broken piece of sandstone can’t tell a story, but Edna (Snooks) Collett sure can.|
is curator of the museum in the still-booming old boom town of Iraan,
in the middle of the storied Yates Field, which is well past its billionth barrel
of oil and still producing. Of course, her museum duties are only from 1-5 p.m.
Thursday-Sunday. Much of the rest of the time, she’s clerking at the local convenience
store, her name tag simply labeled “Snooks.”
In early May 2003, she got
a telephone call from Jay Hensley, who said his mom and step-dad had found something
they’d like her to take a look at. On the case of an apparent history mystery,
Collett drove to their house.
Turns out Susan Harvey had asked her husband
Larry to dig up a flower bed by their front porch so she could plant some flowers.
Pointing to a couple of flat stones in the bed, she had said Larry needed to remove
When Harvey pried up the larger stone, he noticed engraved
letters on the other side.
“I think it’s a tombstone,” he told his wife.
Susan asked her son to get a hose and wash the object so they could see what the
writing said. Indeed, with the dirt off, there was no question that a very old
tombstone had been unearthed. Checking the other stone, they found it had been
broken from the larger one. But one piece was still missing.
got to the Harvey’s house, she washed the stone more thoroughly and used chalk
to make the lettering more easily read. After photographing the stone, with the
help of Hensley’s wife Linda, she traced the lettering with a charcoal pencil.
That revealed this inscription:
Ellis…Son of [missing] Born March 3, 1870
– Died Nov. 28, 1872.
Not only was it odd to discover a tombstone in a
flower bed, the dates it bore presented a mystery on top of a mystery: Iraan’s
history as a town dates only back to 1926 with the beginning of the oil boom.
In 1872, that part of Pecos County was nothing but unsettled, open country. Sheffield,
7 miles from Iraan, did not
come into being until 1898.
Collett’s best guess was that the tombstone
came from old Fort Lancaster,
seven miles east of Sheffield
in present Crockett County. In the 1940s she had lived on the ranch where the
ruins of the fort
stood and remembered seeing several children’s graves in the vicinity.
hoping to discover the missing third piece of the tombstone, Collett got the Iraan
Archeological Society to excavate the flower bed. But a thorough search revealed
A year later, Collett got a call from a man who had found
another piece of a tombstone on the slope of what locals call Waterworks Hill.
But while the chunk of stone had some lettering that appeared to match the style
used on the Ellis tombstone, the piece did not match.
The incident moved
Collett to verse. Here’s the poem she wrote for the Iraan News not long after
the Harveys found the stone:
|“Mother, dear Mother,
please don’t weep|
And search for the tombstone
Of your little lost sheep
Kind strangers have found it
After all the long years
So search no
And no more tears,
May your spirit find rest now,
no more for my stone.
God knows where I’m sleeping
And He’ll take me home.”
| In 2008,
Collett got a call from William Perhealth, a minister from Andrews
who’s interested in genealogy. He said he thought he could determine the identity
of “Little Boy Lost.” |
“I thought, ‘Sure you can,’” she said, “but sure
enough, he did.”
Online, Perhealth found that an Isreal Ellis Clements,
born March 3, 1870 in Brown County to Israel and Harriet C. Anderson Clements,
died on Nov. 28, 1872 and is buried in the Roberts Cemetery on private property
north of Brownwood. Perhealth
checked the cemetery and discovered that the child indeed still has a tombstone
bearing that information.
That, of course, brought on the next mystery:
If the little boy has one tombstone, why did he need another? And why was it more
than 200 miles from Brown County?
“His mother was an Anderson, and they
had a ranch in Pecos County,” Collett begins with her theory. “There are tombstones
similar to the one we have in the cemetery at Fort
Stockton, which was in operation in 1872. Mrs. Clements must have ordered
a tombstone from Fort
Stockton, but for some reason it never got to Brown County. I think the wagon
carrying it got this far and something happened – the tombstone fell out and broke
or the wagon was loaded too heavy and they had to toss it out.”
she continued with her thesis, probably happened at the Pecos
River crossing. Some time later, someone must have found the tombstone near
the river and carried it to Iraan
either as a curiousity or a garden stepping stone.
While the actual circumstances
likely will never been known, Collett is content in knowing that the Little Lost
Boy got found.
Cox - "Texas Tales" March
30, 2011 column
Topics: Texas Cemeteries | Grave
Books by Mike Cox - Order Now|