Erath County is filled with history but what some may not know is just how many famous and notable gravesites are in the county.
The E-T sat down with Huckabay resident and former schoolteacher Cindy Shipman and chair of the Erath County Historical Commission Cathey Hartmann of Bluff Dale to discuss the most significant figures who are buried in Erath County.
“We’ve always been interested in history,” Hartmann said. “We were both teachers.”
Their vast knowledge of the county’s history was on display during the interview. They recounted several notable and famous individuals who are sure to surprise anyone with an ongoing fascination for all things history.
Here’s a breakdown of the ones we thought were most interesting:
WEST END CEMETERY
JOHN M. STEPHEN
One of the most famous gravesites is that of John Miller Stephen, the city’s namesake.
Born Dec. 29, 1814, Stephen was a surveyor, county treasurer, planter, postmaster and Mason.
He first came to the area in 1854 to open a store to trade honey, hides and buffalo hams with Indians. The following year, he returned with the first 30 settlers. He served as the first postmaster of Stephenville from July 28, 1857 to Aug. 18, 1858 and probably unofficially before that. The first tax list of Erath County was published in 1857 and the first census was taken in 1860.
He passed away March 31, 1862 at the age of 47.
DR. WILLIAM WALLACE MCNEILL
Dr. William Wallace McNeill is John Stephen’s son-in-law. Born on May 26, 1819, McNeill was a Mason, physician, druggist, postmaster, county clerk and school trustee. He was also the executor of the Stephen estate and signee on many early deeds.
He passed away Feb. 10, 1902 at the age of 82.
John Carmack was an early Erath County commissioner and charter member of the Methodist Church and Masonic Lodge. He was born Nov. 15, 1803 and died Oct. 1, 1855 at the age of 81.
“He was one of the first county commissioners. We're talking about the very foundations of Stephenville,” Shipman said.
JAMES DAVID BERRY
J.D. Berry built the limestone house on the Stephenville Historical House Museum property in 1869. He was born Sept. 27, 1820 and died June 3, 1905 at the age of 84.
"There’s no marked grave but his family insists that he’s there [on the property]. He died after almost everybody else [in his family],” Shipman said.
WILLIAM JONES “COACH” WISDOM
Born July 25, 1887, William Wisdom, who came to be known as “Coach” Wisdom, was an early 20th century arrival in Erath County and was hired to coach basketball. Wisdom never played basketball but led the Tarleton State College men’s teams to victory. Also known as “The Streak,” Coach Wisdom led his teams to an 86-game winning streak between 1934 and 1938. After the streak ended with a loss to San Angelo Junior College, Wisdom’s teams went on to win 25 more consecutive games before losing again, earning an overall record of 111-2 for the years 1934-39. For an entire 10-year period from 1930-1940, Wisdom’s teams lost only 10 games.
“This was his claim to fame,” Shipman added.
During WWI, Wisdom was also in the military service and worked with the local Higgs-Turnbow VFW. He led the fundraising for the community building on Washington Street and supported local WWII bases with entertainment for troops.
He died June 6, 1981 at the age of 93.
Bernie Conley was one of three murder victims of a killer known as “Old Man Snow” in the 1920s. Shipman said Conley’s head was cut off and it’s the only part of him ever found. His head was then put on display for citizens to gawk at.
He was 19 years old when he died, according to findagrave.com.
INDIAN CREEK CEMETERY
JOHN QUINCE GOLIGHTLY
John Q. Golightly was a WWI veteran and one of the survivors of the torpedoing and sinking of the troopship Tuscania on Feb. 5, 1918 by the German U-boat UB-77 while transporting American troops to Europe with the loss of 210 lives.
"There were about a dozen Erath County men on that ship," Shipman said.
EAST MEMORIAL CEMETERY
SAM MORRIS RUSSELL
Born Aug. 9, 1889, Sam Morris Russell was a U.S. congressman. He graduated from John Tarleton College and taught school in Erath County from 1913-1918. During WWI, he served as a private in the 46th Machine Gun Company in the United States Army in 1918 and 1919. He served as county attorney, district attorney and judge of the 29th judicial district. He was the Democratic county chairman from 1953-1955.
In the renovation of the former Bank of America, Dell Burdick removed the concrete covering the upstairs office windows. The corner windows still had the gold lettering for Russell’s law office. They have been replaced with new windows in the last few months.
“He served three terms as our U.S. Representative in Washington and when he left office, his son was elected to his office,” Shipman said.
Russell was a lifelong resident of Stephenville and was 82 at the time of his death on Oct. 19, 1971.
MOUNT OLIVE CEMETERY
Several probable former slaves are buried in Mount Olive Cemetery including:
Alfred Benjamin Clark – Feb. 15, 1855 – Oct. 27, 1935 Wade Lucas – Sept. 20, 1851 – May 18, 1926 Wallace Howell – Aug. 1, 1847 – May 5, 1922 Louise Hightower – March 4, 1859 – April 13, 1949 John Wesley Jones – April 9, 1860 – Oct. 9, 1941 W. H. Coker – 1835-1913 Celia Smith – Sept. 1847 – Nov. 21, 1917 Eliza Moore – 1846-1944 John Moore – Dec. 15, 1850 – Oct. 22, 1927 John Lucas – 1855 – April 28, 1900 Joe Clark – 1859 – Aug. 9, 1930 VICTOR CEMETERY
WINSTON LEE “SLIM WILLET” MOORE
Winston Lee Moore, or better known as Slim Willet, was an American musician, disc jockey and songwriter. He was born Dec. 1, 1919. He graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in 1949, then obtained a job as a country music DJ at KRBC radio where he found an ensemble, Hired Hands. His many hits included “Don’t Let the Stars Get into Your Eyes,” “Red Rose,” and “Like You Were Going to Live Forever.” He continued working until his death in Abilene on July 1, 1966. He was inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame in 1994.
SMITH SPRINGS CEMETERY
WILLIAM MILTON BROWN
Born Sept. 8, 1903, William Milton Brown, known for Milton Brown and the Musical Brownies, was the founding father of western swing music. His band was comprised of talented and innovative musicians who blazed new musical trails during the early 1930s. Brown’s career was cut short due to his untimely death in 1936 at the age of 32.
Born Jan. 23, 1854, Silas Sheek is the half-brother of famous cattleman, Charles Goodnight from the Goodnight Loving Trail fame. Sheek died on Nov. 23, 1941 at the age of 87.
WILLIAM CALLOWAY SANDERS
William Calloway was born in 1838 and joined the U.S. Army after Texas seceded from the Union. He fought for several months before he was taken prisoner and put in the Union “Bull Pen” at Fort Arbuckle in Indian Territory. During his time in the military, he was shot in both legs.
Shipman said Sanders had a daughter named Lula “Sue” Sanders who had written a book in the 1930s called “Our Common Herd.”
MELISSA (SMITH) DOVER
Dover’s grave is marked with a medallion that says she was a “Citizen of the Republic of Texas, 1836-1846.”
Shipman commented on the uniqueness of the medallion on Dover’s grave.
“I’ve worked 15 or 20 cemeteries in our county; it’s the only one I've ever seen. I’ve probably seen 10,000 graves,” Shipman said. “This is a very unique thing.”
Dover was the second wife of C.C. Dover, a confederate veteran.
COL. DOYLE RAFORD YARDLEY
Col. Doyle Raford Yardley was born April 21, 1913 and died April 23, 1946 at the age of 33.
He was a WWII paratrooper and prisoner of war.
“He was in prison by the Germans for about 18 months during the war. They dropped him and his troops back behind the lines and they were captured,” Shipman said. “He wrote a diary about his adventures and when he died all of his things went in a box. In the 1990s his nephew, Chas Turnbo found his handwritten diary and did some research about him and published the book in 2002 called ‘Home was Never Like This.’”
DUBLIN MEMORIAL PARK CEMETERY
Chester Hogan was born Feb. 3, 1885 and is the father of Hall of Fame golfing great Ben Hogan. Chester was a blacksmith and the family lived 10 miles southwest in Dublin until 1921 when they moved 70 miles northeast to Fort Worth.
DUBLIN (LIVE OAK) CEMETERY
Evan Jones was born June 19, 1846. He was president of the Erath County Farmers’ Alliance from 1884 to 1888. On Jan. 18, 1887, the Texas Farmers’ Alliance elected him president and he served until the fall of 1888 when he was elected president of the rapidly expanding Farmers’ and Laborers’ Union of America.
He died on Jan. 26, 1899.
Don Flinn was born in Bluff Dale on Nov. 17, 1892 and attended Huckabay High School. He was a professional baseball player in 1917 and played as an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He received the Purple Heart in WWII.
He died on March 8, 1959 in Waco.
With how many notable and famous people are buried in the county, it’s enough to make history buffs excited and proud to be a part of Erath County’s history.