Stewart Cemetery, which is named after John F. Stewart, an early Texas Republic pioneer, is considered by many local historians to be one of the oldest and by oral tradition to be the oldest cemetery in present day Hunt County, Texas. The cemetery is located approximately 13 miles northeast of Greenville, Texas off of FM 1568 and approximately two miles east of State Highway 50. The cemetery is first mentioned in land records when the owners of the land surrounding the cemetery sold their land. Mr. Martin V. and Julia (Stewart) Williams sold their land in 1892 to William W. Massey, reserving 2.0 acres for a graveyard. Then on July 30, 1907, Mr. and Mrs. Williams, for love and affection, gave this 2.0 acres of land (graveyard) to the Trustees of the Stewart Graveyard. The cemetery holds the bodies of Republic of Texas citizens, at least eleven Confederate veterans, a State Legislator, and many other military veterans of all wars since the Civil War and up to and including Viet Nam.
The land where the cemetery is located is part of the Needham Boone survey. Needham Boone and his brother, Willis, arrived in present day Clarksville, Texas area around 1830, before Texas became a Republic. Willis was and probably Needham were part of the 1830 Wavell Red River Colony founded by George Wavell from England. Needham and Willis Boone received land bounties for their service to the Republic of Texas. A few years after 1830, Needham Boone, along with his wife, Elizabeth Robertson, moved to the land known as the prairie. The land was virgin as no settlers had settled that area. Also they were still Indians abounding in this east part of what would be known as Texas. In 1838, TheTexas Rangers, also called the Indian Fighters, selected a little grove of blackjack timber as a camping place. This area is the highest point between Dallas and Texarkana. The open area prevented the Indians from surmounting a surprise attack on the Rangers. In 1841 the first settlers began to locate near within a few miles of the camp where they could ride for protection from the Indians if the need arose. John Stewart settled approximately seven miles northwest of the Ranger Camp. Boone purchased 3325 acres of land for $20,000. The deed was dated August 4, 1840. The land was purchased with a bond unto Gilbert Clark, the designated land commissioner and judge justice in Red River County, Republic of Texas, under President David G. Burnett. This land was located in Red River County, The Republic of Texas, which later became Hunt County, Texas in 1846. The Needham Boone survey is still listed on several land transactions in present day Hunt County, Texas.
Of the land purchased by and surveyed for Boone, many of the earliest settlers of Hunt County, Texas bought land from or around this survey. Located in the general area of current day, Stewart Cemetery, the land purchased from the Boone survey included John Stewart, William Rippy, William Barker, Godfrey Smith, J.E. Woods, and the Bantan brothers. George W. Dunbar, which Dunbar creek is named after, brought 320 acres on January 15, 1847. W.W. Barker brought 1700 acres, Red River County Certificate #30, Republic of Texas, which was signed on November 18, 1842. This land is where the Stewart Cemetery is located today. All of the aforementioned persons along with their families were some of the first settlers of eastern Hunt County, Texas. When they first settled this area, it was part of Red River County, Republic of Texas. Hunt County became a county in 1846 when Texas became a state of the Union and Red River County was divided up into several counties. The land were they settled was later known as Smith Prairie and is currently known by this to the older citizens of this Hunt and Hopkins County area. Smith Prairie, a stretch of land bordered loosely on the north by South Sulphur River, on the east by the Hopkins County, Texas line, the south by FM 499 and on the west by Dunbar Creek, was named after Godfrey Smith, which settled nearby the Stewarts, in 1844.
John Stewart, along with his wife, Ellen, and their children, settled around 1843 on the Dunbar Creek area, Red River County, Republic of Texas. This land is located south of the South Sulphur River. John Stewart is credited with building the first house in the eastern portion of Hunt County, Texas by Nath Anderson, of nearby Cowhill, present day Commerce, Texas. After Stewart arrived, others settlers arriving in 1845 included The Smith, Rippy, Henry Brigham (whom Brigham Cemetery, Hunt County, Texas is named after), Woods families. Mrs. Stewart was stated as being overwhelmed with joy as she had not seen a woman in over a year. John Stewart was polled, along with Godfrey Smith, William Rippy, and J. E. Woods, in the Republic of Texas. John Stewart, George Dunbar, William Rippy, and John O’Dell were selected as jurors by the District Court of Hunt County, Texas on July 11, 1848. William Rippy and J.E. Woods were appraisers of two estrayed steers on June 17, 1850 in Hunt County. John Stewart was appointed appraisals on June 19, 1850 by Hunt County. Godfrey Smith was elected, in 1846 the year Hunt County become a county, as the first District Clerk in Hunt County, Texas. After that, he was elected in 1854 as Justice of the Peace, Precinct Number 2, and re-elected in 1856. Along with settlements, came religion. Henry Banta and William Cummins were Missionary Baptist ministers that came to the area by the mid 1850s. Stewart Cemetery, however, is not affiliated with any specific faith or religion.
Though accumulating numerous acres of land, being one of the first white settlers in the eastern portion of Hunt County, and seeing the Republic of Texas become a part of the United States and raising his family, John Stewart did not see his dreams come to fruition. He died sometime around 1856 at the age of 57, leaving his wife, Ellen, and five children. The place of burial of John Stewart is currently unknown to the writer but one person said Cumby, Texas. One would think he would be buried near his home which would be the Stewart Cemetery. His children would grow up to be fine citizens of the great state of Texas, two serving with the Confederacy, with one giving his life for it. His children married into some of the other pioneer families within the area. John F. Stewart married Eliza Rippy in 1866, Julia married Martin Williams, Eliza married J. Woods, Roxy Ann married Benjamin Backus, and Nancy Louis Stewart married E. J. Hathaway in 1859. The heirs of John Stewart sold William Jernigan 640 acres of land that was cut from Certificate Number 35 dated in 1841. William Jernigan is credited with being the founding father of nearby Cowhill, Texas, present day, Commerce.
When the call-to-arms for the Confederacy went out in 1861, the community where Stewart is located responded quickly and gallantly. Most if not all able bodied men volunteered for the militia. Men volunteered and listed in Beat Number 2 of Hunt County, Texas on July 6, 1861. There were two of John Stewart’s sons, 3rd Lieutenant R. E. Stewart, age 29, and John F. Stewart, age 21. Others volunteering included J.E. Woods, age 44; Henry Banta, age 37; William Rippy, age 22; Calvin Rippy, age 19; G.W. Keith, age 31; Godfrey Smith, age 41; W.C. Hurt, age 39; Henry Brigham, no age given; E.J. Hathaway, age 25; William and Peter St. Clair, no age given. All of these men and their families are buried at Stewart Cemetery except Henry Brigham, Henry Banta, E.J. Hathaway, the St. Clairs and R.E. Stewart. 3rd Lieutenant R.E. Stewart was killed in action near Little Rock, Arkansas and is buried there. Other Confederate soldiers buried in Stewart Cemetery are: David Altom, 24th Infantry, Arkansas ; Samuel Hawkins, 18th Texas Infantry ; and J. M. Boswell of the Georgia Infantry . Others may be but are unknown at this present time.
During the early years of Hunt County, public education of children rarely occurred because of few if any teachers and the lack of schools. In May 1867, a school was held in the newly built Maloy schoolhouse. The Maloy school house remained active until 1950 when it was consolidated with Campbell, Cumby, and Commerce public schools. Another school in the area was Cross-Timbers, which met in the Cross Timbers Baptist (formerly Brumbelow) Church house. This school was functional by 1882 and probably before that date but records do not exist to substantiate an earlier date.
Before the turn of the century, many other families had arrived in the Smith Prairie area to grow cotton and wheat and to raise cattle. These heads of these families were: William Massey, John Cannon, William Harlow, Robert Fenlaw, William Moore, George Wiggs, Samuel Cowan, J. E. Adair, G.H. Harlow, William Ripley, John Cannon, The Koonce’s, George W. Cooper, and William Maloy. These men and their families were prominent people in their community. Others would still follow right after 1900. Farmers were moving into this area since the ground was of sandy loan and they were tired of farming the blackland of other areas of Hunt County. These were: James Marriott, Jess Alexander, J.F. Berry, Wesley Fleenor, Joe Ray, Will Denton, and the Elmores. Many of their descendants are still alive today living in Hunt County ,Texas being productive citizens of this great State. Several of the newcomers hand-dug graves of the earliest settlers as they were beginning to pass away. Family members and their children of the new community was also soon to be buried there. The medical epidemic of the early 1900s took its toll on the young children as well as mothers and children dying together during childbirth.
Stewart Cemetery was officially given to the Trustees of the Stewart Cemetery Association in 1907 by Julia (Stewart) and Martin Williams. The trustees had, before that date and after, organized the community of friends and neighbors to hold an annual cemetery meeting. This meeting was in part to honor those that had past away, fellowship with relatives and neighbors, and to clean the cemetery of debris and tidy up the graves of their kinfolk. They would clean the graves by hoeing the grave top area and then planting young trees and flowers around the cemetery area. This meeting was and is still scheduled on the 2nd Sunday of August.
In 1938, the association hired Mr. McFarland and his son to clean up the cemetery before its annual meeting. They were to remove the grass, weeds, leaves, and excess wood debris from and around the cemetery before its annual association meeting. They cleaned and cleared the entire cemetery which included the stones, rocks, and bois d’ arc arc posts of the known, but, un-named graves. The Massey and Wiggs families were usually the first to arrive at the meeting since they lived the closest. After George Wiggs, the oldest gentleman at the time (age 75), made a fire to boil his coffee, he noticed and was disturbed that the oldest grave in the cemetery was no longer marked. He went over to the place where the grave was located and directed the young men that were there to put back the bois d’ arc arc post that had originally marked the grave. He also directed the other unmarked graves to be marked again with stones and rocks. The oldest grave, George Wiggs mentioned, is traditionally the oldest grave in Hunt County, Texas. Oral tradition that has lasted over 100 years states the cemetery begin when the land was donated to a pioneer family traveling through the area. This pioneer had a daughter die and he wanted a proper place to bury her. John Stewart or his family made land available for the pioneer to bury his daughter. The location of Stewart Cemetery is approximately 500 yards east of Dunbar Creek setting atop a knoll. Another has the oldest grave in Hunt County, which is located at Stewart Cemetery, as Theodore P. Woods, son of J.E. Woods, which died in 1842. . (I personally do not believe this as Theodore was on the 1850 and 1860 census with his mother and father, and also because of the date (1842). The Woods were not in this area at that time). However, the oldest readable gravestone is that of Elif Cummins, November 1863.
After the mishap with the McFarlands, the Cemetery Association hired John Massey to maintain the cemetery. He owned land surrounding the cemetery in addition he had family members buried there. John and his family maintained the cemetery from 1939 until 1962. At first, John and his family worked the cemetery with a mare and single stock and later with a one row tractor. They also hoed the graves to keep the grass and weeds down during the year. When John’s health failed, the association hired and continues to hire individuals of character to maintain the cemetery.
State Representative Louis Lankford, age 63, died November 19, 1940 at the Veteran’s Hospital in Muskogee, Oklahoma and is buried at Stewart. He was elected representative to the Texas Legislature from Hunt and Rains County representing the 40th District. He served with distinction in the 45th Legislation (1937) under Texas Governor James V. Allred. He was also a private in the 40th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, serving in the Spanish-American War.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, many of the old timers of the community were dying. Several of the older graves in the cemetery were marked with rocks, bois d’arc posts, stones, etc. After an association meeting in the early 1940s, Jess Alexander, a friend of the community, volunteered to make concrete markers for the known but unmarked graves. These would provide permanent markers for graves. Jess, James Marriott, John Massey, and others placed these markers on the graves. These graves were known to the generation that put the markers up. If he had not done this act of kindness, many of the graves in Stewart Cemetery would be unmarked today. These markers are still present after over 50 years of the changing weather climate of east Texas.
Though the Stewart Cemetery is still active, many of the current “old-timers” from this area have opted to be buried in city cemeteries such as Commerce, Cumby, and even Brigham Cemetery. They fear the cemetery, which is owned by an association and located in a rural area of the county, will fall in disrepair and will be forgotten about when their generation is gone from this earth. Other cemeteries have and they feel this one will too. Burials in the cemetery, which is free, are becoming fewer and fewer apart.
Many of the pioneers of this area left their name in history such as: Stewart Cemetery, Maloy Road (which is FM 1568), Harlow Road (leading from south of Commerce to this area), Smith Prairie, and Cowan Street in Commerce. Commerce, Texas is approximately 3 miles north of the cemetery.
The Stewart Cemetery was declared by the Texas Historical Commission in August 1998 to be a Texas Historic Cemetery. Therefore, it is with distinct honor and privilege that I request a Texas Historical Marker for Stewart Cemetery, Hunt County, Texas. The marker would remind individuals visiting the area of the historical significance of the people buried in this cemetery. This marker would serve as a memorial for “real Texans” of Texas.
Michael R. Massey, 3005 Washington Street, Commerce, Texas 75428. Home phone (903) 886-3729 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by Martey Massey