In the fall of 1918, the Bates’ family moved from Grand Bay, Alabama to Palacios, Texas. This family had been in the fish business in Grand Bay where they caught, processed, and shipped mullet to the East coast markets. They had heard Matagorda Bay had good fishing and decided to make their home in Palacios.
Fish and oysters were being caught and marketed out of Palacios and there were several fish houses but no harbors. The boats had to anchor in the bay. The only shrimp being brought into Palacios were bait shrimp and only a few people ate shrimp. They didn’t think they were good to eat. Ted Bates, Sr. knew shrimp were being caught and marketed back East, so in 1922, he ordered a shrimp trawl and boards from Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Mr. Charlie Place made the net and Mr. Bourge made the boards. In October 1922, Ted, Sr. took the “Helen B”, and went to Palacios Bayou and caught 1200 pounds of shrimp. He brought the shrimp back to Palacios and tied up at the East Bay Pier. At that time, it was known as the City Pier and had a T-head out on it, large enough to drive a team of mules and a wagon out on it. They barreled up 600 pounds and Mr. Lantram shipped them to Port Arthur. Ted, Sr. then went to town and told everyone that wanted some shrimp to come down to the pier and get all they wanted. After they gave away all they could, they went back out in the bay and shoveled the rest overboard. These were the biggest shrimp they had ever seen.
At this time, the fishermen didn’t know to head the shrimp, so when they arrived in Port Arthur the heads had turned black and the fish house refused to buy them. There was no one in Palacios at this time that knew how to make nets, so Ted, Sr. cut up a net to find out how it was made, and he then started making nets for the other fishermen. The Bates went back to fishing until Mr. Crawford who owned the local cannery became interested in canning shrimp. At that time he was canning figs, tomatoes, etc. Ted, Sr., Fred, Jr., and Mr. Crawford caught the train and went to Bayou La Batre, Alabama, around 1930 to look at a cannery owned by Marco Shemetta. Mr. Crawford reorganized the plant to can shrimp. However, he didn’t have a fleet of boats to bring in the shrimp so he asked several families to bring their boats from Alabama to Palacios to work for him. There are many of the descendants of these families still living in Palacios.
The cannery was a big success and employed many of the people in Palacios. Ted, Jr.’s mother, Alice, worked at the cannery and told how they would blow the factory whistle at 4:30 a.m. and the work started at 5:00 a.m. The workers headed the shrimp, peeled, and deveined them. They would fill large stainless buckets with the cleaned shrimp and were paid a dime a bucket. Work would finish at 2:00 p.m. so the crew could go to the docks and get ready to unload the shrimp boats, ice the shrimp, and have them ready to be processed the next day.
The first harbor in Palacios was dug in 1928 and was owned by the Palacios Shell and Cement Company. They had a shell crusher and used the oyster shells to make cement. Crawford Packing Company later bought the harbor. Turning Basin #1 was dug in 1940 and was an extension of Palacios Channel dug by the U.S. Corp of Engineers. Turning Basin #2 was dug in 1953 and #3 in 1982.
My dad, Ted Bates, Sr. was only seventeen years old when he caught and brought into Palacios, the first shrimp on the boat “Helen B”. This old boat was only 38 feet long, had a ten horsepower Lathrop engine, and had sails on her. Ted’s two brothers, Fred, Jr., was only fourteen, and Robert was thirteen. They spent the rest of their lives in the shrimping industry. The boats now are much larger, with lots of power and can freeze the catch on board ship. This enables them to stay out shrimping for long periods of time.
During the depression shrimp brought only one-half cent per pound and there was a 2000-pound limit per day. If you caught more than the limit, the shrimp were given to the cannery, but you were only paid for the 2000 pounds. As the demand increased they eventually went to one cent per pound the to 1 ½ cents.
Shrimping now has evolved into a $50,000,000. industry in Matagorda County. Palacios is home to the largest shrimping fleet on the Texas Coast.
Written by Ted Bates, Jr. as told to him
by his dad, Ted, Sr., and mother Alice.