town names in East Texas attract as
much curiosity as Weeping Mary,
a 140-year-old black community hidden away in the deep woods of western Cherokee
Located on County Road 2907, off Texas Highway 21, five miles
west of Alto, Weeping
Mary was first settled after the Civil War by freed slaves from neighboring
It’s name reportedly came from the 20th chapter of John,
where Mary goes to the tomb of Jesus after he was crucified:
when she had thus said, she turned herself back and saw Jesus standing, and knew
not that it was not Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou. Whom
After settling in the woods, the first effort of the
free slaves of Weeping Mary
was to establish a Baptist church, the Church of Weeping Mary, which has expanded
over the years.
Weeping Mary Baptist Church |
Photo courtesy Andrew Hardaway
next effort of the slaves was to established a school in 1896, when it had an
enrollment of about forty. The school, however, was closed around the time of
World War II and, today,
the few children of the community are bussed to schools in Alto.
In the 1960s, we visited with Newell Ross, 60, a deacon in the church
with his brothers, David and Richmond.
“A long time ago, our church stood
on a hill two or three miles up the Neches River from here. Then the deacons decided
to move it down here, between Boles and White Oak creeks. Pretty soon, lots of
folks moved around the church. Now, we have about 200 people living here,” said
Life at Weeping
Mary hasn’t been complicated by a city government, a business district, fraternal
orders or a post office, but it is surrounded by history.
It rests on
the back side of the Caddoan
Mounds State Historic Site, which comprises the southwesternmost ceremonial
center of the Caddoan people who flourished on the western edge of the woodlands
of eastern North America between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 1550.
The site near
Weeping Mary consists of
three large earthen mounds as well as a large portion of a prehistoric village.
Because of its proximity, the Caddoan people likely lived and wandered over what
would become Weeping Mary.
Not far away is another historic site, the campsite of Zebulon Pike, who
camped here with his men in 1807.
Under commission from General James
Wilkinson, governor of the Louisiana Territory, the Pike party carried out an
expedition to explore the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers and to report
on Spanish settlements in the New Mexico area.
Heading west from present-day
Colorado, where the party saw the mountain later named Pike’s Peak for the expedition’s
leader, the explorers were arrested by Spanish authorities.
back to the United States, the party camped near what would become Weeping
Mary on June 14, 1807. The Pike expedition furnished an important account
of Spanish Texas and New Mexico.
Mary is also within walking distance of El
Camino Real, also known as the King’s Highway and the Old Spanish Trail. In
East Texas, the highway (now Texas Highway 21) runs from the Sabine River through
and Alto before reaching the Neches
River and continuing westward to Crockett
and, eventually, San Antonio.
Today, Weeping Mary
is a cluster of rural homes reached by a rare iron bridge spanning a creek shaded
by tall oaks.
Nothing much happens here, but residents still remember
a flood in 1957 when they had water 18 inches deep in their homes. “Like the Bible’s
Mary, we wept, but we’re still here, thank the Lord,” said an elderly woman.
May 5, 2008 Column