Dead make lasting impressions with epitaphs

By Bob Bowman
Special to the Journal

Jackie Asque made her funeral arrangements, she wrote down instructions for a tombstone inscription. When she passed away at Lufkin, Texas, in 1983, the epitaph was chiseled into her gravestone: "See, I told you I was sick."

Traveling across East Texas, graveyard visitors are often rewarded with other unique, humorous and poignant tombstone inscriptions.

At Coldspring a century ago, malpractice lawsuits were unknown, so tombstones were occasionally used by surviving relatives to castigate doctors for their faults.

In the Coldspring Cemetery, one such tombstone bears the inscription: "In memory of my darling child, Edith E., youngest daughter of Robert and S.C. Smith. Born Nov. 1, 1854. Died a victim to an experiment in surgery by Dr. Warren Stone of New Orleans, May 18, 1872."

Charlie Ratliff of Jasper was one of at least two East Texans with two gravestones. When the 80-year-old man lost his right arm to cancer, he had it buried in Little Hope Cemetery with a marker bearing a carving of an arm and hand. When Charlie died four years later, the rest of his body was interred beside the arm.

The same thing happened to Winnie Jones, who lost a leg and is buried it in St. Luke's Cemetery in San Augustine County with the inscription: "Here lies Winnie Jones' leg." When Winnie died, she was buried near her leg with the notation: "Here lies Winnie Jones."

In a Canton cemetery, an automobile dealer had his family inscribe this on his tombstone: "I made a lot of deals during my lifetime, but I sure went in the hole on this one."

In Polk County, Bobby Hoffman, who died in 2006, had this message carved on his headstone: "I did everything my mother told me not to do & had a really good time."

Oak Grove Cemetery--which, ironically, is at the dead end for Hospital Street in Nacogdoches--contains rows and rows of magnificent tombstones, including those for four signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

But the tombstone of Oscar L. Holmes, a county clerk, is perhaps the cemetery's most unusual. Holmes had an excerpt of his will chiseled on his marker. Knowing what he knew about records that sometimes disappear, Oscar wasn't taking any chances with his will.

East Texans have always had a deep love for their animals, as reflected in a number of cemeteries.

Ottie the Horse, owned by the Humason family in Lufkin, pulled an ice wagon and led funeral parades. When she died in 1918 she was buried just outside Glendale Cemetery, but when a utility line was built across her grave, her tombstone was relocated inside the Humasons' family plot. Accordingly, people today believe Ottie is buried inside the cemetery.

Shorty the Squirrel has a special resting place on Tyler's courthouse square. Shorty lived among the square's trees, thriving on handouts from passersby. When he was injured by an automobile, townspeople built him a special cage and city workers furnished him with daily meals. When Shorty died, the entire town mourned and he was buried in a special grave with a simple tombstone reading: "Shorty the Squirrel: 1948-1963."

When Major Joseph N. Dark, a Hardin County pioneer and Civil War hero, died in 1905, he instructed his family to chisel an old Irish poem on his tombstone in Aaron Cemetery:
Remember, friends, as you pass by,
as you are now, so Once was I,
As I am now so you must be,
Prepare for Death and follow me.

Texas Governor James V. Allred often referred to Dark's epitaph as he traveled throughout Texas. In one of his speeches he said that in another cemetery, a dying man had borrowed Dark's inscription and added two lines.

To follow you I'll not consent
Until I know which way you went.

Bob Bowman, who lives in Lufkin, Texas, is the author of "The Forgotten Towns of East Texas" and 35 other books. He can be reached at bobb@consolidated.net

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