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2015-05-21

First step for historical place at 'Black Cemetery'

By Judith Pannebaker & Carolyn B. Edwards

This headstone marks the grave of the last person buried in Bandera's Bertha Tryon-Hendrick Arnold Cemetery, located on Old Medina Highway. Commissioners court recently designated the site as a historic Texas cemetery, paving the way for a state historical plaque.

Roy Dugosh, chairman of the Bandera County Historical Commission (BCHC), asked commissioners to designate the commonly named "Black Cemetery" as an historic Texas cemetery to ensure its eligibility for a historical marker.
Located on the Old Medina Highway, between San Antonio and Houston streets, the cemetery has long been known as the Bertha Tryon-Hendrick Arnold Cemetery. The site serves as the final resting place of a number of Bandera County's early black residents.
However, on Thursday, May 14, Dugosh asked the court to approve the appellation the Hendrick Arnold Burial Ground, a Historic Texas Cemetery. His request left some commissioners nonplussed.
"Through the years, it's been known by many names, but I don't recall the cemetery ever being called that," said Judge Richard Evans. He reminded Dugosh that in the original deed the area was designated as a "colored cemetery."
"The historic plaque chairperson is trying to connect the cemetery with Hendrick Arnold to tie it to something historic," Dugosh explained.
Evans continued, "To call it the Hendrick Arnold Burial Ground would imply that the man is buried there and he isn't. In fact, I don't believe he ever lived in Bandera County."
The site now belongs to Bandera County after county taxing entities, the Bandera Independent School District and the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District, signed off their interests in the property to the county.
Through the decades, an inability to obtain a clear title to the property has hindered progress on the site, which has been cleared of brush several times. In 1922, Mrs. Charles Montague originally set aside the one-acre parcel at the corner of Houston Street and Old Medina Highway as a "Colored Burial Ground in which only negroes are to be buried." In the intervening years, neglect enabled a nearly impenetrable mass of cedar, poison ivy and briars to invade the lot.
In 1993, the family of Bertha Tryon, a long-time local resident, requested permission to bury her there. They cleared the center of the property around the gravesite. While preparing to erect a fence, neighbors questioned the ownership and boundaries of the site. At the time of Tryon's burial, the cemetery was designated as the Bertha Tryon-Hendrick Arnold Cemetery.
In 2000, the BCHC asked the Bandera Cemetery Association (BCA) to serve as an umbrella nonprofit organization for the black cemetery, allowing it to qualify for liability insurance so that rehabilitation could proceed. The BCA Board of Directors agreed, but once again, the uncertainty of ownership led to roadblocks.
In 2004, after consulting with the county's tax attorney and then-Tax Assessor-Collector Mae Vion Meyer, former Bandera County Commissioner Jim Mormando devised a plan. After it was determined that no taxes had ever been paid on the property, the lot was auctioned in a delinquent tax sale.
"I even collected some money, in case we had to bid against someone for it," Mormando said in an earlier interview with the Courier. Fortunately, no one did, and the money was deposited in a special county account to use to refurbish the cemetery.
At that time, county commissioners asked the county's other taxing entities to transfer their interest in Lot C, Block I, Bandera Estates to the county.
In addition to Tryon, the cemetery is named for Hendrick Arnold, a free man, who received 1,920 acres from the Republic and the State of Texas for his services as a soldier.
Arnold served as a guide for General Ben Milam's division in the assault on Bexar in 1835. He also distinguished himself as "one of the most efficient members of Deaf Smith's Spy Company" during the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, according to his commanding officers. Arnold's land parcels touched the Medina River and lay north and northwest of the town of Bandera. The cemetery lies in part of the original Hendrick Arnold Survey #59.
In 1991, local historian the late Louis Postert provided a list of people he believed were buried in the cemetery. They included John Benson, 1855-1890, whose marker has since disappeared. Another now-missing marker bore the faint outline of the name "Wellencrane." Postert also named Andrew and Mariah Jackson, Jeff Cooksey Jr., Mahalia Cooksey, Mrs. Jeff Cooksey Sr. and WD Leonard. It has been estimated that 30 or more people may be buried in the cemetery.
Prior to Tryon, the last documented burial in the cemetery was Leonard in 1944.
After discussions, commissioners unanimously approved the cemetery's designation as a historic Texas cemetery. As Evans explained, this designation paves the way for a historical plaque on the site. He added that the proper name of the cemetery would be discussed at a later date.