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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical
MOSES' BONES
by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
In the late l920s,, when the Texas Centennial Board decided more of Texas' heroes should be buried in the State Cemetery at Austin to coincide with the state's centennial in 1936,, the agency set off a two-state tug-of-war eventually settled by an East Texas lawyer.

The fight between Texas and Missouri started in the early thirties when a representative of the board hired Austin undertaker Thurlow W. Weed to travel to Potosi, Missouri, and dig up the bones of Moses Austin, the father of Stephen F. Austin, and inter them in the State Cemetery.

Weed found the grave in a neglected cemetery, hired some men to begin digging, and asked former Potosi mayor Dr. George F. Criswell, the local registrar of vital statistics, for a permit to remove the remains.

Dr.Criswell put Weed off, rounded up a committee of irate townspeople, and approached Weed at a local hotel. Go back to Texas, he was warned, or risk being tossed in jail.

After convincing the local City Council to give him a resolution opposing the removal of Austin's bones so he would have something to show his Texas employers, Weed returned to Texas, the Texas Centennial was celebrated in 1936, and he convinced that was the end of the story.

But it wasn't.

In 1938, it was reported in the press that Texas Governor James V. Allred and Lt. Governor Walter Woodul planned to initiate court proceedings to bring Austin's bones to Texas. Potosi residents were once again up in arms.

The controversy became so heated between Texas and Missouri that Allred dispatched Secretary of State Ed Clark of San Augustine to Potosi to negotiate a settlement. Clark said Texas would pay for a suitable monument to Austin in Potosi in exchange for Austin's bones. The deal was rejected and Clark recommended Texas give up the idea of moving Moses' bones. Governor Allred agreed.

Things settled down until 1949 when the Potosi Lions Club wrote the Texas Historical Society with an offer to give up Austin's bones if Texas would contribute $50,000 for a new Potosi city hall. However, the town's mayor angrily declared the Lions had no authority to make the offer and promised that Austin's grave would not be disturbed.

Texas, meanwhile, ignored the Lions Club's letter, already convinced by Ed Clark that the State Cemetery would have to do without Austin's remains.

But in Potosi, the squabble between Missouri and Texas became a fountainhead of rumors, most of them wrong. One story claimed a mob ran mortician Weed out of town. Another said a Texas ambulance had backed up to Austin's grave before it was stopped by townsmen. A third said a posse of Texans planned to steal Austin's bones under the cover of darkness.

The last falsehood came in June of l963 when Potosi celebrated Moses Austin Day and renown historian Floyd C. Shoemaker said in an address: "Of course, Potosi still remembers the Texas Rangers who came here to take the remains of the father of the Father of Texas. The episode has not been forgotten." Even historians, it seems, can get carried away with a good story.


August 26 - September 1, 2001
Published by permission
.

(Bob Bowman is a former president of the East Texas Historical Society and the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore.)

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