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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Lampasas County’s
Longmeadow Cemetery

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

A thunderstorm growing darker by the minute hungrily sucked moisture-rich air from the south, the resulting strong wind shaking the blue cloth tied around the state historical marker folks had come to dedicate at Lampasas County’s Longmeadow Cemetery.

His gray straw cowboy hat seated solidly on his head, 88-year-old Arlee Claud Gowen stood before an assemblage of relatives and a few guests with his back facing the soon-to-be-unveiled metal marker. Clutching a yellow-tipped microphone in one hand and the text of his remarks in the other, he put things into perspective.

“When Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, he referred to the area as hallowed ground,” the long-time Lubbock resident began. “Lincoln referred to the nation as then having ‘four score and seven years.’ The tenure of this cemetery is now ‘ten score and 18 years.’ Its longevity exceeds that of the United States by 17 years.”

A former newspaper reporter-printer and decorated World War II veteran, Gowen ranks as dean of a group of tenancious genealogists belonging to a branch of the Cox family (no relation) that has traced its Texas roots deeper than even the most water-starved mesquite. Many of their forebears are buried in this small rural cemetery, a fenced graveyard accessible only by an unpaved private road. In Lampasas for their annual reunion, members of the Brandywine Crucible – an organization of people named Cox and various other surnames – attended the marker dedication May 21.

While its exact location is unknown, the first burial in or near this cemetery 8 miles east of Lampasas occurred in 1793. And it may well be the oldest Anglo burial in Texas.

Only a decade after the Revolutionary War, a party of American mustangers led by Virginia-born Thomas Isaac Cox came to the vast plains of Spanish Texas hunting wild horses. They encountered an Indian war party and succeeded in repulsing them, but Cox’s nephew, 16-year-old William Charles Bybee, caught an arrow in his chest. Someone broke the feathered shaft and extracted the arrowhead, but everyone must have known the teenager wouldn’t make it.

After suffering through the night, begging for water, Bybee died the following morning. It was his 17th birthday – July 4, 1793.

“His companions dug his grave at the foot of a large postoak tree and wrapped his body in his blanket,” Gowen continued. “They carried large limestone slates from the fence surrounding the immense horsetrap nearby and placed them on top of his grave.”

The youth’s grandfather, James Christopher Cox, chopped three diagonal slashes on the tree to mark the grave.

Gowen said he had interviewed Joe Burton Cox, Sr., who grew up on the ranch surrounding the cemetery, before his death.

“He…recalled seeing this tree with its three slashes when he was a boy,” Gowen said. “Later he wrote a history of this cemetery and mentioned 37 burials here.”

A story connected to the last person buried in Longmeadow Cemetery circles around its long-ago first burial.

Martha Jane Bybee married Pleasant C. Cox, who in 1856 came to Texas to homestead on the land where William Bybee, her father’s brother, had been buried the previous century. When he learned she would be going to Texas with her new husband to settle where her relatives had trapped horses in the 1700s, her father asked her to find and care for Bybee’s grave. She did that, planted flowers, and kept those flowers and their successors watered until her own death 56 years later.

On a bitterly cold day in Feburary 1912, her family buried her in the cemetery. Ten years later, the Coxes sold the ranch and the cemetery became overgrown.

One of Martha Jane’s sons, John Thomas Cox, later rode as a Texas Ranger. According to family lore, he once observed that the old cemetery held the remains of citizens of six different nations.

“Burials were made under the flag of Spain until 1799, the tricolor of France until 1803, the flag of Mexico until 1836, the flag of the Republic of Texas until 1845, the flag of the Confederate States of America until 1865 and the Stars and Stripes of the United States until the present,” Gowen said.

The youngest occupant of the cemetery is Joseph “Buck” Cox, a brother of the ranger who first pointed out the multi-national aspect of the family plot. Not quite four, Buck died on May 5, 1872.

“His death came as a result of a concussion received by butting his head against a wall in a temper tantrum,” Gowen said.

Of the known burials in the cemetery, only a hanful are marked by headstones. In 2001, the Coxes got Dr. John Dunbar, a Baylor University geologist, to survey the cemetery with ground-penetrating radar. He located 21 other likely graves, now marked by stakes.

Among the known but unmarked graves are those of Charlie Boyd, a cowboy who rode for the legendary cattleman “Shanghai” Pierce, and another waddy known only as “Stumpy” Watson. According to Gowen, on Dec. 10, 1874, the two men got into a row that escalated into a gunfight. When the blackpowder smoke cleared, both lay mortally wounded.

Folks carried them to the Cox house, where Martha Jane nursed them for a week and a half. Despite her best efforts, Boyd died at sunrise on December 22.

“When she told ‘Stumpy’ that Charlie had died,” Gowen said, “he replied, ‘Good, now I can die in peace.’” And that’s just what he proceeded to do.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
May 26, 2011 column

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Texas Cemeteries
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