Day Sixteen: A town that is only a cemetery, a somber memorial, and Texas BBQ

Today was intended to mostly be just a driving day – hopping from Big Spring, Texas, to San Antonio, hopefully with a little light left over to see a few sites in the big city.

We headed south out of Big Spring on Highway 87. As we drive, we keep our eyes peeled for the interesting, the unusual, the dead. As I’ve mentioned before, we both love to find old cemeteries and wander around in them for hours. For me, I always feel inspired by the many stories I find there, often told in so few words. Dawn loves the history of the places, and she too can’t help but imagine what stories lie beyond the headstones.

Today, just after we had driven past a little town called Sterling City, we saw a cemetery beside the highway, with nothing else around it. Since cemeteries are almost always connected to specific towns, that piqued our curiosity. Here’s the sign we saw beside the road:

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So, there is a Montvale Cemetery, but whither Montvale proper? A sign beside the cemetery explained that the town had been formed in 1884, when a tiny town named St. Elmo was relocated there. Montvale grew to be a prosperous town, with the first school in the area opened there in the late 1880s. Then, in 1889, one of the local businessmen, R.B. Cummins, decided to start his own town five miles over and named it Cummins. Of course he did. Between  some of the population leaving for Cummins, and the rest for Sterling when it started in 1891, the town was deserted. Except for the cemetery, of course, which now stands lonely amid flat fields and scrub brush.

Here’s an example of the kind of headstone that fires my imagination, as well as tears at my heart:

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If you can’t read the inscription on the headstone, here is what it says:

“Virginia M. Holloway, Born November 26, 1885, Died June 6, 1897.” Here’s the short poem, written by her bereaved family: “Sweet Virgie unto earth/A little while was given/She plumed her wing for flight/And soared away to heaven.”  I cannot read that and be unmoved.

Cemeteries also show the transience of many things, including our last resting place. I love this shot, showing the earth reclaiming these sturdy graves:

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We stopped at another cemetery a hundred miles or so down the road, but I left the camera in the car and was too lazy to go back and get it because… have I mentioned we are in Texas? And that it is H-O-T? Yes, it is September, and I’m sure it was hotter two months ago, but the 93 degree heat combined with the oppressive humidity encouraged me to get back in the air conditioned car and stay there. We did see two separate couples that died exactly ten days apart, though. Not the same dates. That would have been a story, no doubt.

As we headed to San Antonio, we made one little side trip to Comfort, Texas, to see another of the offbeat memorials I love, not unlike the Japanese Balloon Bomb Memorial in Oregon.  That memorial marked a quirk of fate, and a tragedy. The memorial in Comfort is more about what man is capable of doing to man.

This is the memorial:

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It memorializes the loss of 40 German-American lives in The Battle of Nueces, or The Nueces Massacre, depending on which side of the issue you stand. In short, there was a large settlement of Germans in the Hill Country of Texas at the start of the Civil War. They were, overall, not friendly to the idea of slavery. When Texas voted to secede from the Union, many of the “no” votes came from them. This put them under scrutiny and suspicion. When the war started outright, a number of the German men decided to ride into Mexico, then across to Union-controlled New Orleans, where they could join the Union army.

Understandably, Confederate forces were not crazy about a group of men joining the other side from their own area, and so set out to stop them. On August 9th, 1862, the Confederate forces caught up to the German Texans along the Nueces River. A battle followed, with the Germans taking the heaviest losses. Eventually, the remainder of them broke and fled. So far, so good, as far as calling it The Battle of Nueces. However, after that, the remaining prisoners and those fleeing into the river were hunted down and killed as well. A point toward calling it the Nueces Massacre. 

I don’t pretend to know the truth of the situation, but this memorial presents a powerful picture of loss and grief. Several of the remaining German Texans bought a lot and had this memorial built by local stonemasons in 1865. Here’s another angle that I found interesting:

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That’s the flag that flies over the memorial. If it looks a little odd, it’s because it only has 36 stars – the number of states in the Union on the day the memorial was dedicated.

Honestly, after a day of old cemeteries and somber monuments, we were ready for a little easy relaxation by the end of the day. We got to San Antonio a little before sundown, checked into our room near the Riverwalk, and went for a stroll. I don’t believe I have ever posted a picture of food before, but I have to make an exception tonight:

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That is a whole mess of Texas BBQ. In case you are worried about the instant hardening of my arteries, I will point out that is for both of us, and we brought most of it home with us. That’s the “All You Can Eat” BBQ platter from County Line BBQ along the Riverwalk, and it was a lot more than we could eat, even though we gave it our best shot.

We are spending tomorrow right here in San Antonio. The Alamo. Old Cathedrals. Lots of walking. Happy Shawn and Dawn.

Cheers, and safe travels!

Shawn

11 comments

  1. Great blog. Texas and Arkansas have the best barbecue. I was born in Texas. Spent the first 17 years of my life there. Still have a lot of Texas in me.

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  2. That little fort a block or two over tomorrow? 🙂 If you go to the capital building you’ll find a memorial that mentions “The War of Northern Aggression.” That was the first place this yankee saw that term.

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  3. I find old cemeteries extremely interesting. As I stand above a grave, I try to imagine what kind of clothing the person might have worn. Your BBQ looks scrumptious, finger licking good. Have a good evening and safe travels tomorrow.

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  4. I love cemeteries. They fuel the imagination and pique curiosity. We recently spent some time in our local cemetery paying respects to a dear neighbor and friend. Wandering around and looking at all plots was fascinating. I am glad you are still enjoying your trip. Be safe and have fun!

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