Universally preserving connections to the past, cemeteries & graveyards provide places of enduring remembrance in the Heart of Texas
In blunt and unyielding reality, cemeteries and graveyards represent the mystery and outrage of mortality as we all face the fact that, like it or not, we’re all going to die – everyone that has come before, all that stand before us and all that will come in the future. As we walk among tombstones, although we may accept death as an inevitably fact, it remains an issue humanity will struggle with for an eternity.
Sometimes, visiting a graveyard can become a part of vacationers sightseeing itinerary – going to see beautiful old, cemeteries shaded by ancient trees, where famous people lie buried with elaborate mausoleums or tombstones.
Perhaps the most star-studded cemetery of them all, is Paris’ Cimitière du Père Lachaise, a where you can be inspired by the ghostly presence of Jim Morrison, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin, Camille Pissaro, Georges Seurat, Amedeo Modigliani, Eugène Delacroix, Molière and Edith Piaf
Or movie buffs that visit the Lafayette cemetery in New Orleans because it has been featured in several films or the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to visit the graves of the vintage movie greats like Cecil B. DeMille, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Rudolph Valentino and Mel Blanc.
Military cemeteries whether in the United States or in Normandy are often part of the tours people make, to honor those who sacrificed the ultimate for our freedom. And no place in the world represents this more than Arlington National Cemetery, located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., where the fallen of our nation's conflicts have been buried, beginning with the Civil War, as well as re-interred dead from earlier wars.
But right here in the Heart of Texas, without being ghoulish or sad, visiting a local cemetery can be a special and strangely educational experience.
What makes a cemetery special? They are a touchstone, so to speak; a way to connect with loved ones and friends that have passed. They can be a memorial, a place set aside to honor the memory of special people in our lives. One sad grave – a lamb on the marker, the date of birth and death just months apart - may be the only reminder of a life lived on this earth. And tombstones can be a valuable genealogical resource, helping those researching their family history and ancestry.
Besides being touching, tombstones reveal whether the deceased were mother or father, when and where they were born. Data obtained from gravesites can be immensely varied; for instance you can learn what area the deceased lived near, someone’s religion, an armed service history, whether they were part of a society or union, a profession.
In the Womack area, several headstones are written in German, indicative of the heritage in that part of the county. On the western side of the Bosque River, more Norwegian names and inscriptions will be found.
I discovered an entire family once, with all graves surrounded by a concrete border. Several small children’s stones were inscribed with “yellow fever” on the bottom. After checking all the dates of death, a sad fact was established. The mother, who had a husband and ten children, had outlived them all. This one woman had experienced the Civil War, a great depression, different epidemics, two world wars, and the grief of burying her entire family.
Besides the factual information, the sheer presence of a tombstone speaks volumes. Some are elaborate, such as Texas Ranger Buck Barry’s carved lamb atop a huge pedestal, some are simple rocks.
At the Fulton Cemetery, a headstone without inscription, in the form of a peanut makes you wonder what lies buried there.
Many gravestones have Bible scripture or beautiful poetry; some simply state, “Not dead, but sleeping” or “Asleep in Jesus,” or “Known only to God,” in the case of an unidentified grave.
Located in Spring Creek is a rock that marks the grave of Belle Barton Rosing, who died in a tragic auto accident at the age of forty. A beautiful dark granite rock has her name carved in it and the image of a spider. Bosque Historical Commission members Allen and Betty Johannes were curious about the spider and investigated. Belle was a master Navajo-style weaver, and the spider – nature’s master weaver - is the symbol of a weaver. This goes back to the Greek weaver Arachne, who challenged Athena to a contest. Athena lost, but in revenge turned Arachne into an eight-legged creature.
In 1983, the Bosque County Historical Committee began a survey of Bosque County cemeteries, including single graves. The volunteers did an incredible job locating and documenting every grave known. With several cemeteries on private property, completely overgrown by years of neglect, that was not always an easy task. These discoveries are preserved in two huge volumes, housed in the Bosque Collection and a copy in the Bosque County clerk’s office.
In 2002, another committee surveyed and documented where county veterans were buried.
The BCHC works under the recommendations of the Texas Historical Commission, who are urging counties to make current updates of all cemeteries. Cemeteries inside towns and communities, or attached to rural churches are easier to document, as most have public access. There are twenty- five documented public access cemeteries in Bosque County, such as Clifton, Kopperl, Oak Grove, Riverside and Morgan.
However, Bosque County is rural, and many plots are smack dab in the middle of ranches which today might not be owned by original family members. Cedron Cemetery is an open access or public cemetery, but is located on a large ranch. The ranch owner wanted to close the public access road to the cemetery, however family members fought back. Fortunately, the owner and family came to an agreement, and the owner graciously repaired the road and fence and keeps it maintained. Not all access issues come to such a beneficial end.
In 1950, when Lake Whitney was impounded, several cemeteries inside the flood plain had to be moved. Walling Bend and Schuler cemeteries were moved to Whitney Memorial. Kimball Cemetery was moved two miles south, now located on Hwy. 174. Powell and Allen Bend cemeteries were moved to Kopperl. Unfortunately, some ex-slave graves were lost due to neglect or lack of access
Land for the original Kimball Cemetery was donated by Jose and Rebecca De Cordova. The De Cordovas were instrumental in developing the northern area along the Brazos River. Jose and Rebecca were moved from the Kimball Cemetery in 1938 to the State Cemetery in honor of their influence on the growth of early Texas.
Jose was “the man who sold Texas.” He travelled all over the United States and even England, singing the praises of the cheap, fertile and abundant land in Texas. He served as land agent for New York based attorney Richard Kimball, who purchased over 14,000 acres. Three other settlers were influenced to come to Texas from New York. Samuel S. Nichols bought much land in the Morgan area along Steele Creek.
The others were brothers, two attorneys who settled in Meridian. Samuel and Henry Fossett became well respected and valuable members of the community. Henry Fossett developed East Meridian, which was meant to boom when the railroad came. He served as interim County Judge from 1858 to 1860.
Henry donated land for a small family burial plot, with about twelve graves. Through the years the property has changed hands, and the little cemetery was split, with the graves on different land owner’s property.
The Fossett Family Cemetery has some of the unique problems that can happen to a cemetery on private land. When the land was sold the boundary lines divided the cemetery. Private land owners for one half have granted permission for fencing and clean up; however owners of the other half will not grant permission. The Fossett family has applied for an historical designation. This will help protect the land that they have access for.
The Womack-White Cemetery Association was more fortunate. The private land owners on which the cemetery rests were extremely helpful, allowing easement, helping with fencing and repairing tombstones that had fallen and cracked. The marker unveiling was quite a celebration, with over one hundred in attendance. Two graves were honored by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and several graves were honored by the Sons of the Confederacy, which received a gun salute followed by the firing of a cannon.
Ninety- eight rural cemeteries or single graves on private land have been verified. Since private property rights are important, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain permission to survey or visit these.
Captain Jack Cureton owned the land that is now Flat Top Ranch. He chose a beautiful overlook on top of the mountain for his family burial plot. Charles Petitt and Louis Beecherl, jr. late owners of the ranch were aware of the historical value of this spot and make special arrangements for the care and upkeep of these graves. Now cow herds peacefully grazing around the fenced in graves.
Hanna Cemetery has an interesting beginning. The land was owned by John Hanna who served as third Bosque County sheriff. In 1858, a Comanche County man named Peter Johnson was headed to Waco for supplies and to have his corn ground. He travelled with his eight -year- old son. Raiding Indians attacked the wagon, brutally killing Johnson. The son escaped and wondered around naked until a Texas Ranger discovered him. He led the Ranger to the wagon, and Johnson’s body was taken to the sheriff’s office. The boy was returned home, but his father’s remains were in such a state as to require immediate interment. John Hanna volunteered to bury him on his property, which was the birth of Hanna Cemetery.
Daniel Morgan was the earliest to settle in the Rural Grove - also known as the Footout - area. As more families moved in, Morgan saw the need for a public burial plot, so he donated land for this purpose. When the Morgan family moved the land was sold to the Fulton family, including the plot set aside for burials. The cemetery name later was changed from Morgan to Fulton. The Morgan and Fulton families formed an association to ensure the protection of their heritage.
In another humanitarian act, C. A. Mitchelll of Iredell, donated land to Bosque County “for citizens of Iredell who cannot buy a plot for burial.”
Around 1853, the Gary family moved to Bosque County, along current Hwy 6. William Gary was one of the Locating Commissioners. He had sons Isaac, Mathias, Govy and Andrew Jackson. All were early leaders in the new county. William Gary died in 1855 and was buried on the family property, and the land was set aside as a cemetery. His grave is most likely the oldest in the new county of Bosque. Neighbors were allowed to use the burial plot. The Gary Cemetery was one of the first to receive a historic designation. It is located behind Clifton Cattle Company.
Some interesting graves in Bosque County are:
The Father of Norwegian immigration to Texas, Cleng Peerson at the Our Savior’s Lutheran Cemetery, Veteran of The Battle of San Jacinto and Texas Ranger William Berry Smith lies buried in Smith-Pitts; Another veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto Roden T. Crane is buried in Valley Mills; special ranger attached to the Santa Fe Expedition Thomas Hunt rests in peace at the Kopperl cemetery; John Dees, trail boss on Chisholm Trail who was shot and killed by a cowboy was buried on Greenwade Ranch property; Gideon Jones, thrown by a horse on the Chisholm Trail, lies buried in Davis Cemetery; Cowboy Pete, another Chisholm Trail cowboy, was buried on private property; unknown little girl who died in a covered wagon, buried on the side of the road near Walnut Springs.
Cemeteries that are split by county lines or are in other counties, but are used by both counties are McCullough, Goodall, Post Oak, R. B. Camp Ranch, and Rock Springs.
In the 1870’s, the state of Texas ordered the boundary between Hamilton and Bosque to be resurveyed. The state then ordered Bosque County to give up land to Hamilton. Bosque County sued the state, but lost and had to resurvey and correct the boundary, losing land from Erath to Coryell County. The early town of Cranfills Gap was already established on this land, including the cemetery. The post office and many other buildings were moved, but the cemetery was left in Hamilton County.
Cemeteries are protected by law and these laws may be found on the THC’s website.
The THC has recently changed the way cemeteries can be honored and preserved. Firstly, the organization wants to know that there is a group to be responsible for the maintenance; this requires an association be organized and their charter be filed with the county clerk. The association then may file an application including a history with proofs and a deed. The cemetery must be in use fifty years or more. After approval, the cemetery is awarded as a Texas Designated Cemetery.
This recognition by law as a historical site gives a cemetery association rights to care for and preserve the cemetery, especially when on private land. An historical marker can then be applied for.
Cemeteries which have been awarded historical markers are Scrutchfield, Barry, Womack-White, Fuller, and recently the new Valley Mills cemetery.
The Scrutchfield Cemetery has graves of some of the earliest county settlers, many who were instrumental in the formation of the county. The first county judge, Lowry Hampton Scrutchfield is buried here.
Each of the cemetery associations realizes the importance of honoring and preserving family and community history through a cemetery designation and a historical marker and will go through the paperwork, red tape and extensive application requirements, including geomapping of the sites.
So next time you’re cruising the beautiful Bosque County country side and pass a cemetery, why not stop, breath in the peace there and read an inscription or two, even if they are not from family or friends. Just connect with past souls, think of the time period the deceased lived in, and feel grateful to be alive until your time on this earthly realm is done.
RUTH CRAWFORD is a regular historical contributor to ChisholmCountry.com. She currently serves as the Bosque Historical Commission archivist and formerly worked as the manager of Bosque Collection in Meridian until her retirement.
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of BOSQUE COLLECTION
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