Few spots have played a more exciting role in the life of Texas than Galveston Island.
Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer, wrote of the cannibalistic Karankawa Indians when he was shipwrecked here in 1528. The island became headquarters for Jean Lafitte and other adventurers between 1815 and 1821.
Importance of the harbor was recognized as early as 1825 when Stephen F. Austin petitioned the Mexican government to establish a port.
Galveston became temporary capital of the Republic in April, 1836, when President David G. Burnet fled here at the approach of Mexican Gen. Santa Anna. After the revolution Galveston's place as first city of the Republic became fixed. Immigrants poured through the port. The Texas Navy was berthed here. With statehood in 1845 came continued growth; Texas first telegraph (1854), first national bank (1865), first electric lights (1888).
Capture and recapture of Galveston were principal Texas engagements of the Civil War. The port fell to blockading Union troops Oct. 4, 1862. It was retaken Jan. 1, 1863, by Gen. John B. Magruder and remained in Confederate hands.
Galveston was again on the nation's lips Sept. 8, 1900, when a hurricane packing winds of 120 mph swept a vast tidal wave across the island, killing 5,000. No other American disaster has taken a greater toll. The storm had two immediate results — construction of a protective seawall 17 feet high and 7½ miles long and creation of a commission form of city government, an innovation that spread to other American municipalities.
The port remains one of the state's most important, handling more sulphur than any in the world. Important to sightseers and motorists are the toll-free ferries operated by the Texas Highway Department across the 2½-mile strait between the island and Port Bolivar.