Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Stone and Bones 1 - Oak Grove Cemetery

Suggested by listener Melisa Nelson

Oak Grove Cemetery is located at the intersection of N. Lanana St. and Hospital St. just north of the Nacogdoches Town Square in Nacogdoches, Texas. Hospital St. ends at the cemetery gate.

Oak Grove Cemetery was originally called "American Cemetery." The land upon which it was founded was part of the 1825 land grant of Empresario Haden Edwards, who was the leader of the 1826 Fredonian Rebellion. The Fredonian Rebellion was led by Haden and his brother Benjamin against the Mexican government. To explain this a little better, an empresarial grant was given to certain men as a form of permission to settle an area with multiple families. Haden planned to settle the future Nacogdoches with 800 families. He posted notices on street corners that the area would be settled by new families if the prior settlers could not provide proof that they had a claim to their land. This obviously pissed off the original settlers. Elections were set up and controversy ensued with the government overturning things that favored the Edwards brothers. They were enraged as were the settlers they brought. Several of these men, along with the brothers declared themselves independent of Mexico and named their republic Fredonia. When the Mexican militia arrived, most of the revolutionists fled and Haden was killed by some Native Americans who were angry that he had involved them in the rebellion. He is buried at Oak Grove. His wife Susan preceded him in death by a few months and she is buried here as well.

There was an earlier Spanish cemetery in Nacogdoches and many of the graves from there were relocated to this site to make room for the county courthouse in 1912. One of those graves that was moved belongs to Father Mendoza. He died in 1719. Many of the burials here are for historical figures important both to Nacogdoches County and the State of Texas. Thomas Jefferson Rusk was a judge and also Sam Houston's secretary of war. He was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence as were fellow cemetery occupants, Charles Stanfield Taylor, John S. Roberts and William Clark, Jr. Veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto buried here are Captain Haden Arnold and Elias E. Hamilton. Other prominent people are Jacob Lewis; Helen Vinson, a movie actress during the 30s and 40s; General Kelsey H. Douglass; George F. Ingraham; Nicholas Adolphus Sterne; Captain Frederick Voigt; Dr. Robert A. Irion, who also was Sam Houston's personal physician; Deidrich Anton Wilhelm Rulfs, who was Nacogdoches' master architect and designed Zion Hill Baptist Church on the north side of the cemetery; Richard William Haltom, who founded and edited Nacogdoches' "The Daily Sentinel;" poet Karle Wilson Baker; former slaves Mitchell Thorn, Lawrence Sleet and Eliza Walker and there are six soldiers here who were all killed in action in 1918: Charlie Bell, J.B. Crow, Felix H. Briley, B.C. Duncan, Marion E.Houston and Robert Lewis.

The oldest marked grave in the cemetery belongs to Pamela Starr, according to the cemetery records I found online, and there must be an interesting and sad story here. She was married to Franklin Jefferson Starr. He died at the age of 37 in 1837. The couple had a son who was born the year before in 1836, but he only lived three years, dying in 1839. There are no dates listed for Pamela's grave, but the claim on the graveyard records is that her grave marking is the oldest. So did she die before her husband? Perhaps in child birth? And if this is the case, their little family was gone in that three year period. But as you all know, I had to find out more.

Franklin Jefferson Starr was born in New Hartford, Connecticut in 1805. His family moved to Ohio in 1814 and in April 1829 Franklin became adjutant of the Second Regiment of the Second Brigade, Seventh Division, Ohio state troops. He later became principal at an academy in Columbus, Ohio. He took the bar exam and was admitted in 1833, but by the following year he had relocated to Georgia and took the bar there, gaining admittance in 1834. Some Georgia investors asked him and another man to travel to Mexican Texas and seek out opportunities to establish a settlement there. The report they brought back was mixed because the Mexican administration was unsavory. Franklin married Pamela upon his return in 1835 and even though his report had not been entirely favorable, he and Pamela migrated to Texas and he took his Mexican citizenship oath at San Felipe de Austin on December 24, 1835.

It was here in San Felipe where Franklin would join forces with William B. Travis to open a law office. This was short lived as Travis took over command of a Texas regiment that would eventually see him in command of the Texian forces at the Alamo in San Antonio. He would gain fame as the ill-fated commander of the Alamo. Franklin joined a volunteer company under Moseley Baker and marched to Gonzales. He asked for a furlough during the Runaway Scrape to get his family to a safer location. The Runaway Scrape was a term used by Texans to describe their flight from their homes when Antonio López de Santa Anna began his attempted conquest of Texas in February 1836. Sam Houston arrived in Gonzales on March 11 and was informed of the fall of the Alamo. He ordered all the inhabitants in the area to join him as he retreated to the Colorado River. People all over Texas left everything and ran to safety. The safer location that Franklin took his family to was Nacogdoches. *Fun Fact: William B. Travis gave his diary to Franklin and it would be the Starr family that would preserve it.

In May of 1836, Franklin opened a criminal law practice in Nacogdoches. The following May, he became captain of a company of mounted volunteers that had been brought together to pursue hostile Native Americans in Nacogdoches County. It was during this time that the volunteers became sick from the long marches in the summer heat. Franklin himself became sick with fever and died on July 7, 1837. He was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery and it is his grave that is said to be the earliest marked grave in the cemetery, not Pamela's. He and Pamela only had the one child. Of interest also is that Franklin's brother was James Harper Starr. He married a woman named Harriet and they eventually moved to Marshall, Texas and purchased 52 acres of land that is today the Starr Family Home State Historic Site. The Starr Mansion here was originally known as Maplecroft. So the Starr family is very prominent in Texas history and I had no idea. The Starr headstones and dates just peaked my interest.

Strolling through this cemetery in fall would be amazing with some of the trees' leaves turning to golden yellow and burnt auburn. There are so many unique memorials here. For example, there is Anna Mary Taylor's gravestone with her last words carved into the granite, "I am one of nature's children, I love to look at the green trees." She died in November of 1889. There is the Steamboat Monument that was erected by Henry and Marcia A. Raguet in memory of their two children, Mary and Condy who lost their lives on the steamboat "America" during a storm on the Ohio River on December 5, 1868.

So down the rabbit hole we go: On that fateful day, two steamships, The America and the United States, collided. They had been traveling in opposite directions on the Ohio River near Warsaw, Kentucky. They were two ships in one of the nation’s largest steamship companies, the U.S. Mail Line, which advertised itself as making “direct connections with all railroad and steamboat lines.” At this time, not all railway lines had been constructed, so mail, cargo, and passengers used a combination of railroad and steamboat lines to complete their journeys. These two ships had the finest interiors and were fairly new and cost $500,000 to build. Steamships used whistles at night to signal where they were on the river,but on this particular night, the signal must have been misinterpreted because they ships steered into each other, rather than away from each other. The United States burst into flames after impact and the fire quickly spread to the America with whisky, cotton and petroleum to fuel it. Forty passengers were killed and many more were wounded.

Oak Grove Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery, full of history, which makes it incredibly fascinating! And that, was just a little about the Stones and Bones found there!

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