Tombstone History

Tombstones, especially military ones, are great ways to trace histrory. And the history from the tombstone needn’t be a family member, either – sometimes, getting to know strangers from their past life is just as interesting. Plus, the dead don’t engage in awkward small talk, so there’s that.

Bonham

This tombstone for Alvin Reeves is located in the African American portion of a cemetery in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. Alvin Reeves served as the bugler for the 815th pioneer infantry. This unit was trained in Kansas and was sent to France in 1918. He may have stayed until 1919, which is when most troops turned home.

The United States entered World War I in 1917 because the British intercepted a coded telegram from Germany containing the message that if Mexico kept the US occupied in a war with German help, Mexico would retrieve the lands they lost in the Mexican cession (1848)… plus Texas.

WWI was called “The Great War” before anyone knew there’d be a WWII. It was the first war to institute a nation-wide draft. The U.S. introduced the selective service system to make the draft fairer than previous ones, when a draftee could pay his way out of service if he was rich enough.

African American soldiers were also drafted, of course. They served in segregated regiments. Initially engaged as support personnel, their tasks including building camps and posts for the U.S. army as it began to enter France. Some soldiers stayed in France rather than returning home to the U.S., especially if they were from the South. Knowledge and fear of several horrific lynching and other violent events – like the 1916 “Waco Horror” and the 1919 mass murder of sharecroppers in Elaine, Arkansas – made the transition quite easy. The majority of French had no segregation laws and did not treat African Americans as racially inferior… they simply saw the men as “les Americains” and demonstrated their gratitude towards the soldiers.

I read that the American infantry units introduced many a Frenchman to baseball and jazz music. I also read that American soldiers did not care much for French food. The French and English soldiers were amazed that American soldiers tended to be less precise in their dress code, but very respectful of private property. According to local accounts, the American were in constant search to buy “souvenirs and other trinkets to bring home.”

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Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lone Grave

Along a county road in Jackson County, Oklahoma, lies the lonesome grave of Joel Moseley, 1846-1890.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 2

Mr. Moseley was born in Georgia and, at one point, made his way to Texas. He died when Jackson County (organized in 1907) was still part of Greer County, Texas until the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the land between the North Fork and the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River belonged to Oklahoma Territory.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 4

Mr. Moseley may have died on a cattle drive (if it was a long distance cattle drive, it would have been the Great Western or Dodge City trail). He was buried along the trail, as the nearest cemetery was ten miles away.

Locals knew about the grave, which was ringed with native stones and featured the granite headstone placed by his daughter, a Texas school teacher. They became concerned when the land surrounding it began to erode, so the county commissioner and his crew encased Mr. Moseley’s resting place in concrete along a culvert to keep him where he belongs.

I stumbled upon the grave when I was driving out to the old Aaron school, and found the information above from Find a Grave.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school 5

The Aaron school in Jackson County, Oklahoma (near Altus).

The prairie is full of surprises.

Published in: on February 4, 2018 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Muriel Wright, Oklahoma Historian

Map

Boggy Depot Plan numbers Depot Muriel Wright 1927
1. Gov. Allen Wright’s residence.
2. John. Kingsbury residence.
3. House built by Mr. Lore (cobbler).
4-5. Wood shop and residence of A. J. Martin.
6. Dr. T. J. Bond’s residence.
7. Store of Reuben Wright—later store of Edward Dwight.
8. Temporary schoolhouse (hewed logs)—later Aunt Lou’s bakery,
9. Apothecary shop.
10. Joseph J. Phillips’ store.
11. Mr. Maurer’s blacksmith shop.
12. Mr. Maurer’s residence.
13. Miss Mary Chiffey’s residence.
14. Brick Church—Hospital during the War.
15. Livery Barn.
16. J. J. Phillips’ residence.
17. James Riley’s residence.
18. Old graves.
19. Dr. Moore’s residence.
20. Barn for Stage Coach Company.
21. Capt. G. B. Hester & John Kingsbury store.
22. Dr. Bond’s office.
Page 17
23. Store of Mr. Ford.
24. Barn for Hotel
25. Tom Brown’s blacksmith shop.
26. Capt. Charles LeFlore’s residence.
27. Col. Wm. R. Guy’s Hotel.
28. Old graves.
29. Capt. G. B. Hester’s residence.
30 New schoolhouse.
31. New Church—upper floor used by Masonic Lodge.

In 1927, Muriel H. Wright, a teacher and one of Oklahoma’s most detailed historians, mapped Boggy Depot (Atoka County, Oklahoma) from memories collected by her, her family, and other inhabitants. Today, Boggy Depot is a state park managed by the Choctaws, and the outline of the town is barely discernible.

Muriel Wright was the granddaughter of Rev. Allen Wright, principal chief of the Choctaw Nation from 1866 to 1870. She was born in Lehigh, Coal County, in 1889. Due to her prolific writing and research, she was one of the first people inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

current view

Current view of Boggy Depot. Not much there anymore!

The Boggy Depot cemetery is a treasure trove of Indian Territory history – graves include Choctaw and Chickasaw nation citizens. While none of the town’s buildings exist anymore, the outlines are still discernible if you don’t mind taking a walk. The Butterfield Overland Stagecoach made a stop at Boggy Depot before the Civil War, and if you squint, you can still make out ruts. On my sojourns through this very historic area, I did find a remnant of old Boggy Depot – a daubed log cabin, surrounded (and protected) by later additions.

cabin

If this daubed log cabin could talk, it would remember Boggy Depot when it was still inhabited. Between the state park and Atoka on Boggy Depot Road, Atoka County, Oklahoma.

ruts

Ruts from the Butterfield stage coach line are fairly discernible. (Boggy Depot, Atoka County, Oklahoma).

tombstone

D. J. Hendrickson
was born in Dekalb
Co., Tenn. Age 31 Yrs.
Killed Feb. 26, 1864
Co. E 20th T.D.C. Regt.
I am learning from my searches that T.D.C. might mean “Texas Dismounted Cavalry.”
20th (TEXAS) Cavalry Regiment, recruited in Hill County, TX, was organized during the spring of 1862 with about 850 officers and men. The unit was assigned to Cooper’s and Gano’s Brigade, Trans-Mississippi Department, and primarily confronted Federals in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma, VR) It was included in the surrender of the Indian troops at Doaksville on June 23, 1865. The field officers were Col. Thomas C. Bass, Lt Col Andrew J. Fowler and T.D. Taliaferro, and Majors Dempsey W. Broughton and John R. Johnson. (From Joseph H. Crute, Units of the Confederate States Army), p. 336

Published in: on February 2, 2018 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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A complaint about access

Indulge me for a moment while I vent a consistent frustration of mine… and probably one experienced by historians (professional and lay alike) everywhere.

This past weekend, I took a trip up to Oklahoma to see if I could spot the remains of historically significant sites. Specifically, I was seeking the Oklahoma historical marker, placed in 1958, for Nail’s Crossing, a stage stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail and Stagecoach route. I was also seeking the possible remains of the Wapanucka Academy, a boarding school established for Chickasaw girls before the Civil War. During the war, the school acted as a temporary hospital.

Wapanucka academy possible ruin

I’m not saying this aerial image (from Google Maps) depicts the old Wapanucka Aademy site; I’m just saying I’d like to have the opportunity to find out.

I was thwarted in my endeavors on both accounts. For one, there were no posted indications at all that anything historic was in their respective vicinities. Not only that, but when attempted to access the places after my careful research to pinpoint their locations, I was met with “no trespassing” signs. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like getting shot, so I heeded the warnings and left the road trip “empty handed.” I was disappointed, to say the least – especially because Google Maps indicated that these sites were, in fact, close to country lanes. These roads no doubt have been taken over by land owners and are now considered private.

Nails Crossing possible site

Notice how Google Maps has Nail’s Crossing Road going all the way to the Blue River? Well, access is restricted past the last driveways on both the southeast and northwest sides. The red circle is where, I surmise, the crossing took place. A bridge was erected there before the Civil War.

It bothers me greatly that important historic are tucked away for only a select few to access. For example  rivers (and their shorelines) and cemeteries are both considered public lands. Yet consistently, I find my access to both restricted. I cannot access the Nail family cemetery at the Blue River, nor the Colbert family cemetery near the old ferry crossing and toll bridge on the Red River. Just getting down to the Red River beyond the obvious access points is a feat in itself.

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The old Nail’s Crossing road can no longer be traversed.

While I love Oklahoma, I must point out that this state is particularly bad about historic site preservation and access. Although mid-century historical committees urged restoration and upkeep of historical sites and continued placement of historical markers, often their advice was not heeded. Instead, the intrepid explorer continually finds herself having to use historical maps and anecdotes to find sites that have been already surveyed and documented previously. The land owners that allowed access to one group may restrict further attempts at visitation, or the descendants/new owners are simply not interested. While I do not mind the research I invest in finding the sites, I do mind that I cannot visit their physical remains.

Nails crossing what the committee wanted to do

http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles/v036/v036p446.pdf

Here’s a description of what the historical committee recommended for Nail’s Crossing in 1958. Nothing came to fruition, however. To read more about the 1958 effort to document the Butterfield Overland Mail & Stagecoach route in Oklahoma, read this.

History should be as readily accessible and as much documented as possible. It helps the academic, the genealogist, and the community, as historic properties can bring tourist dollars and lend prestige to an area.

And, it helps me. Who wouldn’t want that?

Death Divided

I love strolling through cemeteries – the older and more overgrown, the better, of course. I’m not particularly ghoulish, though. I just enjoy the underlying history that cemeteries provide. Some of that history is relayed in tomb stones and monuments. Often, however, the history is contained beneath more subtle contexts: the layout of the stones, the level of ruin within the cemetery, the innocuous placing of a fence…

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See that fence in the background? It denotes the racial divide at Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Ladonia, Fannin County, Texas.

… that’s right – the South, which my website Red River Historian documents, still contains the remnants of segregation inside many of its cemeteries. Because even in death, the powers that be insisted that races had to remain separated.

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The cemetery in the ghost town of Cannon (Grayson County, Texas) became segregated after the Civil War. The segregation was denoted through a road that divided the two burial grounds, which is visible in the background. Before the war, enslaved people were sometimes interred with their white masters, but their graves were marked with wooden stakes. After the war, the first African American burials were also marked with wooden markers.

In the pre-Civil War period, segregated burial places were not needed, as blacks – most of whom were enslaved – were either buried without so much as a tomb stone, or were interred amongst their masters. There were some designated “slave cemeteries” in a few select locations – such as near large plantations or in the cities – but most of these burial places are no longer visible, as time, neglect, and outright disrespect have taken their toll on them.

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A wooden marker, most likely for an enlsaved person, at Kentuckytown Cemetery (Grayson County, Texas).

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This enslaved woman was interred with the white family at Vittetoe Cemetery (Grayson County). However, her tomb does not commemorate her name – it simply denotes what she was to those who owned her.

The few free people of color often confined their cemeteries within their church yards, such as St. Augustine Church near Natchitoches, Louisiana.

st augustine church grave

A brick tomb at St. Augustine Church cemetery, which was founded by Creole families in the early 19th century, in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.

In the period after the Civil War, which historians call “reconstruction,” Southern whites were unwilling to see their former slaves as equals. Cities and communities set aside portions of burial grounds for blacks, but these “Negro Cemeteries” (often deemed “Freedman Cemeteries”) were completely separated, usually by fences, or hedges, or pathways. With little money for upkeep and many African American families leaving the South due to racial violence and economic discrimination, their cemeteries became less maintained. Eventually, many of these boneyards were razed by construction projects or were just simply ignored.

Dallas Greenwood Cemetery Sanborn

The “Negro Cemetery” near Central Expressway in the State-Thomas area of Dallas was bulldozed in the 1960s to make way for the expansion of US 75.

History is lost this way. Of course, that may have been the reason behind the neglect and disregard.

Yet, especially in smaller communities, the “Negro Cemeteries” are still extant and active. Black cemeteries are extremely interesting to me, as their very existence lends an aura of defiance against the southern U.S. social structure. Though the tombs may not be as elaborate as those designed for affluent whites, black graves are just as loud – they serve as the final and eternal stamp on the world, indicating that the person buried there mattered as much as any other man or woman.

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While simple, this grave of a black man in Tatums, Carter County, Oklahoma, makes sure to commemorate the person interred within. Tatums is one of Oklahoma’s historical all-black towns.

I plan on visiting and documenting many more black cemeteries. The southern, segregated graveyard is a fascinating aspect of history that tells a lot about not only the people interred there, but about the community in which they’re buried.

Other Stuff That’s Good About Dallas

The new issue of D Magazine posits 119 reasons why it loves Dallas. Some of the reasons were a little on lopsided – for example, the article gives 6 points to Jimmy’s Food Store, an Italian grocery market. Then, it counts 39 reasons in the form of celebrities who used to live here. And for some reason, D Magazine claims that Dallas is the “Hollywood of Reality TV.” Is that really a reason to love Dallas, or to snicker at its wanna-bes?

All in all, though, it was a good list. I give it a lot of points for mentioning Jack Kilby (the inventor of the microchip), and for paying tribute to the Longhorn Ballroom. There is one GLARING omission, however – it said nothing of Dallas’ history, architecture, events, etc. So, I thought I’d write a little something on reasons I love Dallas, with photos, of course.

#1 – The Old Pioneer’s Cemetery in Downtown Dallas.

A wire-wrapped crib for the deceased Annie at the Pioneer Cemetery in downtown Dallas.

A wire-wrapped crib for the deceased Annie at the Pioneer Cemetery in downtown Dallas.

You can get an eerie feeling upon seeing this neglected cemetery. Sitting in the middle of some of Dallas’ most prominent structures, the cemetery seems to call out from a more peaceful, simpler time. But with planes droning overhead and trucks thundering across the freeway in the distance, “restful” doesn’t readily come readily to mind here. But I’m not sure the current residents of the cemetery would mind the noise much. After all, they constitute Dallas’ early civic leaders, business people, and benefactors, such as  Sarah Cockrell, James Latimer, and many members of the Stemmons family, for whom Interstate 35 E is named after. Because the Convention Center, City Hall, and other businesses threatened to encroach on the cemetery – the Santa Fe railroad had cleared several graves in the early 20th century to make way for railroad tracks – Frances James of the Dallas Historical Society worked very hard to make this cemetery a city landmark. Mrs. James is the reason for the next entry, actually.

#2 – Dallas Historical Society Tours

Mrs. James conducts the cemetery tours for the Dallas Historical Society. When I went on the tour, we visited the Freedman’s Cemetery in the State Thomas Neighborhood, and we also found the graves of the Millermoore family and their slaves in a backyard in South Dallas. John Neal Phillips, author of Running with Bonnie and Clyde: The Ten Fast Years of Ralph Fults, conducts the Bonnie and Clyde Tour every May. Ken Holmes offers tours on fun Dallas history and the Kennedy Assassination.  The incomparable Rosemary Rumbly weds hilarity and history in her tours of Oak Cliff. The tours are very cheap – roughly $45 per person, and includes transportation and a meal – you can’t beat that! By the way, the Millermoore plantation house, built in the Greek revival style and supposedly haunted, now sits at the wonderful Dallas Heritage Village, which is reason #3 why I love Dallas.

#3 – Dallas Heritage Village, especially “Candle Light” in December

The Millermoore mansion at Dallas Heritage Village.

The Millermoore mansion at Dallas Heritage Village.

An outdoor museum built on the site of Dallas’ first city park, entering the Dallas Heritage Village is like taking a step back in time. The buildings show not only a time line of Dallas’ historical occupation, but also demonstrate the diversity of the city. The most lovely event of the year, however, is reserved for December. The park is lit up with candles, carolers make their rounds, hot Dr. Pepper and popcorn are served. Each house is open to demonstrate different traditions – a pioneer Christmas in the 1850’s dog-trot farm; Chanuka preperations in the colorful Queen Anne house; and cooking tamales and sweets inside the Mexican-occupied railroad house. For five years now, I start out my Christmas season with a trip to Candle Light at Dallas Heritage Village.

Though there are plenty more reasons to love Dallas, these three are on the top of my list. But I could go on – Keller’s Hamburgers on Harry Hines Boulevard, served on poppy seed buns! El Centro College, with its campus in the middle of downtown! The 7th Floor of the Dallas Public Library! The HUGE aligator snapping turtle that swims in the lagoon at Fair Park and likes to eat donuts!

You can watch a lot of fun things from the parking lot at Keller's Drive In, including hookers and "exotic" dancers getting off work.

You can watch a lot of fun things from the parking lot at Keller's Drive In, including hookers and "exotic" dancers getting off work.

Hmm… contemplating these entries was so much fun, I think I’m going to give a “top 3” for Fort Worth, next!

Published in: on June 2, 2009 at 5:32 pm  Comments (2)  
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