Category Archives: People

Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery

EpiscopalMasonicCemetery
[Detail of Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery from 1895 Map, showing location near intersection of Bagby and Lamar]

Newspaper articles about neglected and abandoned Houston cemeteries are not that uncommon.  What may surprise some, though, is that a newspaper article on the subject appeared over a hundred years ago, when the city of Houston was relatively new. Because of the length of the article, only the first part of the article (which concerns the old Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery) is reprinted below.  The other two parts of the article, which concern two other early Houston cemeteries, will be featured here on later dates.

A number of the words in the discussion of the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery are difficult to read in the copy of the article that Houstorian viewed.  Bracketed words below are best guesses – bracketed question marks indicate a word is missing, and no guess was made.

The article is titled “Houston’s Oldest Cemeteries: Cities of the Dead of Past Generations Neglected and Some of Them Almost Obliterated,” and it appeared in the Houston Daily Post on February 15, 1903:

Within a dozen squares of the business [district] of Houston, almost hidden from [view] with a matted growth of rank vegetation, that at this season is sere and dead, [sits] the city’s oldest cemetery.

[It is] unkempt and forlorn and presents [an] appearance that is too often characteristic of old age.  In the hallowed spot [sleep] many of those who helped to hew [?] of Houston’s greatness.  Their [bodies] have long since changed to ashes [and] time has corroded the slabs that [marked] their resting places until the [?] letters on the perishable marble [are] no longer legible.

The younger generations and later residents of Houston, perhaps, do not even [know] of the presence of this sacred old [burial] ground.  But the old-timer who has [helped] to fashion the destinies of the city [in] the last half century is aware of its [presence] and not unlikely has dropped [?] within its inclosure.

Adjoining the Sam Houston city park on [the] north side is a narrow strip of ground [embracing] some six or seven acres.  It approaches within 100 feet of Bagby street, [?] a view of it is obstructed by houses [that] have long been built between it and the thoroughfare.  A high board fence [separates] it from the city park, like the [?] partition between the realms of life and death.

Many gay people as they have strolled through the park have paused and wondered what lay beyond the high fence.  At [one] point a stone structure, bereft of roof, [?] its scarred walls, like the ruins of [some] miniature monastery, above the [?].  A half century ago it was a vault [?] within it were coffined forms.  Now it is a mere shell.  A later generation has [removed] the bodies and placed them in [?] graves.

The burial ground is known as the old Episcopal cemetery.  No records are obtainable as to when it was laid out, but [?] common consent it is accredited the [?] of the most venerable cemetery in the city.

Years ago the city sought to condemn it, and similar steps have been taken at various times since.  The right of the city to do so was always questioned and with sufficient force to prevent the action being carried out.  Some two years ago the city [?] attempted to purchase the grounds.  If the deal had been consummated it was the [?] to remove the bodies and add the [?] to the city park.

Burials have practically ceased there and [?] one is recorded during the past two years.  In fact, from time to time bodies have been removed and placed in more modern cemeteries, until now the little [city] of the dead has not half its former inhabitants.  A number of family lots in which reposed all that was mortal of whole [?] of two generations ago have been [?] depopulated.

[?] slabs still lie scattered about and their simple graven announcements give [thoughts] to conjure by.  With but few exceptions the graves are entirely overgrown and the mattes mass of vegetation is so dense that parts of the grounds can not be penetrated at all.  In many lots [?] which are fragments of iron fences [?] have grown from the seed and the [?] reproduction of weeds and briers have flourished and withered, obliterating [?] traces of graves.

A few rambling notes gathered from old [?] and vault slabs may be of interest and may recall faces that smiled generations ago and hands that performed their [?] in the ceaseless struggle of human
[?].

“Sacred to the memory of R. Wallace, [died] September 8, 1858.  Age 25 years.”

“[In] memory of Dr. B.C. Dewey. Formerly a resident of Coldwater, Mich.; died in Houston, October 13, 1858.  Age 35 years.”

“Abraham Payne, died January 11, 1840.”

“Catherine Cartright Payne. Died 1841. Age 22 years.”

“Mrs. Hannah Payne, native of England. Died November 10, 1870.”

[One] vault bears the following inscription:

“Here lies the remains of Remi Miville De [?], born Quebec, Canada, May [20, 17??]. Died 1860.”

“[?] J.B. Anderson, born New York, October 15, 1807.  Died September 1, 1858.”

“James B., W.P. and Hellen Massie.  Died October 8, 1859.  Age 5.”  In the [same] lot is a shaft on which is carved the [square] and the compass, with the inscription, “William P. Massie, died March 7, [?], age 50.”

“In memory of Sarah E. J., wife of Dr. [?] Earl Hartridge, who departed this life [?], 1855.  Age 28.” Also “Luzetta, [?] 2 years, died 1858.”

“[?] A. Harris –” the rest illegible, the [?] being shattered and very old.

“Anna Marie, only daughter of U. and S. [?], born February 6, 1851; died January [?], 1856.”

“[?] loving memory of Kate, daughter of [?] and H.T. Rottenstein.  Died November [?], 1850.  Aged 4 years.”

“[?] M. Duval, born December [?], 1779.  Died April 30, 1860.” The inscription is [?] a massive vault, now partially uncovered.

“Sacred to the memory of Dr. John S. [Duval], born October 19, 1829.  Died November 14, 1858.”  This record is likewise [?] a large vault slab, but it is in a fair state of preservation.

“[In] memory of W.D. Smith, died February 13, 1858, in the fifty-second year of his [life].”

“Sacred to the memory of John Dawson, native of Northumberland, England.  Died [October] 1849, aged 27 years.”

“In memory of Daniel M. Cutter, born October 21, 1790.  Died April 26, 1866, aged 75 years.”

“James W. Oats, born 1797, in Sampson county, North Carolina.  Died in Houston March 5, 1870.”

“George Morgan, infant of G.A. Jones.  Died 1850.”

“Sacred to the memory of S.H. Skiff.  Died October, 1859.”

“Alberta Foster, died 1857.”

“Agness, daughter of L.S. and H.B. Perkins, died August 6, 1846.”

“This mortal must put on immortality.  In memory of Leonard S. Perkins, aged 49.  Died October 22, 1858.”

“Sarah M. Perkins, wife of Rev. J.W. Tays, died at Oxford, N.Y., September 24, 1870. Eunice, daughter of A.S. and F. Perkins, died November 13, 1859. They rest in hope.”

An old iron fence bears the inscription, “J.N. Dupree, 1857.”

On what is perhaps the largest shaft in the grounds is the following: “Sacred to the memory of Captain D.C. Farmer. Called from labor to reward August 4, 1870.”

. . . .

“Mason, Holland lodge No. 1, A.F. and A.M.
Who wears the square upon his breast does in the
Sight of God attest and in the face of man
That all his actions will compare with the
Divine, the unerring square, that square
Great nature’s plan.

Over the River company Fifth Texas regiment, Hood’s brigade.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.”

Near the entrance of the cemetery is a shattered shaft bearing the following:

“Henry Benchley, died February 24, 1867, age 46 years.  Erected by the Houston and Texas Central Railway company as a tribute of respect to an upright man and a faithful officer.”

“Enter rest eternal, the kindest husband and most indulgent father, the truest friend and the most generous man.”

The reference to the graves of Abraham Payne (died January 11, 1840), Catherine Cartright Payne (died 1841, at the age of 22), and Mrs. Hannah Payne, “native of England” (died November 10, 1870) is interesting.  These appear to be the father, older sister, and step-mother of Kezia Payne DePelchin, the founder of the DePelchin Faith Home (which now operates as the DePelchin Children’s Center).  DePelchin herself died in 1893, and some sites mention that she and her “parents” were relocated to Forest Park Cemetery on Lawndale.

The Masonic references in the article suggest that the author was exploring not just the grounds of the old Episcopal Cemetery, but also those of the adjacent Masonic Cemetery.  The two are often referred to as the “Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery”, and it’s quite possible that the boundary between the two wasn’t clearly marked, especially in later years.

William P. Massie, whose year of death is not legible, appears to have been a Mason.  He may be the William Massie who fought at the Battle of San Jancinto in 1836.  (The gravestone of a William P. “Massey” is mentioned in a 1960 Houston Chronicle article as one of a handful of gravestones still visible in the Masonic Cemetery next to the Episcopal Cemetery.)

The poem excerpted above was written in honor of Captain D.C. Farmer (died 1870), a captain in Hood’s Brigade in the Confederate States Army.

Leonard S. Perkins (died 1858) once owned a 10-acre parcel of land on Buffalo Bayou, near Frost Town.

S.H. Skiff (died 1859) appears to have been a charter member of the Houston Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 (a predecessor of the fire department), which was formed in 1858.  Dick Dowling was another of the handful of charter members.

Finally, Henry Benchley (died 1867) was the namesake of the town of Benchley, Texas.  Early in his life, he served as a state senator and lieutenant governor in Massachusetts and, in the 1850’s, he helped found the Republican party.  He is said to have moved to Texas to operate a station on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves, and to have been arrested and jailed in Texas for having done so.  His grandson, Robert Benchley, was a famous humorist and contributor to the New Yorker.

As noted in the Louis F. Aulbach article on the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery, some remains were moved from the cemetery in the 1870’s, to Glenwood Cemetery.  Additional remains were moved to Brookside Cemetery in 1938, when City Hall was constructed.  Then, in 1959, 80 additional bodies were moved to Glenwood Cemetery.  However, in light of the information the Daily Post article gives about the neglected state of the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery as early as 1903, it is unlikely that all remains in the cemetery were located, much less relocated.

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Audubon’s 1837 Visit to Houston

Mockingbirds
[Audubon print of Mockingbirds]

The great naturalist John James Audubon visited the Republic of Texas, including Houston, in 1837.  The Texas State Historical Association reports that “important parts of John James Audubon’s journal, including information on his 1837 Texas trip, were lost.”  Some portions of his journal writings on Houston appear to have survived, however, as they have been reproduced in various sources.  In 1875, the Galveston newspaper, excerpting from a piece in the San Marcos newspaper, reproduced Audubon’s account of his visit to Houston as follows:

May 15. We landed at Houston, the capital of Texas, drenched to the skin, and were kindly received on board the steamer Yellow Stone, Captain West, who gave us his state-room to change our clothes, and furnished us refreshments and dinner.  The Buffalo bayou had risen about six feet, and the neighboring prairies were partly covered with water; there was a wild and desolate look cast on the surrounding scenery. We had already passed two little girls encamped on the bank of the bayou, under the cover of a few clapboards, cooking a scanty meal; shanties, cargoes of hogsheads, barrels, etc., were spread about the landing; and Indians drunk and hallooing were stumbling about in the mud in every direction. These poor beings had come here to enter into a treaty proposed by the whites; many of them were young and well looking, and with far less decorations than I have seen before on such occasions. The chief of the tribe is an old and corpulent man.

We walked towards the President’s house, accompanied by the Secretary of the Navy, and as soon as we rose above the bank we saw before us a level of far-extending prairie, destitute of timber and of rather poor soil. Houses, half finished, and most of them without roofs, tents and a liberty pole, with the capitol, were all exhibited to our view at once.  We approached the President’s mansion, however, wading through water above our ankles. This abode of President Houston is a small log house, consisting of two rooms, and a passage through after, the Southern fashion. The moment we stepped over the threshold, on the right hand of the passage we found ourselves ushered into what in other countries would be called the ante-chamber; the ground floor, however, was muddy and filthy, a large fire was burning, a small table covered with paper and writing materials was in the center, camp-beds, trunks and different materials were strewed around the room. We were at once presented to several members of the Cabinet, some of whom bore the stamp of men of intellectual ability, simple though bold, in their general appearance.  Here we were presented to Mr. Crawford, an agent of the British Minister to Mexico, who has come here on some secret mission.

The President was engaged in the opposite room on national business, and we could not see him for some time. Meanwhile we amused ourselves by walking to the capitol, which was yet without a roof, arid the floors, benches, and tables of both houses of Congress were as well saturated with water as our clothes had been in the morning. Being invited by one of the great men of the place to enter a booth to take a drink of grog with whim, we did so; but I was rather surprised that he offered his name, instead of the cash to the bar-keeper.

We first caught sight of President Houston as he walked from one of the grog-shops, where he had been to prevent the sale of ardent spirits. He was on his way to his house, and wore a large coarse gray hat; and the bulk of his figure reminded me of the appearance of Gen. Hopkins, of Virginia, for, like him, he is upward of six feet high, and strong in proportion. But I observed a scowl in the expression of his eyes that was forbidding and disagreeable.  We reached his abode before him, but he soon came, and we were presented to his Excellency. He was dressed in a fancy velvetcoat, and trowsers trimmed with broad gold lace; around his neck was tied a cravat somewhat in the style of seventy-six. He received us kindly, was desirous of retaining us for a while, and offered us every facility within his power. He at once removed us from the ante-room to his private chamber, which, by the way was not much cleaner than the former. We were severally introduced by him to the different members of his cabinet and staff, and at once asked to drink grog with him, which we did, wishing success to his new republic. Our talk was short, but the impression which was made on my mind at the time by himself, his officers, and his place of abode, can never be forgotten.

We returned to our boat through a melee of Indians and blackguards of all sorts. In giving a last glance back we once more noticed a number of horses rambling about the grounds, or tied beneath the few trees that have been spared by the axe. We also saw a liberty pole, erected on the anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto, on the 21st of last April, and were informed that a brave tar, who rigged the Texan flag on that occasion, had been personally rewarded by President Houston with a town lot, a doubloon and the privilege of keeping a ferry across the Buffalo bayou at the town, where the bayou forks diverge in opposite directions.

More information:

TSHA, Handbook of Texas Online, “Audubon, John James”

100 Years Ago – February 13, 1909

Houston, Tex., Feb. 13, 1909: Harris County Sheriff Archie Anderson announced a “systematic investigation of the situation at Houston Heights, the citizens of which suburban addition to Houston are at present experiencing the presence in their midst of negro highway robbers.” The robbers were accused of having carried out almost nightly hold-ups, without masks – including an incident on February 12 in which a Heights resident was robbed “under the glare of an arc lamp.”

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in Texas – it was created in 1837, with a single man on horseback, back when Harris County was still Harrisburg County. Archie Anderson was the nineteenth Sheriff, from 1899 to 1912. He had previously served as Deputy Sheriff. Anderson took office at a time when “gambling was everywhere and cattle and horse thieves were abundant, as were the cowboys who insisted on shooting up the town.” (Harris County Sheriff’s Department – 1837-2005 (2005))

100 Years Ago – February 12, 1909

Austin, Tex., Feb 12, 1909: Representative C.C. Highsmith, of Houston, asked the Texas House of Representatives to reconsider its refusal to pass a bill he had sponsored that would have made stealing a dog illegal in Texas, with the penalty being the same as that for stealing a hog. His intention was apparently to protect valuable bird dogs.

He could not, however, get the House to consider the bill seriously, although it considered it twice. He was asked if it had occurred to him that this bill would protect curs and other undesirable dogs, as well as bird hunters. “What’s the difference between a dawg and a hawg?” some members asked, and they answered: “You can eat a hawg, but a dawg eats you out of house and home.” The House killed the bill on Monday. They brought it back today by the reconsideration process, and then speedily, without consideration for Mr. Highsmith’s feelings or the welfare of the fine Houston dogs, again killed and buried the bill. Senator Vest’s tribute to the dog and all that sort of thing was brought into play, but it was no use. The House had gone on record to the effect that there is at least one living thing that is not entitled to legislative protection or attention.

In 1907, as Assistant City Attorney of Houston, Highsmith had convinced the city to enact fines for druggists selling cocaine other than by prescription.


[C.C. Highsmith – University of Texas Center for American History, Robert Runyon Collection]

Japanese Rice Farmers

saibara1.jpg
[Seito Saibara]

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[1904 – Seito Saibara’s new house, on his rice farm near Webster]

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[1905 – Japanese rice farmers on a rice farm near Texas]

rice1.jpg
[“Planting time on a Japanese rice farm near Houston, Texas”]

Per the Handbook of Texas Online:

An important event in the development of the Texas Gulf Coast rice industry was the introduction of seed imported from Japan in 1904. Seed rice had previously come from Honduras or the Carolinas. At the invitation of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Pacific Railroad, Japanese farmers were brought to Texas to advise local farmers on rice production, bringing with them seed as a gift from the emperor of Japan. . . . Japanese rice production began at Webster in Harris County under the direction of Seito Saibara, his family, and thirty original colonists. The Saibara family has been credited with establishing the Gulf Coast rice industry.

Ironically, Saibara, while highly accomplished in other fields, had no prior experience growing rice.

While there are numerous postcards from the early 1900’s showing Japanese rice farmers wearing traditional clothing in the rice fields, the farmers otherwise wore the same style clothing as their non-Japanese neighbors. Still, the presence of Japanese natives in rural Houston was noteworthy enough at the time that even Saibara’s son’s enrollment in school was noteworthy. In September 1904, Saibara wrote a letter to the Galveston Board of Trustees, asking if his son and his son’s friend could enroll in Ball High School. As reported in the Galveston Daily News, under the headline “Japs in Ball School”, the school superintdent stated in support of the application that he had met Saibara and his son and “[found] them to be of the highest type of their race.” The Board voted to allow the superintendent to handle the matter as he saw fit. (By 1928, the same paper was reporting, in a column called “Webster Personal Items of Widespread Interest”, that Saibara’s grandson was home from Texas A&M for the summer.)

Saibara hoped to establish a large Japanese rice farming colony in Webster, and had some success in that direction. However, in 1924, the federal government barred new Japanese immigrants from the United States.

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[Mykawa Rd. sign]

mykawa2.jpg
[Shinpei Mykawa’s gravestone in Hollywood Cemetery]


[Mykawa School – photo posted by isuredid on HAIF]

Another early Japanese immigrant to the Houston area was Shinpei Mykawa, for whom the town of Mykawa and Mykawa Rd. are named. Mykawa began a rice farming venture in the area later named for him, but was killed in the rice field, by a mule-driven seed roller, just months after he began farming. Santa Fe Railroad officials subsequently named the local railroad station after him. (The town of Mykawa had 200 residents in 1914, and a post office until 1933, but had shrunk by 1986 to a trailer park and the abandoned railroad station.) Mykawa was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. During World War II, his gravemarker was temporarily removed from the cemetery because it bore Japanese writing, and was considered by some to be a “Japanese monument”.

More information:
Walls, Thomas K., “The Japanese Texans”, TexanCultures.utsa.edu

Dean Corll, the Candy Man

dean_corll.jpg
[Photo of Dean Corll in Army uniform]

Dean Corll was a serial killer who murdered at least 27 people in Houston over a two-year period in the early 1970’s. At the time the murders were discovered, it was the largest number of victims attributed to a serial killer in United States history. Most of his victims were boys or young men who lived in the Heights, where Corll had operated a candy factory (on West 22nd Street, behind Helms Elementary School) – hence the “Candy Man” moniker. His crimes came to light only when Corll was shot and killed by a teenage boy who had helped to lure boys to Corll’s home, and who ultimately participated in some of the murders. The “Houston Mass Murders” received considerable national and international attention in the 1970’s.

More information:
Wikipedia – Dean Corll
CrimeLibrary.com, “Dean Corll: The Sex, Sadism and Slaughter of Houston’s Candy Man”

Emma Seelye, Union Soldier

emmaseelye.jpg
[Emma Seelya as Pvt. Franklin Thompson – txsuv.org]

Emma Seelya was born Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmundson, in Canada, in 1841. She ran away from home at the age of 17, to avoid an unwanted marriage. She disguised herself as a boy and, in 1861, enlisted in the Union Army in the United States as “Franklin Thompson”. She served in the Union Army for nearly two years, undetected, and carried out special assignments that included penetrating Confederate lines disguised as a woman. Seelya later married and moved with her family to La Porte, Texas, where she was made a member of the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic (a large Civil War veterans’ group, of which she was the only female member). In 1898, three years after her death, her remains were transferred to the GAR plot in Houston’s German Cemetery (or German Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft) Cemetery). German Cemetery, which was renamed Washington Cemetery in 1918, due to anti-German sentiment related to World War I, is adjacent to Glenwood Cemetery, between Washington Ave. and Memorial Dr.

More information:
The Handbook of Texas Online, “Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmundson Seelye (1841-1898)“.
Civilwarhome.com biography of Emma Seelye