Saturday, January 21, 2012

WHERE ARE THEY BURIED??? Comment and Follow-up

The following comment was left on on the "WHERE ARE THEY BURIED???" post.  The comment deserves it's own post and thanks the "anonymous" author.

The Burying Place: This location is reported to be near the hanging tree [cut down in 1880 for unknown reason] on the east bank of Pecan Creek about 1/2 mile east of town. It would have been on the far side of a bridge from downtown, although I have not found any reference to a bridge.
In 1867, a Freedmen Bureau agent, Anthony M Bryant, wrote a letter to the Federal authorities requesting that the bodies be exhumed from their mass grave and properly reburied. This request was denied.
I expect that at that time, the location of the burial was common knowledge to many in Cooke County. It would have been hard to conceal in a small town. After, a prisoner was hanged his body was transported back to the old warehouse west of the town square in most cases. Only a few bodies were claimed by relatives because they were afraid to pick them up with the mob in control of the town. Family members were treated as enemies of the state. Remains were left to be buried by the "county". Also it is likely that the bodies started to deteriorate after a few days. This would have been a problem downtown. Some of the bodies were mutilated by hogs because or a hole in the wall of the old warehouse where the bodies were stored. At some point, they had to be buried. Not sure who had this task, but slaves were detailed to make coffins with lumber from an old house that had been torn down for this purpose. There was not enough lumber so some bodies were wrapped in blankets. All were buried in a shallow mass grave on the banks of the creek. Some of the bodies were washed up by heavy rains and the hogs dug some up according to reports. Not exactly a traditional burial.
McCaslin indicates only five traditional burials: Barnibus Burch lies in an unmarked grave on the Marvin Cason farm, James A Powers is buried at John Ware's ranch and has a simple headstone, Nathaniel M Clark is buried in the Clark family cemetery with a large memorial stone, and William W Wernell is buried on the old James L Clark farm, his grave is covered with rocks with a metal marker welded on a post recording his name and his date of death. Also Roma Dye's body was cut down by his nephew, Ben Dye, and taken to his farm in Grayson County and buried in a location now known as the Ben Dye Cemetery. Henry Chiles was picked up by families members and buried in unknown location. An unconfirmed report that Arphax R Dawson was taken back to Grayson County for burial. Also unconfirmed report that John W Wiley was buried in Collinsville by his family. Richard Martin was reportedly picked up by his brother and taken to Hood County in a wagon for burial in unknown location. William Rhodes and Eli Scott were reported by Clark to be buried on the Rhodes survey then owned by Sam McClennen. Possibly a total of eleven bodies that were picked up and buried properly.
This is something that should be addressed. Someday in the future, when evacuating for a new building in Gainesville, they will likely dig up the remains. The mass burial should be located and the remains given a decent burial. I am surprised that the citizens of Gainesville have not done it in the 150 years since it happened. It might be a task for the archaeology department of a major university with expertise. I was at San Jacinto last year, and saw areas of the historic battlefield being evacuated by students from a university. They were marking it off and doing it in the proper way. Hopefully something like this could be done at the hanging site/burial site to locate the mass burial.

Great comment!
Blognote:  It is extremely disturbing that Gainesville City, Cooke County and/or the State of Texas have not tried to lay this issue to rest by locating the mass burial site.  Also, I feel there should be a memorial with all the names of the men who died in the hangings.  There is one more item on the wish list -- Pardons from the State of Texas for all the men who were found guilty in the Gainesville trials and then were hanged or shot.


Anonymous said...

According to an account, the "hanging tree" had been selected and discussed before the court convened. It is not known if the tree had been used for hangings prior to this episode. It was reportedly the scene of an Indian fight some years earlier. The hanging tree was described as a large Elm on the banks of Pecan Creek at the east end of town. This was verified by statements of the slave, Bob Scott, who was in charge of driving the wagon to the hanging tree from town. It was said to be located between Main street and California street about 1/2 miles east of town. In these days it was located outside of the town proper in the country, because the town only covered the original 40 acres at the time. Citizens apparently could not see the hanging tree from the town square according to Barrett who indicated that he did not see any of the prisoners hanged. He routinely sat on the front porch of the hotel on the town square to watch the hanging wagon with its militia escort and accompanying spectators make it way to the site with prisoners, and return. J L Clark described in his account "the scene of the hanging also held an attraction for many. The old historic tree that old Elm soon became an object of horrifying curiosity. By 1884 someone-reportedly a man by the name of Tom William-had cut down the tree and hauled the trunk to some unidentified place where Barrett thought of it lying dead like the men hanged from its limbs." An article in the Galveston Weekly News dated 6 May 1880 verifies that the tree was still standing when they recounted a modern hanging in the northeast section of town within view of the celebrated hanging tree." However, in this hanging, the tree was not used, as a Gallows had been built for that purpose. According to McCaslin, "curiosity about the Great Hanging endured [long after the war], and when a storm uprooted the hanging tree in the early 1880's, an enterprising individual" [who he does not name] carved the tree into walking sticks which "sold like hotcakes" because of their grim History." His information came from an manuscript dated [1892] in the George H Ragsdale papers.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly! The mass burial site needs to be found!! What does Cooke county say about never having done anything about any of this? It seems appropriate that a nice memorial be placed in memory of all of those who lost their lives in the hanging.

Anonymous said...

If I understand this right, the confederate militia hanged these innocent men and then let their bodies be desecrated by not giving them a decent burial and then did not preserve their burial place. It is hard to understand why the community let this happen.

Anonymous said...

I live in Gainesville. I work 2 blocks North of the courthouse and drive by the general estimated area of where the tree andpossible gravesites may have existed.

It is fascinating to me, that Gainesville was just voted "Most Patriotic Small Town in America", but what is bothering me even more, now, is this:

Having read this post and especially them comment describing where the location should be, I realized that the entire area of Pecan Creek and southward is under heavy construction. They are widening the creek due to flooding. (A mobile home park slightly downstream was decimated in 2007 floods and a young child was killed.)

If you can find the area on google maps - earthview, as I just did, you can see the huge amount of earth that is being unceremoniously removed and dumped somewhere. It is shameful.