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DONAHOE

Flowers For Sarah Herndon

by Clay Coppedge
There's no such place as Donahoe anymore. There is Donahoe Road and Donahoe Creek, but the rest of the once thriving community has been relegated to memory, legend and the Blackland soil on which it once thrived.

An old windmill and a cemetery (both on private land) along with a somewhat mysterious grave by the side of Donahoe Road in southeast Bell County are about all that's left of Donahoe (pronounced "Dunnyhoo").

On the east side of Donahoe Road, not far past the Donahoe historical marker, is a single grave protected by an iron-wrought fence. This is the final resting place of Sarah Herndon, who drowned in Donahoe Creek in 1863. Old folk legends have it that you can sometimes at night still hear her screaming for help.

Bruce Swope grew up on the land where much of Donahoe once stood. Even for somebody who grew up here with all the stories from Donahoe's long gone heyday, he finds the peace and quiet almost a contradiction of the community's history and folklore.

"You almost can't imagine that this place used to be the hub of the entire area," he said during a recent visit. "It's not hard to see why people chose to live here."

Donahoe Creek provides a steady supply of water. From Science Hill -known as Donahoe Hill in the days of the community - you can see Temple.

But you can't see Donahoe. What's left of it has been ingested by the rich Blackland soil. As Swope says, "If you dig when it's dry, you have to chunk away large chunks of soil to see if there's anything inside.

When it's wet, the Blackland soil binds together to the point where it's hard to pull apart."

Samuel Gibbs Leatherman's general mercantile store, opened in the late 1850s, is believed to the town's first business. The 1860 census listed Howell Bass as the town's blacksmith. Donahoe had a post office from 1888 to 1903.

"There was a racetrack here too," Swope says.

"Supposedly, Sunday was a big day for horse races." Guns, blacksmith tools, horseshoes, silverware - most likely it's all buried somewhere under the Blackland gumbo.

So is poor Sarah Herndon.

The story passed down for the last 140 years tells how Herndon left her home in Donahoe one day in 1863, bound for the McKay home. On the way, she somehow ran afoul of the muddy banks of Donahoe Creek and became mired in quicksand.

The McKays organized a search but to no avail. A few days later her body resurfaced in the quick-sand along the banks of the creek. The story is she still had with her a sock she was knitting. Whether this had anything to do with her sliding down the embankment into the quicksand no one can say for sure.

Her grave was dug close to where she was found and in a hurry. Protected by the iron-wrought fence, the grave has survived for these 140 years. The headstone marking the grave reads: Mrs. Sarah Herndon - Born 1800 - Died 1863. An index finger pointing heavenward is chiseled near the top of the stone.

Somebody makes sure the grave is kept clean, the area around it free of brush and weeds. Every so often the fence is stabilized. There is handmade cross behind the headstone.

Flowers - sometimes fresh, sometimes artificial - are always present at her grave.

"No one knows who keeps the site cleaned and trimmed, or who brings the flowers," Swope says. "Somebody has been doing it for all these years."

The most likely suspects - family members - is unlikely. Her family has not lived in the area for more than 100 years.


Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" October 12 , 2006 column

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