A few years ago, the Fourth of July found us in central Texas, with one thing on our minds – finding the graves of my husband’s great-great grandparents. I had done some research and located them in a cemetery listed as Old Valley Grove Cemetery, near Stephenville, in Erath County, Texas. Squeezing this long-anticipated research trip between hauling loads of hay to Texas, from Colorado, and back again, only gave us about one day to locate the cemetery. We parked the truck, hopped in a rental car, and set off for Stephenville. This was my first time actually traveling to ancestral grounds and locating a cemetery and I was excited to actually be doing something like this, after years and years of researching from my computer at home. Finding ancestors on paper, or online, and the thrill of putting the pieces together is wonderful, but to actually be driving out and physically locating the cemetery was exciting in a very different way.
The drive took about an hour, a nice drive through pretty country. To actually see the country where your family’s ancestors lived and worked, especially back when times were much harder for them than today, fuels your imagination and our thoughts drifted to what it must have been like for them, as we drove through that beautiful Texas countryside. My research had provided me with information that his g-g-grandparents had been instrumental in settling Erath County. His g-g-grandfather, Henry Willis Clark, was born in Arkansas, and Catherine (Danley) Clark, his g-g-grandmother, was born in Missouri. A census record shows her parents and others living next door to Henry and Catherine in Erath County. I am still researching more about their arrival and history there.
We arrived in Stephenville and easily found the highway where the cemetery was supposed to be. It was getting late in the afternoon, and we were hoping to find it quickly and get some photos before dark. We drove to the church there with the same name, but no luck on any cemetery there. We finally stopped at a fireworks stand and asked the guy there if he knew where it was. He thought there was one down the road, so we drove back down the road and found a gate with the owners’ names on it, and a sign nearby for the New Valley Grove Cemetery. In Texas, it is the law that landowners must allow access to any cemetery that is on their property, or if you need access to said cemetery by crossing their property. (http://www.cemeteries-of-tx.com/txlaws.htm) Such was the case here, so we opened the gate and drove back to the cemetery. The name was ‘New’ and not ‘Old’ Valley Grove Cemetery, so I was pretty sure that it wasn’t the right one, but we walked around and checked names on some of the headstones. There were some old headstones there, but none for his family.
Frustrated, we drove out and started up the highway, and a ways up the road we noticed a house with the same name as the owners’ names on the fence around the cemetery. After we passed by, my husband decided we should turn around and see if they might know where the cemetery we were looking for was located. Being the Fourth of July, there was a BBQ going on at the house, and some friends of the family happened to be out front. They had no idea about any cemetery, but thought that ‘Tim, the owner’ might know and went to find him. Tim came out and talked for a minute to my husband. He said he did know about an old cemetery down in the woods across the highway from his house. He offered to lead us down there and show us where it was, so off we went.
Sure enough, down the road a short way, and across the highway back in the woods, we came upon a sign for the Old Valley Grove Cemetery. We came to a gate and parked there and walked back into the overgrown cemetery. Tim was surprised that there had been some obvious clean up and restoration going on, he said that the last time he’d been there the owner had let cows graze in there, and there had been gravestones knocked over. Someone, or some group, had marked several graves with white markers and cleaned up a lot of brush. It was a beautiful old cemetery, with a low rock wall running around the exterior, but it still needed a lot more work to clean it up. Tim said that it had been much worse the last time he was there.
After walking around for several minutes, and as it was becoming darker by the moment, we finally happened across their headstone, and a brother of Henry’s, John Clark. Henry and Catherine’s headstone top piece had been disconnected from the base, probably knocked over and stood back up, but in need of restoration. It was hard to read, but we were able to make it out. In front of Henry’s, interestingly enough, was a newer marker that identified Henry Clark as a Texas Ranger. I later found out that his service with the Texas Rangers ended before his death date, so he was not killed in the line of duty. Henry died at a relatively young age, but Catherine went on to marry three more times, her last husband being a judge in the county, a William King.
As darkness fell the fireflies danced around the cemetery, and we listened as Tim told us that as a young boy he had tromped through these woods with his pistol and played along the little creek that passed through the area, never imagining that he would ever meet anyone who had ancestors in the old cemetery. The kindness of a man who would leave his holiday BBQ and take the time to show us where this cemetery was, and enable us to find my husband’s g-g-grandparents, is not lost on us. It is another kindness we were blessed with and can only hope to repay someday.
Another piece of our family quilt, stitched into our memories.