Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
The Oldest Cemetery in Fannin County?
Bonham Daily Favorite, January 15, 1995
In last week's column a few of Texas laws protecting cemeteries were presented in an abbreviated form. Persons interested in a more detailed explanation of these laws are encouraged to check Vernon's Annotated Revised Civil Statutes of the State of Texas.
One other area of concern for those with ancestors buried in remote and neglected cemeteries is the right of access to these cemeteries. Most of the burial sites in question generally lie within the confines of a privately owned section of land.
On more than one occasion persons desiring to visit one of these cemeteries have been threatened with bodily harm, arrest, or other unpleasantries if they dare to set foot on the privately owned property. There are no specific Texas laws which deal with access to historic/old cemeteries. However, Texas courts in several cases have clearly expressed the right of visitors to the cemeteries to cross over privately owned land.
In Texas Jurisprudence , Second Edition, Volume II the following information is quoted: "Right to care for and decorate grave lots... A cemetery is not only a place where the dead may be buried, but is also one in which the living may give expression to their affection and respect for the dead by marking and decorating the place of interment and beautifying its surroundings.
The right to enter the grounds for the purpose of burying the dead, under reasonable restrictions and regulations, is accompanied by the right to care for the grave. Neither of these rights is such as to require the personal attention of those in whom they inhere. They may be accompanied by an agent and the right to have them done by an agent."
From these cases and others it remains clear that it is impossible for persons to visit a cemetery to care for graves there unless access, or the rights of ingress and egress, were extended. It appears that the courts have established such rights.
Two other laws are also important to our discussion here because there had been much misunderstanding concerning the use of public funds for these old cemeteries. Section 713.021 of the Health and Safety Code states that any county commissioners court may create a trust fund for the maintenance and upkeep of neglected public and private cemeteries in the county.
Section 713.028 of the Health and Safety Code states that a commissioners court may use public funds, county employees , and county equipment for the maintenance of cemeteries for the purpose of historic preservation (i . e. , with grave markers more than 50 years old) and protection of the public health, safety, and welfare.
As stated previously, local law enforcement authorities such as police departments and sheriff's department are responsible for enforcement of these laws and the protection of our historic cemeteries. If anyone sees or suspects that a cemetery is being vandalized, destroyed, or otherwise endangered, these local authorities should be contacted immediately. Time is essential. Even the slightest delay could result in irreparable damage or loss of one of our most valuable resources.
Don't be content to merely report the incident. Follow through to insure that proper steps are being taken. If you feel that the law enforcement agencies are not responding quickly and adequately contact the county or district judge, county attorney or others in proper legal positions.
If these actions still fail then next contact the Texas Historical Association in Austin or the Texas Attorney General's office. Thoroughly document your calls, observations, and any other information you feel may be pertinent to the situation.
I have often been asked what is the oldest cemetery in Fannin County. The answer is simply that no one really knows. Obviously people died in the area before the county was officially created and the courts organized. A look at the earliest probate files show a number of deaths but there is no documentation as to the place of burial. Certainly families may have suffered several losses and interred their dead in a plot near the family cabin.
There is no stone in the near vicinity of Fannin County which is durable enough to serve for grave markers. In the earliest days of the Republic only the very wealthy could afford to have the more suitable markers hauled from long distances. In most of the cases the grave site was simply marked with a wooden marker. Sometimes these were carved with names and basic information and of course the passage of time slowly eroded these last records. Other graves may have been marked with a simple wooden stake. Bois d'Arc was certainly the wood of choice for these simple tributes as a visit to many of our rural cemeteries will attest.
The absence of old markers makes it impossible to awarded the "oldest" appelation to any of Fannin County's cemeteries. An educated guess would place Inglish Cemetery in Bonham and the Johnson-Kitchings Cemetery near Mulberry as the two top contenders. I personally lean toward support of the Johnson-Kitchings site for one reason.
This cemetery is located very near the site of Fort Warren. We know, from a variety of sources, that the settlement of Warren which sprang up around the Fort/Trading Post was larger and more active than Bonham for at least the first three or four years of the founding of the county. Since this cemetery is the only known site near Warren I think logically this would be the oldest.
Others have claimed that Inglish cemetery began in 1838 with the burial of an unknown Indian. Considering the attitude of early settlers toward regional Indians I can only imagine that an Indian burial would have been accidental in the area and not deliberate enough to establish a cemetery.
Judge John Simpson, as later recounted in Wilbarger's Indian Depredations of Texas, stated that the burials of young William McCarty and Andrew Daugherty were the second interments in Inglish Cemetery. However, the deaths of these two boys occurred in late 1838 after General Tarrant's forces had left the area in pursuit of the Indians, and an 1838 date still seems to have been later than possible Johnson Kitchings burials .