Henderson, Rusk Co. Cemeteries of TX

Used by permission of the Rusk Co. Historical Commission

Rusk Co. History (1982)

 One of the city of Henderson's most historic places is rapidly deteriorating. Situated on city block No. 24 in the William Johnson Survey, both age and neglect have taken their toll on the Old City Cemetery.  Many of the once magnificent monuments now lie toppled and broken.  Quite a few of these stones are truly works of art.  Many were imported from Italy.  Their once smooth and sculptured surfaces are now rough and cracked by the wind and time.  The oldest marked grave still remaining is dated 1851, though undoubtedly, there are many older graves which are not identifiable.  Indeed, the City Cemetery may be as old as the city of Henderson itself.

     Five acres of land were sold by Thomas M.Likens to the Town Commissioners' of Henderson for the purpose of establishing a public cemetery.  This transaction was recorded in the first Commissioners Minute Book, and dated December 14, 1855.  The selling price was fifty dollars.  The land was purchased by Likens from William Taylor, administrator for William F. Johnson deceased of Houston County, Texas.  Johnson was granted the original head-right by the Board of Land Commissioners of the Republic of Texas (Certificate No. 118).  The deed conveying the land from Taylor to Likens was most probably recorded in Book E, page 79 of the Rusk County Deed Record Books.  This volume was lost in the courthouse fire of 1878.

 Beneath the shade of the pines, oaks, magnolias and crepe myrtles rest many pioneers from Rusk County's past.  Judges, clerks, military men, preachers, civic leaders and politicians all lie among the farmers, and the merchants who were the heart and soul of the community. 

Two former presidents of A. & M. University are buried here: Thomas S. Gathwright was recommended for his appointment as president to A. & M. by former President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.  He also served as the second president of the Henderson Male and Female College.  R.T. Milner, in addition to his service to A. & M., represented Rusk County in the State House at Austin for three consecutive terms, and was Speaker of the House in 1890.  Milner also operated  "The Henderson Times" newspaper for twenty-five years.

 Timothy Pilsbury, a member of the family  which founded the Pillsbury Baking Company, also is buried here.   Pilsbury served as a Senator in the Republic of Texas, and as a representative to the U.S. Congress. 

To the left of the cemetery entrance is the grave of the Reverend William Craig, an early Methodist circuit preacher, and former chaplain of the Texas Senate.  Frank Welsh Bowden, a former congressman from Alabama (1846-1850), lies buried close to the Pilsbury tomb in an unmarked grave. Bowden is cited by Henry Clay as being " the greatest living orator " in his time and is referred to as the only man who could drive Houston (General Sam) from the rostrum.

 Other notables buried within the confines of the cemetery's wrought iron fence include Mrs. Susan C. Camp, who died in 1855.  She was a cousin of former U.S. President John Tyler.  Also Dr. James A.S. Parsons one of the county's first physicians and first treasurer for the Town Commissioners of the city of Henderson.

 A grandson of legendary Texas statesman Sam Houston lies here in a long forgotten grave.  Sam Houston Bringhurst (March 3, 1878 to October 11, 1895) was the son of Houston's daughter, Nettie Powers Houston and her husband, William Lorraine Bringhurst, who was a professor in the Henderson College.

 Former District Judge William Clark Buford and former County Judge Seaborn J. Hendricks are here, as are former County Clerk Josiah Napoleon Still and Civil War Colonel Jiles Sanford, Boggess, John R. Arnold, past Grandmaster of the Masons of Texas in 1918, and Archie A. Beall, one of the founders of the Beall's Department Store chain which originated in Henderson, lie at rest beneath the soil.

 Markers can be found in the cemetery for veterans of each war that the United States has fought in, from the Civil War to World War II, including the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts.

 In the mid 1960's an attempt was made by the Rusk County Heritage Association to have the Old City Cemetery declared an historic site worthy of preservation.  Unfortunately no clear title to the cemetery property  exists.  No state historical marker could be secured, nor were state funds available for its restoration and preservation.

 Unless immediate steps are taken to safeguard this historic spot by local civic groups, historic associations and the City of Henderson, much of the beauty and heritage that yet remains will be lost forever.  By John R. Dulin