When Galveston Bay Froze Over       

The winter of 1821 found Jane Long in tough spot.

Her husband, Dr. James Long, had run off with his band of merry men to conquer Texas.

That left Jane, her five year old daughter, Ann, a young slave girl named Kian, and a dog called Galveston as the only residents of a small mud fort, Fort Las Casas, on Bolivar peninsula.

The pirate Lafitte had just been forced from Campeche, his settlement on Galveston Island, by the United States Navy, and the Karankawas were returning to their old haunts.

Jane was also nine months pregnant.

Jane tried to make it seem that the fort was garrisoned, firing a small cannon when the Indians showed curiosity.


So as not to attract attention, Kian would gather oysters on the beach at night. This was often their only food and it wasn’t nearly enough. They were starving.

Then, to make it a perfect storm of misery, the mercury dropped and snow began to fall. But what seemed like a curse turned into a boon when the Galveston Bay froze over.

Kian, exploring the water’s edge noticed stunned fish beneath the ice. She and Jane cut a hole though the ice and pulled out enough fish to fill several empty mackerel barrels. That would sustain them until early 1822 when a group a settlers arrived at Fort Las Casas from the United States.

So, just how thick was the ice over the bay? Jane reported that while they were gathering fish, she saw a large bear walk across the frozen bay from the mainland to Galveston Island.

Given that a large black bear weighs at least 400 pounds and that this was brackish water, the ice had to be at least five inches thick.

Jane Long in later life

2 replies »

  1. Game wardens would have given them a ticket and confiscated their fish. You have to let the frozen fish rot by their law.