Journal Of The Life And Culture Of San Antonio

City Warned to Protect its Historic Cemeteries

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by Frank W. Jennings

Perhaps it's human nature to ignore our most precious possessions until we learn that someone wants to take them away. And then, affronted, we passionately clasp them to us. San Antonians saw that happen in 1848, when citizens of La Grange, Texas sent a committee to San Antonio to remove the remains of Col. Benjamin Rush Milam, hero of the Battle for Bexar in 1835.

San Antonio refused to relinquish his body, and instead had it exhumed and moved from its first resting place beside the Veremendi house. Brother Masons reinterred Milam's remains on December 7, 1848 in a Masonic ceremony at what is now called Milam Square.

The grave was marked by a flat stone with "Milam" cut into it. In 1897, this was replaced with a gray granite monument by the De Zavala Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

Nearly a century later a similar event occurred, after the San Antonio Express-News reported on January 5, 1995, that representatives of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in Waco were in San Antonio to exhume the remains of the famous Ranger Capt. Samuel H. Walker, a hero of the Mexican war and designer of the Walker Colt revolver. With his descendents' permission, they were to move his remains to Waco.

Lee Spencer of Freer in south Texas, president of the Alamo Defenders Descendents Association and third vice president of the DRT, read the report and rushed to San Antonio, where she discovered that the Rangers from Waco had already begun digging up the grave of Walker with a backhoe. The grave was partly open beside a large, long pile of black, gravelly clay.

Spense got a restraining order to stop the exhumation, based on old newspaper reports which she presented to show the likelihood that the remains of Alamo defenders were buried in the very same area and might be disturbed. History shows that Walker's dying wish had been fulfilled when he was buried next to another former Texas Ranger, Capt. R. A. Gillespie in the Odd Fellows Cemetery at Pine and Paso Hondo streets.

Spencer reported to the City Council on January 12 that John N. McWilliams, a representative of the Walker family, had advised her that the descendents now agreed that the former Texas Ranger captain's body should remain in San Antonio.

An editorial in the Express-News stated the obvious lesson to be learned from this event: "It should be a warning to the city to protect all its historic sites." San Antonio is historically blessed with the resting places of famous Texans. Ben Milam and Samuel Walker are only two of many whose lives added luster to the history of Texas -- and interest in these people is shared throughout the state. But some of the earliest cemeteries on City property -- generally the most historic -- have become sadly neglected and poorly maintained.

Fortunately for San Antonians, some very basic, but essential, steps have been taken already to begin preserving, restoring, and tidying up at the old City cemeteries the final "homes" of those who preceded us. It's all in a City master plan prepared in 1990 for "Old San Antonio City Cemeteries Historic District."

The Old San Antonio City Cemeteries is a 103-acre complex located on a high point overlooking the city off East Commerce Street. Roughly, it's bordered on the east by North New Braunfels street; on the north by East Crockett Street; on the south by Nevada street; and on the west by Pine Street.

The "Old San Antonio City Cemeteries Historic District Master Plan," is presented in a large, beautifully illustrated, full-color, thoroughly researched 66-page brochure. It was the work of a team headed by the Landmark Partnership (Hilary J. Saunders and Richard Mahadeen) in association with Everett Fly and Associates, along with K. M. Ng and Associates, with special contributions by Ann Maria Watson, historian, and James W. Saunders, Attorney.

The strikingly informative brochure was edited by Judy Taylor, with graphic design by Steve Taylor. H. Dell Foster Associates were aerial survey consultants.

In introducing the master plan to San Antonians on August 24, 1990, Mayor Lila Cockrell called the area "a Texas treasure," and gave several major reasons for making it a more pleasant place for everyone concerned. Cockrell said that the plan would be used "to restore the respect and dignity inherent in the 19th century urban cemetery as a special realm dedicated to the departed through stabilizing, securing, and restoring the complex." Cockrell also said that restoration would "preserve the record of San Antonio's and Texas' social and cultural history" and "perpetuate our citizens' sense of place."

Walkways leading to some of the famous graves, along with identifying signage and printed pamphlets, would make for a stimulating history experience that could inform, educate and entertain San Antonians as well as visitors to the city.

The last-minute thwarting of the raid on Ranger Samuel Walker's grave in January 1995—a raid prompted partly because his descendents believed a more attractive resting place would be made for him in Waco—should remind San Antonians that they owe their forbearers a more park-like place than an old, run-down cemetery for both the living and the deceased. That is especially true for this rare, historic Texas treasure.

San Antonio City Cemeteries Historic District

Dignowity Cemetery
Tempel Beth-El Cemetery
Agudas Achim Cemetery
St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery
Old German Lutheran Cemetery
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery,
National Cemetery, 
Dullnig Family Plot,
St. Michael's Polish Catholic Cemetery
City Cemetery No.1,
City Cemetery No. 2., 
City Cemetery No. 3, 
City Cemetery No. 4, 
City Cemetery No. 5, 
City Cemetery No. 6.,
Harmonia Lodge No. 1 Cemetery
Hermann Sons Cemetery

Nat Lewis Plot & Mausoleum 
Alamo Masonic Lodge Cemetery,
U. S. Cemetery
Confederate Cemetery, 
Anchor Masonic Lodge Cemetery,
Knights of Pythias Cemetery,
St. Joseph's Society Catholic Cemetery,
St. Peter Claver Catholic Cemetery,
Beacon Light Masonic Lodge No. 50 Cemetery,
St. Elmo Lodge No. 25 Knights of Pythias Cemetery, 
United Brothers of Friendship Cemetery, 
Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery,
San Antonio Lodge No. 1 Cemetery,
St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, 
St. John's Lutheran Cemetery
Emmanuel German Lutheran Cemetery

(Editor’s Note: Readers will find updated Bexar County Historic Cemetery information at the San Antonio Genealogical and Historical Society website: http://www.rootsweb.com/~txsaghs2/bexarcem.htm)