Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Life Is But A Shadow

Bonham Daily Favorite, January 29, 1995

Each time a land owner removes a fence from around an ancient cemetery, each time a farmer willfully plows across a solitary grave shattering its marble marker into dust, and each time a group of destruction bent vandals topples grave markers in a serene county cemetery, part of the history of that area is lost, perhaps irretrievably.  Only too often these stones, marking the final place of pioneer settlers, are the only tangible records left to the future generations to ponder and wonder about.

One time a stone in the small Johnston Cemetery west of Honey Grove; in beautifully engraved script; left a poignant message for those who chanced across a young man's grace.  "Farewell for life is but a shadow and death the door of immortality."

We can't begin to discuss all the cemeteries of Fannin County in this space. A look at some of the more unusual ones or ones which played a more than ordinary role in the history of the county might help us to understand the importance of seeing that these remaining burial sites and those which have been destroyed are identified and preserved in whatever manner possible.

If you have ever taken a trip to New England and walked through some of the verdant, hushed expanses of a colonial graveyard, you cannot help but feel a sense of history in these places.  Look at some of the birthdates on the markers and suddenly you are struck by the fact the person who lies before you was born when Elizabeth I still sat on the throne of England and William Shakespeare had not yet written "King Lear." If this doesn't infuse you with a sense of history then I know of nothing which will.

In Texas, however, we generally regard our history as being too young.  We have no early seventeenth tombstones.  We sometimes feel no connection with the past.  We look at the graves and pass on.
Right here in Fannin County we can span more than two centuries by the stories told by our tombstones.  From a random sampling of cemeteries scattered throughout the county we can connect with colonial society in the days proceeding the American Revolution.

The earliest birthdate I could find is that of John Lee, buried in the Lee cemetery west of Honey Grove. John Lee was born in 1757, nineteen years before we declared our independence. He died in Fannin County far removed from his Virginia heritage and he saw a wealth of change in his lifetime. Tradition says that he was a cousin of Robert E. Lee.

James Carter, as a young boy of seven in Virginia must have seen the terrors of the Resolution as it swirled about him.  And he must have heard the stories of another revolution when he came to a newly independent county less than two years after the deaths at the Alamo.

Seven other pioneers of the Fannin County frontier were born just as the American Revolution began or as it finally dwindled to a close.  Elizabeth Pettigrew was born in 1777, Benjamin Bourland in 1779, Daniel 0. Rowlett, father of Fannin County and John McFarland were both born in 1786. James Tarlton, who fought for Texas independence at the Battle of Jacinto was born in 1787.

William Onstott was born in North Carolina just as the forces of Revolution were gathering in 1774.  His wife Elizabeth, also a North Carolina native, came into the world as fer fellow tarheels began to savor their independence in 1784. William and Elizabeth present something of a puzzle in the cemetery records of Fannin County.  William died i 1856 and is buried in the Hilger Cemetery.  At her death nine years later Elizabeth is buried in the Onstott/Stewart Cemetery.  What fortunes kept them separated after death?

Confusion about Fannin County cemeteries arises often for the simple fact that several of the cemeteries have more than one name.  Unfortunately almost none of these small rural cemeteries have records.  It seems that record keeping was not considered a necessity in the beginning so not only are we unaware of all burials in a particular cemetery, but we often do not know the correct or original name.

Orrs Chapel Cemetery, near Telephone, is listed on many maps as Arch Chapel. The correct name is Orr. Smyrna Cemetry is often called the Lannius Cemetery because of its proximity to that community.  The Savoy Cemetery is most often called Sunnyside.  Gum Springs Cemetery is frequently called Carson, not to be confused with Carson Cemetery north of Ector.

Danner Cemetery and Owens Chapel are one and the same, but not the same as Orrs Chapel.  Greenwood Cemetery is the name along side the roadway near the site but it also is Jenkins Cemetery. There do not appear to be either Jenkins or Greenwoods buried here.

We also have two Lee Cemeteries, two Shilohs, a Center Point and a Center Grove.  If you like the name Allen choose from
 Allen's Point, Allen's Chapel, and Allen.

The Fannin County Museum of History and Ricky Kirk are working to prepare and publish a map locating all known cemeteries of Fannin County. Those cemeteries that still exist in some form, well tended or overgrown, will be listed with cemeteries which have been destroyed.