I have a small fascination with cemeteries and stories that come out of them, especially those in our area. There is one several miles northwest of Pottsboro that originally was owned by the Brogdon family in the mid-1800s. On the site of the old home place is the Brogdon Cemetery where family members and others were buried in the mid- to late-1800s.
William H. Brogdon, who was born in 1804 in North Carolina was one of the original Peters Colonists who came to Texas from Madison Co., Tennessee, with his wife Nancy J. Sturdivant Brogdon and several children in 1839. He purchased several parcels of land that became the Brogdon homeplace and Brogdon Cemetery. William died in 1856 and was buried in Brogdon Cemetery. Nancy Brogdon was also buried there when she died in 1886.
Just west of the Brogdon Cemetery is an area where it is believed U.S. soldiers were buried and their graves were noted by wooden crosses that now have disappeared. Near the cemetery is the spot where in October 1861 the 9th Texas Cavalry Regiment that became part of Ross’ Brigade was organized. Most of the gravestones are broken, overturned or have been stolen.
Twenty or more years ago, I met Neal Henderson and his son, Stephen, who lived near the cemetery and on whose property the Brogdon Springs discussed in Sunday’s column, was still flowing. They told me that they had discovered as many as 144 graves in 14 rows outside the bounds of the cemetery in a pasture that once was a grape vineyard.
They thought this burial site may have been an early Indian burial ground. This discovery added one more mystery to the location. Rumor had it for many years that $50,000 was buried in the cemetery after a stagecoach robbery in the 1800s. Many have searched and all went away empty handed as far as the Hendersons knew.
But Mr. Henderson thought that someone may have hit “pay dirt” a few years before he and I were talking when something was removed from the foot of one of the graves. That something was very heavy and the removal path was still visible.
Having heard all the stories and living so close to where it was dragged through the low brush, weeds and limbs, and seeing some people who probably shouldn’t be here and hearing helicopters land in the field, the Hendersons said they went to the cemetery often to note any disturbances.
Using a divining rod or witching stick, that actually was a brass welding rod, they could pretty well pinpoint where each grave was located. With a bent rod held tightly in each hand, pointed straight ahead, the rods would cross when they came to a place where the ground had been disturbed, and the complex of the ground going as far as 50 or 60 feet had been changed. Once it was disturbed, the complex stayed changed, they said, even that long after the burials.
In the field where the graves were believed to be located, the rods easily crossed about every three feet when we walked east or west and every six feet when we walked north or south.
After witnessing the divining rods at work, my skepticism vanished when I was handed the rods to see for myself. Holding them tightly in both hands, I started out across the area and sure enough, the rods crossed, then uncrossed, then crossed again. I was convinced that the ground had been disturbed below. The Hendersons said “you don’t control them, they control you,” and I believe it.
The rods worked the same way inside the cemetery, only the graves there went from East to West, the direction the Hendersons said that Christian graves were dug with the early belief that when Christ came again, He would come from the east and they would be watching for Him. The newly discovered graves run north to south.
A local funeral director at the time we talked agreed that traditionally in this area graves had been dug east to west. He said that in some other areas in more recent years this was not always true because cemeteries often follow the route of highways, etc., but it still is the custom. Another thought was that the sun rises in the east and settles in the west.
If Henderson’s divining rod is correct, someone other than Christians buried these 144 or more people in the “wrong” direction.
The Hendersons made the discovery a few years before we visited. I was told that to the east of the graves once was a house owned by Rachel Davis, who dug a wine cellar and at the time dug up some bodies. She developed a grape vineyard in the area and made wine about 100 years ago. He said he was told that when Mrs. Davis died the family plowed the vineyard under, thus plowing up the cemetery.
Another story I was told, was one night about two years before we talked, Henderson kept hearing helicopters flying low and making a lot of noise in the area. A few days later he went down to the cemetery and two of the three overturned seven foot tall grave markers were missing. Someone had come into the cemetery at night and tied ropes around the big stones and lifted them out of the cemetery. They had landed in the pasture and loaded them up into the helicopter, he surmised.
He said that a couple of years back he was reading the newspaper where he read that some men in Oklahoma were arrested and charged with stealing gravestones. The ones in the Brogdon Cemetery that were stolen were beautiful granite markers that could be valuable to unscrupulous persons. He never learned if that was his “market thief.”
Another story he told is that a man walked up from the direction of Lake Texoma “a few years back” and asked to go to the cemetery to look for an individual’s grave. Neal took him up there and he went straight to the grave where something had been removed the next time Henderson went there to check. Henderson thought the man came back and helped himself to whatever he thought was hidden.
Do you now see why I have a fascination for cemeteries and the stories that can come out of them in this area?
I had an email from Ray Click, whose wife was the daughter of Neal Henderson. He said “Brogdon Springs is still flowing all the way to Lake Texoma although it has slowed due to leaves and other debris that has accumulated over the years.” He said he hoped to get a group together and clean it out this summer. He said that Brogdon Springs and Stout Springs converged in a small water fall that many early settlers and gangs are said to have bathed under before it made its way to Red River.
As for Brogdon Cemetery, Ray said most markers were removed or stolen a few years ago and now reside in Dallas. Wild hogs have deeply rooted the gravesites. The original marker for Fort Brogdon disappeared during a road widening project, he said.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.