wishing to visit the final resting place of John E. McGuire is going to have to
travel to two different cemeteries.
Supposedly the first male Anglo child
born in Comanche County, McGuire came into the world on June 1, 1855. Actually,
that was the year before the county’s organization in March 1856.
only written reference to McGuire’s posthumous distinction of permanently being
in two places at once is found in an obscure cloth-bound volume called “In Remembrance
of Those Sleeping in Downing Cemetery Downing, Texas.” Privately published in
1977 by Raymond H. and Aline Loudermilk Quenon, who then lived in Fort
Worth, the 48-page book lists all the people known to be buried in the Downing
Cemetery to that point. Since the book has 58 Loudermilks on that roll, the couple’s
interest in this particular cemetery is obvious.
the book explains, the Downing Cemetery is near a small community of the same
name about nine miles north of Comanche off State Highway 16. Just when the rural
graveyard saw its first burial is not known, but the earliest marked grave is
that of one Mary Carnes, who died on April 15, 1866. The authors noted that the
cemetery also contains several unmarked graves of people who died “on the way
to other places” and that there are also some graves of Indians, presumably killed
by settlers. (Normally in small country graveyards, it’s the other way around,
with unmarked graves of settlers killed by Indians.)
Downing Cemetery even predates the community for which it was named, which did
not get its start until the early 1880s. Later that decade, when the community
sought a post office, merchant William H. Loudermilk suggested it be called “Dawning”
for the inspiring sunrises the local landscape afforded.
application, some bureaucrat in Washington figured the locals had mistakenly used
an “a” when an “o” had been intended, so the hoped-for Dawning, Texas officially
became Downing, Texas. Opened in
1888, the post office continued to serve the small community until 1911, when
the government consolidated it with the Comanche post office.
country school house used to stand near the cemetery, but it has long since disappeared
from the landscape. All that remains is the school’s old bell, which now hangs
in the cemetery.
To get back to McGuire, on page 27 of the Downing Cemetery
book is this simple notation:
“J.E. McGuire (arm)”
Was that entry
intended to be taken literally? Though it is well documented that Mexican dictator
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna staged a funeral for the leg he lost in the Mexican
War, marked burials of body parts are not common. Nowhere in the book on the Downing
Cemetery is any explanation offered for that strange notation about McGuire. Solving
the mysery, at least partially, took some digging in the figurative sense.
McGuire’s parents, John Alpus and Dicey Martin McGuire, came to Texas in 1854
from Georgia, soon settling in future Comanche County. From 1860 to 1864, McGuire
served as county sheriff. One of their children was John E. As the Comanche Chief
“Mr. [John E.] McGuire’s early life was that of a boy on
the extreme western frontier. The prairie, covered with long grass, was his playground
and his brothers and sisters were his only playmates, for neighbors were widely
scattered. When only a lad of six, Mr. McGuire was perfectly at home in the saddle
and frequently drove cattle over the prairie, keeping a sharp lookout for the
Indians who lived not far distant and often raided this section.”
he seems to have been more farmer than rancher, the newspaper said McGuire bought
and sold stock and enjoyed a reputation for being one of the best judges of cattle
in the state.
“Mr. McGuire ran a gin for 10 years, he and his brothers
being proprietors of the Comanche
gin and mill in the nineties, ginning 1741 bales of cotton in 1894 and often grinding
as much as 200 bushels of corn per day,” the newspaper continued.
then, casually, the newspaper mentioned this: “He also operated a threshing machine
in his early manhood and while engaged in this work lost his left arm by getting
it caught in [a] separator.”
No further details are offered, but obviously
that accident is how McGuire’s arm ended up in Downing Cemetery. Whether he placed
the modest granite marker over his severed limb for fun or out of legitimate mourning
over his loss is not known. Or maybe a family member paid for the marker at a
Despite his handicap, McGuire lived a long life, all but three
years of it in Comanche County. He died at 73 in his farm house on the last day
of February 1928. His family buried him the following day in the Zion Hill Cemetery
near Van Dyke. Why they didn’t bury him in the same cemetery with his left arm
remains a mystery.
Cox - May
3, 2012 column
| Texas Town List | Texas
People | Columns |