The last place on Earth that you ever want to be is the cemetery, yet that is the most likely spot where the mortal body will eventually rest. If you plan to be buried in Erath County, there are at least 100 public and private cemeteries from which to choose.
There is a kind of fascination that the living have for cemeteries. They have always drawn historians and genealogists as inscriptions give clues to the past. Several local historians have undertaken to record grave marker inscriptions. By-the-way, if the writing has become illegible by the passage of time, rub some shaving cream over the letters and they will appear as if by magic.
In 1967, Weldon Hudson, whose ancestors are buried in Lower Green’s Creek Cemetery, began to “copy” that cemetery. He was amazed to find that very few records of rural cemeteries were kept. Through his study of genealogy, he met Shirley Cawyer, who had begun copying cemeteries throughout Erath County. Together, with the help of her husband, Telefus, and others such as Lucille Jones, Elizabeth Zickefoose, and Mrs. Earl Wright, 97 public and private burial sites were located and copied.
In order to complete this extremely tiring and difficult task, the researchers had to climb over ditches, make their way through briars and low hanging tree limbs in an effort to “make out” an inscription dull with age. Many owe their thanks to those who labored to publish the three volumes assembled. These volumes may be studied in the Stephenville Public Library, the Dublin Public Library or the Dick Smith Library at Tarleton.
Sixty-five Erath County cemeteries are listed in “Confederate Burials” compiled by Gary P. Whitfield. This book lists more than 800 known veterans of the Confederate army but the author believes there are many more that have not as yet been identified. During the months of March and April (Confederate History Month) the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy place small Confederate battle flags on the graves where veterans of the CSA (Confederate States of America) rest. Many of Stephenville’s pioneers were CSA veterans and are buried in cemeteries across the county, public and private.
During the past few school semesters, Cindy Shipman, a teacher with the Huckabay schools, has lead her students in researching and compiling cemetery books. These books are chronicles of the life around this area since this part of the county was settled. Shipman and her classes have spent many hours in the Dick Smith Library at TSU studying microfilmed copies of old Empire-Tribune newspapers. She has added these obituaries to the books so that reading them is like taking a trip back in time. The following is just one example: (“Our Common Herd” by Sue Sanders, abstracted by C. Shipman) W.C. Sanders buried March 26, 1884, 47 years old. “It was cold and rainy in the spring of 1885 when Cal caught pneumonia riding the range to keep his cattle fed and old Doc Handy couldn’t save him. “My father’s body lay on an improvised table of boards placed across sawhorses. A sheet had been spread over the still figure and its appearance added to our fright… The neighbors gathered around to help the family and buried him the following day.. the wound caused by the death of my father was never completely healed.”
Sanders mentioned in her book that her father was a CSA veteran and since the family lived near Huckabay, I spent several hours searching for his grave. Then one day I was placing flags in Hannibal Cemetery and found it there. Individuals are not always buried where you expect them to be so more than one burial ground will have to be explored to find the final resting place of the individual you are searching for.
In visiting cemeteries, it is obvious that infant deaths and the deaths of very young children were common. Some families seem to have been especially hard hit as there might be a row of four or more children buried side by side, none more than a few years old. There are also some striking incidents involving burial. In searching out the graves of Confederate veterans, the grave of a black CSA veteran was located in Mt. Olive Cemetery in Stephenville. Further research of death records revealed that this veteran was first buried in West End, and then unearthed and reburied in Mt. Olive which was purchased by the city as burial ground for the black citizens during the days when the races were segregated.
Certainly one of the most interesting cemeteries in Erath County, history wise, is the one on a high hill in Thurber. There is only one burial ground, but the many nationalities who worked together in the dark mines, are segregated in death.
The Italians are buried in the center, with the Poles being over there, the Spanish there and so on. The black miners and their families are buried to the right as you enter the gate. Markers in this cemetery are written in several languages as the different immigrants preferred to keep their native tongue for that final resting place.
Many of the cemeteries in Erath County, as in other places, have been neglected for years and several are almost impossible to find or to read the stones. Besides many graves were marked with wooden crosses and others with rocks or bricks and no inscription at all so that identification is not possible. In a preface to volume II of her cemetery books, Shirley Cawyer wrote, “Several cemeteries are known by more than one name and several graves are marked only by field stones. We were awed to find some had been bull-dozed off with no remaining evidence of graves.”
Shirley Brittain Cawyer whose search for her family’s roots led her to walk throughout Erath County searching out forgotten graves, died on February 12, 2001. She is buried in Dublin Live Oak Cemetery, one the 100 cemeteries that she copied.