Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Cemeteries: Valuable Historic Resources

Bonham Daily Favorite, January 15, 1995

A conservative estimate indicates that within the confines of Fannin County there were/are at least 165 cemeteries. To date, records of the Fannin County Museum of History indicate the locations of about 156. Of this number 150 still exist; at least some evidence remains to indicate the presence of a burial site.

A few other sites remain in the memories of residents of the area but through willful destruction or benign neglect nothing concrete remains. The first known attempt to document this part of Fannin County's history was the work done by the late Floy Crandall Hodge who started in the 1950's to record as many burial sites with names and dates as she could find. Later publications have corrected some of Mrs. Hodge's efforts as well as to add to the growing amount of information.

I have had some persons state that they see no sense in trying to clean and preserve these old forgotten cemeteries since no one remains who might have a connection with the people buried in them. In response to these people, I often give them copies of three short paragraphs taken from a publication of the Texas Historical Commission and reprinted here for those persons who see no purpose in preserving old cemeteries.

"Cemeteries are among the most valuable of historic resources. They are the reminders of various settlement patterns, such as villages, rural communities, urban centers, and ghost towns. Cemeteries can reveal information about historic events, religions, lifestyles, genealogy.

‚ÄčNames on tombstones serve as a directory of early residents and reflect the ethnic diversity and unique population of an area. Tombstone designs and cemetery decoration and landscaping represent a variety of cultural influences that help shape the history of Texas.

Established in large part for the benefit of the living, cemeteries perpetuate the memories of the deceased, who bequeathed their respective communities with the amenities that give a place character and definition. In communities that have a strong sense of history, people are more likely to protect and maintain cemeteries."

For the past several years the Texas Historical Commission has supported a concerted effort on the part of county historical societies to identify, clean-up, and preserve the cemeteries in their areas for the simple reasons given in the above paragraphs. Last year Tom Hymer, Vice Chairman of the Fannin County Historical Commission, was recognized as volunteer of the year for his efforts in promoting the State Historical Commission's program. Under Hymer's guidance more than a dozen cemetery associations have been organized, neglected sites have been cleaned and historical markers for several cemeteries have been dedicated or are in various stages of development.

The Fannin County Museum of History has decided to join with these efforts by preparing a map of Fannin County listing all known cemetery sites. Official county maps and those done by other entities do list many of these cemeteries, but those which are long abandoned or forgotten plus those that have been destroyed are not listed on these maps. Over the next several weeks we will be enlisting the help and support of the citizens of Fannin County with this project.

I suspect that hardly any of the 254 counties of Texas have escaped problems with some of their historic cemeteries. Two difficulties that seem to recur are desecration of cemetery sites and deliberate destruction of old and presumably abandoned cemeteries. Fannin County has had to deal with both. Contributing to both situations are the laws of Texas. No state agency enforces laws dealing with cemeteries. There are laws, however, on the books, which delegate the powers of enforcement to the counties and/or cities. Often it is difficult to impress on local authorities the importance of enforcement.
In recent years there have been two major cases of desecration of Fannin cemeteries. In both instances the cemeteries have been in rural areas with little or no protection. One of the worst cases of deliberate desecration occurred a couple of years ago with almost total destruction of Rehobeth Cemetery near Ladonia. The perpetrators of these senseless acts have yet to be discovered.

The second situation was more recent with the vandalization of the Carson Cemetery north of Ector. In this case the guilty party was discovered.

Not all acts of vandalism are limited to isolated rural areas. Willow Wild Cemetery in Bonham and Arledge Ridge Cemetery on a well traveled State Highway have seen random acts of vandalism in recent years.

Two Texas laws deal with this situation, although personally I think the penalties are too lenient for the crime. Section 40.09 of the Texas Penal Code states that it is a Class A, misdemeanor for intentionally or knowingly desecrating a place of burial. Section 42.10 states that a person who intentionally or knowingly disinters or disturbs a human corpse also commits a Class A misdemeanor.

In the cases of deliberate destruction most of these seem to have occurred because of a clear misunderstanding of exactly what denotes a cemetery under Texas law. In recent years there have been a number well publicized cases in which developers or persons who coveted sites occupied by cemeteries have deliberately undertaken to obliterate any signs of these burial places. Without exception, when these events occurred the perpetrators have found that the courts take a very dim view of such actions.

A Collin County developer found that his claims of ownership of a cemetery in a residenital development could be an expensive mistake when he attempted to remove what he viewed as an impediment to his plans.

The Texas Statutes state clearly that once a property is dedicated for cemetery use, it cannot be used for any other purpose unless the dedication is removed by a district court or the cemetery is enjoined or abated as a nuisance. Further the Texas courts have declared that no special ceremony is necessary to dedicate a cemetery.

Enclosure of land for use as a cemetery and evidence of burial are among the criteria for dedication. The fact that the remains of the dead buried in a cemetery have not been removed and that tombstones mark the places of burial is sufficient to show that the cemetery has not been abandoned.