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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

One Man
Two Graves

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Anyone 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.

The 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.

As 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.)

The 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.

Processing the 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.

A one-room 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 later noted:

“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.”

Though 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.

And 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 later time.

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.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" May 3, 2012 column

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