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    COUNTRY GRAVEYARDS
    HERE AND THERE

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman

    When I pass on, in the venacular of my East Texas grandparents, I hope my family has the common decency to bury me in some place other than "a memorial park."

    Those sterile, geometrically-arranged cemeteries with neat rows of flat, ground-level headstones and names like "The Memorial Gardens" and "Restful Pines Sanctuary" have about as much character as a golf course. Any day now I expect to see a foursome playing through, bouncing golfballs off the headstones and fountains.

    I've never seen many interesting tombstones in memorial parks, although a few years ago I stumbled upon a headstone in Lufkin's Garden of Memories that read: "See, I told you I was sick."

    After a lifetime in East Texas, I have grown to prefer cemeteries where the tombstones stand high against the sky, where tall trees shade the graves most the time, and where people get together once a year for a graveyard working and homecoming.

    My favorite cemetery (for my own resting place) is Muse Cemetery in Anderson County, where most of my ancestors, including both sets of my grandparents, are buried. But I suspect I won't be buried there. Muse is mostly sand, and my wife Doris says she refuses to bury her husband in a graveyard where you can't grow grass and flowers.

    My second choice for my personal interment would be Glendale Cemetery in Lufkin, a fine old cemetery with a marvelous collection of tombstones--big ones, little ones, fancy ones, simple ones. Even the horse which pulled Lufkin's first ice wagon in 1896 has a tombstone there.

    I don't know why, but I have always been fascinated with cemeteries. I seem to collect graveyards and tombstones with the zeal that some of my friends collect bird dogs.

    A favorite is in the Mt. Hope Cemetery near Chester, where a shaft of stone sometimes called "the history book marker" tells the story of pioneer James Barnes' family. Chised into the base are 218 words, 18 historical dates, and 13 individual names. I figure that the stonecutter retired a wealthy man after he finished the marker.

    In Williams Cemetery, near Fair Play, is a little wooden marker covered by a white shed. It's the grave of Sarah Jane Northcutt, reportedly a member of a wagon train who died among strangers in Panola County in 1855. As the years passed, Fair Play's residents have tended the grave as if it belonged to one of their own.

    A century ago, malpractice lawsuits against physicians were unknown, so tombstones were sometimes used by surviving relatives to castigate doctors for their faults. In the Coldspring Cemetery one such tombstone bears this inscription: "In memory of my darling child, Edith E., youngest child of Robert & S.C. Smith. Born Nov. 1, 1854. Died a victim to an experiment in surgery by Dr. Warren Stone, Sr. of New Orleans, May 18, 1872."

    Another favorite tombstone marks the resting place of Texas' second governor, George T. Wood. When he died in 1858, his wife ordered him interred in a small family plot, reportedly to fulfill Wood's wish that he be "buried close to home." Stuck away in the dense forests of San Jacinto County, it's a strange place for the grave of a Texas governor, but Wood himself was a little strange, too. He seldom wore socks and often rode from his home near Coldspring to Austin on the back of a mule.

    In contrast to Governor Wood's isolated grave, Riggs Cemetery south of Cleveland is probably the most visible in East Texas. It straddles the median between the north and south lanes of U.S. 59, one of the busiest highways in Texas. The Texas Highway Department tried to relocate the little graveyard when it made 59 a superhighway, but the descendants of those buried there wouldn't budge.

    Scottsville Texas Cemetery and Chapel
    Scottsville Cemetery
    TE Photo

    If asked to name my favorite cemeteries, I would have to pick Scottsville Cemetery near Marshall, which is filled with priceless Italian marble sculpture marking the graves of the Scott and Rose families, and Oak Grove Cemetery in Nacogdoches, where rows and rows of magnificent stones stand over the graves of four signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence and others who shaped Texas' destiny.

    I particularly like the Oak Grove headstone of Oscar L. Holmes, a county clerk who had an extract of his will chisled on his marker. Knowing what he knew of records that sometimes get lost, he probably wasn't taking any chances with his bequeath.

    Like most folks, I don't know where I'll be buried. Maybe it'll be in the sand hills of Muse Cemetery, alongside Ottie the horse in Glendale Cemetery, or somewhere else.

    Regardless of where it is, I think I want something special to mark my grave--something that will remind people of my East Texas heritage. Nothing fancy though. Just plant a watermelon on my grave and let the juice ooze down.


    © Bob Bowman March 18, 2012 Column
    More Bob Bowman's East Texas >
    A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

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    By Bob Bowman

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