We left the pavement seven miles ago. The time machine
dial rolls backwards - 2008, 1941, 1917, stopping at 1872. We're
bouncing, twisting and turning through Eastland County's vast
Palo Pinto Mountains. Rutted roads turn to dim trails, then finally
to expectant footsteps. My guides this day are good people. They
made a pact with the landowner on my behalf to preserve the secrecy
of Evans Cemetery's location. Let me save you some time. There
is one publicly-available set of directions, but they're wrong.
Bad wrong. Really.
Jackson Evans was the first physician to permanently settle in Eastland County. He was recruited by the citizens of the Palo Pinto District in 1872, which then included Eastland County. Their next nearest doctor was in Stephenville.
I try to imagine what this rough country looked like back then. Take away the mesquites, most of the cedar. The Evans came to this ridge March 10, 1872, after a short stay at the Allen Fort, a mile down the hill from here. Why did they pick this hidden mountaintop? Comanches would terrorize these hills for three more years.
We reach the final clearing, surrounded by cedar and majestic oak. The original arch-topped iron fence surrounds the Evans Family's final resting place, maybe forty feet square.
Bessie Hill, the Evans older daughter, died first in 1894. Her grave is the center anchor to this cemetery, covered with knee high crepe myrtles. This plot was overgrown for many years, but the invading trees and brush (and rattlesnakes) have been cleared. Good people.
Dr. Evans reports that 1870s Eastland County "was a paradise for hunters, when I came here - cougar, bear, deer, and turkey in abundance. I killed all I needed for family use, while out visiting the sick. One day, just one mile from where I now live, a party of men (of which I was a member) killed four bear, while another party in hearing of us killed two more. Many jokes were perpetrated on Eastland County in those days," continues Dr. Evans. "I heard a traveler, who was passing along the road near my house, say, 'I would not have this county and one dollar'. We little thought then how valuable this shinery was."
Jackson Evans was sent to school at the University in Oxford, Mississippi to study for the ministry by a childless aunt. He apparently didn't feel God's 'calling', switching to medicine. He finished up at Tulane in New Orleans. Dr. Evans tended the sick and wounded during the War of Northern Aggression (Civil War).
Mrs. George Langston's "History of Eastland County, Texas" reports that one of Dr. Evans' first calls in Eastland County was to a very sick woman. She'd been stricken with fever for three weeks, outside a doctor's care. "It is to Dr. Evans' credit that she was soon convalescent," Langston writes. "The territory covered by this first doctor reminds one of the extent of the pioneer 'circuit rider.' From the North Fork of Palo Pinto Creek to Desdemona, and from Barton's Creek in Erath County to the limits of civilization in Eastland were the bounds of his calls."
He covered a huge swath of wilderness on horseback, then by buckboard driven by his daughter Alice. His saddlebags were fitted to hold glass vials of medicine. Dirt poor settlers might pay Dr. Evans in chickens or pigs, or not at all. A small fortune in uncollected fees remained on the books when he died thirty years later.
The time machine has been kind to these woods. The trees were thinner back then, more brush, taller grass, more "shinery". Some sounds stuck with this land - wild hogs, fawns running through the thickets, rattlesnakes. Today, thankfully, no Comanche war cries.
Dr. Evans wife Maria presents an even bigger mystery. She married Jackson in 1863 at her father's plantation in Sumpter Hill, Alabama. She is the grand daughter of Revolutionary War Generals Pickens and Anderson. Jackson met Maria while she was teaching at a girl's seminary established by her father in Meridian, Mississippi. Maria was raised on another plantation in Pendleton, South Carolina and was well-educated. Plantation life did not follow Maria to this savage corner of Texas.
The second Evans daughter, Alice, wrote that "mother was often left alone with us three small children, often at night and through the long days, but she was always so cheerful and brave, we never knew that danger might be lurking near…Her life here, reminds one of the missionary in a far country, as she cared for all who came and sought the Doctor's care and in her Christian faith and integrity, had an uplifting influence on all with whom she came in contact."
The old wagon road to their house left the main road between Blair's Fort (later Desdemona) and North Fork (later Strawn), tracing the slope of a creek as it climbed over a hundred feet in elevation to their corral.
We retrace our steps. Across a small meadow, a stacked rock chimney peeks out of the dense brush, the crown of the original Evans log cabin, over twenty-five feet in the air. Cabin logs lie rotting in the brush.
Dr. Evans grasped the sacrifices his family made. "My three children were then very small, but I had often to leave them and their mother alone when there was danger of Indians. We stopped near a cow-ranch for protection - as there was no town in the county - and we are still at our old stand with all the practice I can do."
Dr. Evans' land holdings exceeded 2,000 acres at one point. The family raised cattle and horses. "They planted one of the first orchards in the county, and Maria dried peaches, apricots, and apples for use during the winter," a granddaughter tells us. "Deer, turkey, bear and an occasional piece of buffalo meat brought by a passing hunter were diet staples. Such luxury items as coffee, sugar and wheat flour were scarce because supplies had to be hauled from Waco or Fort Worth. My grandmother recalls that her father received a box of medicines from Stephenville which arrived before Christmas with some red stick candy and a note saying 'for the children, from Dr. West'."
Mrs. Evans raised the children, nursed her husband's patients, ran the kitchen, and educated her children. She later taught at the first school located at the Allen Fort. Alice breaks the code on her mom. "As the wife of a pioneer physician, it was not an easy life…the sick would often come and stay for days. No one was ever turned away."
It's time to leave. There's a light wind in the trees. The smell of cedar. There are no sirens, car horns, pump jacks or airplanes. We are standing in true wilderness, at the front door of a family that helped birth Eastland County. Dr. and Mrs. Evans were partners, both born in 1837, both passing in 1908. The word "hero" gets thrown around a lot by historians. These folks are. I'm glad they are out here, in this wild country, today much as they found it. May this family's hallowed cemetery, and the fabled land they once roamed, forever rest in peace.
Special thanks to Alice Evans Allen, Ed Alcorn, Kenneth and Jean Underhill, Lynn Nicholson, Shirley Cawyer, Virginia Allen Pickrell, Mitch Fincher, Mrs. George Langston's 1904 "History of Eastland County, Texas", the red "Gateway to the West" Eastland County History, Rosalie Daniel, Ann Clark, Annagrace Fincher, Septima Anderson Fincher, Wanda Frasier and the landowners that provided access to this important site. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jeff Clark - Jdclark3312@aol.com
2. Evans Homestead chimney peaking through the brush.
3. The Evans Cemetery.
4. Dr. and Mrs. Evans headstone, both born in 1837, both passing in 1908.