Marker
Home ] Up ] Eulogy ] [ Marker ]

 

STATE HISTORICAL MARKER TO COMMEMORATE SCRAPPY KATE DORMAN

Mini-editorial by W. T. Block

See also Beaumont Enterprise, Aug. 18, 1974.

On August 16 at 10 AM, the Jefferson County Historical Commission will dedicate a Texas state marker in Sabine Pass Cemetery for Kate Dorman, the "Confederate heroine of Sabine Pass." Such occasions are especially noteworthy, since our state markers so rarely memorialize the pioneer women of Texas.

A native of Georgia, Kate married Arthur Magill in Columbus in 1844. They later moved to Sabine Pass about 1851, where she and her husband soon founded the Catfish Hotel, which had a wharf attached to it where steamboats could dock.

The diminutive Kate was only 4 feet, 10 inches, in height, but a later incident confirmed that she stood ten feet tall in bravery. And Kate Magill compensated for her lack of stature with sheer guts, determination, and an acidic tongue.

During the 1850's, Arthur Magill served as engineer aboard the mail packet T. J. Smith, while his wife ran the hotel. However, Magill was killed when the boat's boiler exploded in Nov., 1859, leaving his wife a widow with two small daughters. As a result, Kate soon married Capt. John Dorman, who was master of the Neches River cotton steamer, Doctor Massie.

Catherine Magill Dorman first proved her mettle in July, 1862, when a virulent yellow fever epidemic broke out at Sabine Pass. While hundreds of others fled, Kate Dorman turned the Catfish Hotel into a hospital, where she and two friends, Sarah Vosburg and Sarah Ann King, nursed hundreds of soldiers and civilians alike. In four months' time, 150 persons died of the "yellow jack," but the ladies remained to nurse the fever victims until the epidemic ended.

While the pestilence was still raging in Sept., 1862, Sabine Pass was captured by the Union Navy (who remained until Jan. 8, 1863). On Oct. 15, 1862, fifty U. S. Bluejackets came ashore with a 6-pound howitzer. While on a sortie to burn the Confederate cavalry barracks west of town, the Bluejackets took Kate Dorman's horse and cart to mount their howitzer on, an event well-documented in Houston Tri-Weekly Telegraph of Nov. 5, 1862, as follows:

"Mrs. Kate Dorman, who witnessed the act, became perfectly enraged, and being one of the bravest women in the Confederacy, gave them such a tongue-lashing as only a brave woman would dare do. She shook her fist at them, and told them she hoped our boys would kill the last one of them, and if she had 25 men, she would take them and their cannon with them.

"After the enemy retired to their gunboat, they gave Capt. Dorman his horse and cart back, and told him if he didn't keep his damned wife's mouth shut, they would hang him.....Mr. and Mrs. Dorman have a large hotel in the place, and the Yanks declare that if she does not apologize to them, they will burn it down....She declares that she will see them in the lower regions first, and they may burn it if they choose....."

A week later, another Union Navy patrol came ashore and burned one-fourth of Sabine Pass, including all its wood-working industries and several homes, but they left the Catfish Hotel alone. Perhaps they did not fancy another encounter with the Irish innkeeper with a dragon's hot breath.

On Sept. 8, 1863, the date of the Battle of Sabine Pass, Kate and Sarah Vosburg labored over a hot wood stove as they cooked a big meal. At the height of the bombardment, Kate hitched her horse once more to her cart, and she and Sarah delivered a large stew pot of meat, dozens of doughnuts, coffee, and a gallon of whiskey to the 47 Irish defenders in Fort Griffin.

By 1900, only two of the battle participants, Michael Carr and P. C. O'Hara, were still alive and living in the Confederate Home in Austin. Mrs. Margaret Watson, who had witnessed the battle from the second floor of the hotel, decided to raise funds through a newspaper so that the two old ex-Confederates would visit the remains of old Fort Griffin. As soon as Carr and O'Hara arrived in Sabine Pass, they exclaimed, "Where's kate? We want to see Kate!" But the little spitfire, who had stood so tall in bravery, was no longer there, having died 3 years earlier.

Of the many eulogies about Kate that had appeared in print, Mrs. Watson's account was certainly the most authentic and laudable, since the writer had roomed with Kate during much of the Civil War. Her comments are as follows:

"Though Kate now sleeps in the cemetery at the Pass, she lives forever in the hearts of these survivors (Carr and O'Hara). During the days of trials and privations of the Civil War, Mrs. Dorman stood strong and brave under every difficulty.....

"She was the friend of the private soldiers as well as the officers; she nursed them when sick, gave the best she had to feed them. She was always on hand in the hour of peril to express faith in their success, to give an enthusiastic welcome in their hour of victory....."

Certainly the scrappy Irish innkeeper truly won the sobriquet that she still wears today - "Confederate heroine of Sabine Pass."

Copyright 1998-2018 by W. T. Block. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, the material published on this site is copyrighted by William T. Block.
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WTBlock