The Matagorda Maddens in the Texas Coastal Bend


Fred & "Willie" ("Billy") Madden

In the fall of 2013 I was looking through my old photos and found one of my grandfather Fred Madden and his brother "Willie" Madden that was taken on a visit to Port O’Connor, Texas in July 1952. The visit was one that my grandfather Fred, grandmother Dora and I made to see Uncle Willie on the Island sometime in the late 1950s.  From time to time we would leave Houston where we lived and make to trip down to the Texas coast to see him.  He happened to live on a little island in a shack that he had built for himself. (You can see it in the photo of granpa Fred and me in the skiff.) The island that he lived on was across the Gulf Intracostal Waterway from Port O’Connor. The waterway had been completed in 1949 and was dug primarily for barges to be able to travel along the Texas coast without being in open water.

This trip was not one of particular interest except that every time we visited Uncle Willie was an adventure for me. Grandpa would drive the car up to the side of the waterway and grandma would yell “Uncle Willie” as loud as she could so he could hear her on the other side. Willie would hear her and get in his skiff and motor across the waterway, pick us up and take us to his shack on the island. We would go in and sit for a couple of hours and talk to him about who knows what. I was always especially  intrigued with the rattlesnake rattles that he had nailed to the side of his cabin.

His cabin had one room that was divided into several areas. Grandpa, grandma and I sat on the bed that was on one side of the room and Willie would sit on a chair in front of us. In the cabin he had a table with the chair (I only remember one) and a cooking area. He also had his violin tied up on a hook or nail and lots of books lying around. I also remember a lantern sitting on the table and some cooking utensils here and there.  After an hour or so grandma would tell him we had to be getting back (she never liked to stay anywhere very long) and he would take us back over across the waterway and we would drive back home to Houston.

I didn’t think much about Uncle Willie most of the time, but when I was a teenager and was upset with something at home I would tell my mother that I would go live with Uncle Willie on the island if things didn’t go my way. (Of course I would have never done it!)

In September, 1961 I enrolled at Stephen F. Austin State College in Nacogdoches, Texas. It just so happened that on the day that I was to leave a hurricane was approaching the Texas coast. This was not unusual, but for safety sake I left a couple of days early to get to East Texas. On the way I could see the car headlights in a long line almost all the way up Hwy 59 from Houston to Nacogdoches.  (As an aside: while driving to Nacogdoches a meteor streaked through the sky lighting up the exceptionally dark night sky as if it were daylight! This was also reported by Dorothy G. Wilson in "Seadrift Memories" p. 114

"...We were on our way to the Victoria Barge Canal, almost to Green Lake when a large ball of fire streaked across the sky. It was so big; it lit up the whole sky. Mrs. Hamilton yelled as loud as she could, and Manma said 'the world is coming to an end.'"

To some I am sure is was a harbinger of things to come!

The next day I learned that eye of the storm, Carla, had hit the Texas coast at Port O’Connor. This was not unusual since Port O’Connor had a long history of being totally destroyed several times by hurricanes. Carla was particularly devastating.  Carla was catalogued as a Category 5 hurricane with winds clocked at 170 mph.  An 18.5 ft. high tidal surge swept over Port O’Connor. The result was a total destruction of the town.  Uncle Willie had no chance of survival on the little island!

This project began as a tribute to my great uncle Willie "Billy" Madden who lived alone on an island off Port O'Connor, Texas. As I discovered more information about him facts related to my relatives and their friends who live or had lived in the area were discovered. This website will be based on information gathered about the area and the many other people who were and continue to be involved in the communities on the Texas Gulf Coast.

I would like to hear from anyone who would like to contribute information, photographs, etc. to this project. You can send me information at the following web address:

Ken Bower

Eldorado Windy Farm, Santa Fe, New Mexico