The Johnson County Historical Commission rededicated the site of Cleburne’s first cemetery on Nov. 10.
The stone and wrought iron enclosure, representing the original acreage, is located on the west side of the Guinn Justice Center, formerly the Cleburne High School, near the 200 block of South Walnut Street.
The property was once known as Rhome Field, the school’s athletic field. Under the direction of Jack Carlton, local historian and project chair, the marking of this site was an important JCHC preservation project that took several years to complete.
The Heritage Assembly, city of Cleburne, Johnson County Commissioners Court, many individuals and businesses had strategic roles in the endeavor.
Because the Buchanan Cemetery could no longer accommodate additional burials, on Feb. 21, 1860, the Commissioners Court appointed H.G. Hix, commissioner of Pct. 1, to select a suitable site within the county for a new cemetery.
Buchanan was the county seat at that time.
After Cleburne became the county seat in 1867, the area Hix and his committee had selected became known as the Cleburne Memorial Cemetery.
Anadarko Indians, Civil War veterans and early Johnson County settlers were buried there.
The area remained the town’s burial site until 1874, when the present Cleburne Memorial Cemetery was opened in southeast Cleburne.
While most of the remains were re-interred in the new cemetery, some graves yet remain. The graves of two persons still buried there have been identified as William (Will) Hix (1840-1867) and Lucy B. Gee (1869-1889), Hix’s cousin and the sister of Mrs. William Edward (Will) Menefee.
County Judge Roger Harmon served as the master of ceremonies and greeted the approximately 50 people in attendance.
On behalf of the city of Cleburne, Mayor Ted Reynolds extended the welcome. Dr. Joe Stephens voiced the invocation and rededication prayers. Riley Walter, commander, and Joel Franklin, finance officer, C.E. De Lario, American Legion Post No. 50, presented and retired the U.S. and Texas flags. Mr. and Mrs. Tom Jones in period dress presented the Confederate First National Flag representing the flag that would have flown during the Civil War years 1861-1865 and Confederate grave wreath. The Hardee Corps Flag that would have been carried by the troops serving under General Patrick Cleburne’s command was already in place within the enclosure.
Bob McAlister, JCHC vice chair, led the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag and benediction. Billy Cate, JCHC chair, and Jack Carlton unveiled the bronze marker. Sandra Osborne, JCHC secretary, read the marker as follows:
“Old Cleburne Memorial Cemetery.
“Cemeteries are open history books whose pages are tablets of stone.
“They reveal the culture of the past, often the only clues available about people. Once destroyed they can never be recovered. The Johnson County Historical Commission thanks those that honor and respect the sacred ground of Cleburne’s first recorded cemetery once the final resting place for the early Indians and many of our founding fathers.
“As the cemetery became overcrowded and learning it was once the Anadarko Tribe’s burial ground, many of the Anglo citizens were re-interred to the new 1874 Cleburne Memorial Cemetery on the east side of town. However, some still remain under this historic athletic Rhome Field dedicated to a Cleburne school student Oct. 22, 1922.”
Descendents of Mr. Hix and Lucy Gee were introduced by Wilma Reed, JCHC marker chair. The descendents present were Edward Harris Brown, 87, Palestine, Texas; Letha Grace McCoy, Burleson; Anna Lee Anderson, Dallas; Martha Brown Gumfory, Cleburne; her son, Mark Gumfory, Cleburne; her grandson and his wife, Brett and Angela Hudson, Keller; and Lowell (Stretch) Smith Jr., Rio Vista.
Jack Carlton gave a very informative history of the site and Lowell Smith Jr. responded for the family. Billy Cate concluded the ceremony and presented a plaque to Jack Carlton in recognition of his selfless service to the project and his tireless efforts to preserve Cleburne and Johnson County history.