but no one really knew who the minority people were. He believes many of them were recent migrants escaping the violence of the Mexican Revolution. They picked cotton on farms in the county and lived in tents and shacks near the river that got washed away when the river flooded.
Loomis researched Mexican-American newspapers that covered the flood to try and help fill in some of the pieces of the puzzle. In a Spanish-language paper called La Prensa that was published in San Antonio, he found an interview with an Hispanic woman named Procera Gonzalez who barely survived the flood.
“I felt horrible hits from all sides, and the current carried me like a feather,” she told the paper. “I went under and came up again: already my feet couldn’t touch the ground, and I didn’t know anything. Later, my husband has confirmed that I was dragged more than a mile, by a current more than 15 feet deep.”
Kimberly Griffin, a 2010 Spanish and environmental studies graduate, helped Loomis translate the newspaper articles. The sign has text in both English and Spanish.
Loomis said he is as proud of this sign as anything he has ever done as a historian.
“The population of Williamson County is changing and the Latino population needs their history told, too,” he said. “There is very little in the books or public history on Williamson County on non-whites. I’m glad to change that a tiny bit.”