History remembered at Fort Travis on Easter

The vibrant celebration of Easter is a highlight of the church year, and for Christians the world over, this day is special on so many levels. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus after being crucified on a wooden cross for the sins of believers is significant and the key tenant to which their faith is tied. Almost every church celebrates in some fashion, and folks the world over gather to share this victorious day together.

The worshippers of the Bolivar Peninsula gathered in three major places to celebrate Easter 2011. A group from the community of High Island met at the large wooden cross erected on the beach at the eastern end of the peninsula and shared music and message.

Another group met on Crystal Beach at East Road, where favorite and much loved Church of Christ Pastor Jerry Valentine conducted the celebration, along with others from the churches of this area of the peninsula. This particular sunrise service is in its 23rd year, and is generally sponsored by the Ministerial Alliance of the Bolivar Peninsula.A third and vibrant service was held this year on the grounds of historic Fort Travis on the western end of the peninsula, and by all accounts, the event was spectacular. More than 100 people gathered to celebrate Easter. The men of the community had erected three wooden crosses, a large one in the center, with two smaller ones on each side. The crosses were seen against a backdrop of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico with the huge lighted ships in the distance. One could see the Gulf, the beach, the North Jetty and Galveston Island on the horizon.

The Bolivar Peninsula has a long and rich history of fortifications, and many of them were built first on the site of Fort Treasure Seashore Park. As early as 1816, Frances Xavier Mina, while on an expedition for Spain, constructed an earthen levee to protect himself and his men from the Karankawa Indians. In 1818, Dr. James Long, his wife, Jane, a former debutante from Natchez, Miss., and 300 troops came to help free Texas from Spain. Long established his base of operations at Port Bolivar in 1820. He wished to secure the services of the famed Jean Lafitte who occupied Galveston Island, but Lafitte would not help. He had given verbal allegiance to Spain, Mexico and the United States but carefully remained aloof to any plan that would curtail his pirate adventures.

Long left his beautiful wife, Jane, their daughter, a maid and a few men to guard the fort while he set out to capture Presidio La Bahia. The winter of 1821 was bitter, and much of the protection left. Jane Long fired a cannon every morning to let Galveston know the fort was still defended. During the time Jane, age 20, was defending the fort, she was expecting the couple’s third child. During a very cold December, the food ran out completely, a storm raged, the maid became delirious from an illness, and Jane delivered her own child, whom she named Mary. It is said that Mary is the first child of English descent to be born in Texas.

During the Civil War, the fortification on Bolivar Point was called Fort Green by the Confederate soldiers who defended it. Construction on the present Fort Travis was started in 1898. The work was completed in 1899. The fort suffered heavy damage during the Great Storm of 1900 and repairs include the present 15-foot seawall around the fort. During World War II, Fort Travis garrisoned troops defending the busy Port of Galveston. In 1942, the fort was enlarged and 2,500 troops were stationed there. Several sizes of guns were installed, from anti-aircraft up to 16-inch long-range rifles. When the war ended, Fort Travis was declared a “surplus property,” dismantled, and in 1949 sold to private interests. The 60-acre park was acquired through a Moody Foundation grant in 1976 and is operated by Galveston County Beach and Parks Department.

Today, this beautiful park includes the seawall, broad grassy areas, oleanders, winding roads, well-equipped play areas, picnic tables, barbecue grills and the bunkers of old. Cabanas and campsites are available for rental. Old Fort Travis has provided shelter from the storms that have ravaged the peninsula, and many tell tall tales of riding out the storms at the fort with their animals and vehicles, including lawn mowers, RVs, trailers and anything else of value they can transport to the higher ground. From the vantage point of the fort, one can watch the ships as they navigate the Bolivar Roads or enjoy some excellent fishing and playtime.

The churches of the Port Bolivar community, including the Baptists, Methodists and Catholics, decided that it would be fitting to conduct a Easter sunrise service on these hallowed grounds and old World War II Bunker No. 236 provided the backdrop. Guests commented on how very much the bunker with its rusted bronze doors appeared to look like the tombs of the Holy Land. Beautifully landscaped grounds provided excellent parking, wonderful seating and an opportune view of the Gulf of Mexico, the ships in the channel on their way to and from exotic places, and Galveston Island in the distant horizon.

The sky was black as pitch as the first of the early worshippers arrived, but as the morning wore on, God Himself painted the sky with such amazing works of beauty such that all marveled at what a perfect spot it was to celebrate this special day. Students from Crenshaw, High Island, and Ball High School added to the program’s content, Father Christopher Terry brought the invocation and Pastor Dennis Allen brought the Easter message. Ted Henley acted as host and master of ceremonies and Jerrie Bouse served as music director. The entire group was invited to share a picnic style breakfast following the event.

Brenda Cannon Henley is an award-winning journalist and writer living on the Southeast Texas Gulf Coast. Having enjoyed more than four decades in ministry, Brenda shares her columns with our readers and works with churches and faith-based programs nationwide. She can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com