Archeology Month 2: Cemeteries

Posted by : admin | On : October 28, 2011

By Peggy Smith
Henderson County Historical Commission

Don’t you just get so excited when you hear someone talking about the old family cemetery or get-togethers where they clean and repair cemeteries? As a young person I just thought those people needed to get a life. Now, I get excited when we get a few people together to go traipsing through cemeteries looking for relatives and famous individuals in the area. I grab my camera, pencil and paper, and water bottle.

Cemeteries are a necessity in life and many times they sit beside a church. When pioneers began to come to East Texas, they brought their faith and sometimes a preacher. This land was still untamed and settlements were far apart. Many came as Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Christian Church, and putting up a building for each small group was not something to be afforded. Many times different groups would meet in the same building but on different Sundays. Weddings and funerals were held at the church and the building was also used during the week for “schooling” young children.
Most church and cemetery land was donated by a leader in the church or a prominent person in the community that could afford to deed an acre or two as a meeting place and a place of rest for their loved ones. Some cemeteries were a corner marked off in family land and many of these have been lost to underbrush, stock roaming, and vandalism.

Before Texas was even a state, people were trying plant churches here. It was known that if you were to receive land you must become Catholic. This was in our agreement with Mexico. Missions were dotted all around Texas with small cemeteries. So many of these are gone now but the Texas Historical Commission is trying to find and preserve all cemeteries in the state.

Some cemeteries that have historical significance are the Foster Cemetery just inside Anderson County. It was named for William Foster who owned land there. His name was also given to the Masonic Lodge. This cemetery is also known as the first burial place of Cynthia Ann Parker. Her story is a tragic one. Her grandfather Daniel Parker brought a Baptist group to Texas in 1833. They were known as two-seed Baptist. That is another story. Cynthia Ann’s body was exhumed by people in the area at the request of her son Quannah Parker and taken to Oklahoma where it was laid to rest with remains of her daughter Prairie Flower who was buried just inside Van Zandt County in the Asbury Cemetery.

In Brownsboro there is the Norwegian Cemetery. The oldest grave there is Julie Tergerson dated 1871. The pioneers from Norway were instrumental in building Brownsboro. John Brown (Red) who was a Judge of Henderson was another who helped to build the town and is given credit for having the town named after him, though there will always be some controversy there. John Brown was buried in Athens. It is supposed to have been where the new stadium is now and his remains moved to the Athens Cemetery. Senator J.J. Faulk is also buried in the Athens Cemetery.

Judge Samuel Tine Owen was buried in the Davis Cemetery in 1856. He has many descendants in Henderson County.

The Jackson Prairie Cemetery was south of Cedar Creek Spillway but cannot be found now because it wasn’t protected from roaming livestock and vandalism. It is said some of the stones there were taken to block up houses or make steps.

The oldest grave I have found so far is in the King Cemetery, also known as the Aley Cemetery. Little Texana Gardner died at the age of 4 in 1852. Elizabeth Smith has been enumerated in the Smith Cemetery with a death of 1850 but is only marked with a stone.

Many pioneers are buried in the Dabbs Cemetery in Anderson County and in Cherokee County the Killough Monument tells a sad tale of the massacre of the Killough, Wood, and Williams families in 1838.

Many of these tombstones are a wealth of information. They tell names of loved ones and sometimes even nicknames. Birth and death dates and sometimes even marriage dates. They sometimes tell organizations family belonged to such as the Masonic Lodge or Woodmen of the World. They may have loving phrases such as “here lies our little Angel” or, as the tombstone of Samuel Wylie in Foster Cemetery-”In Memory of Pap and Mother lie here together side by side.” In Asbury Cemetery is Jarushie, wife of S.M. Jackson. Her tombstone reads “Rest Mother Rest In Quiet Sleep, While Friends In Sorrow O’r Thee Weep.”

These are just a few of many, many hidden treasures you can find with an afternoon stroll through a nearby cemetery. Check with the Henderson County Historical Commission for Cemeteries in the area and transcriptions that have already been done. It can direct you to your loved one. But I enjoy a stroll through a cemetery and have taken my mother with me on many walks. Just remember to watch for fire ants and grassburs; they like cemeteries also.

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