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Now the Day Is Over: Cemetery in the Hills

An artist's rendering of a funeral in the Texas Hill Country circa 1870
Pioneer families gather at the hillside community cemetery in this artist's rendering of a funeral in the Texas Hill Country circa 1870. Painting by Charles Shaw.
Stone grave enclosures of this late nineteenth-century cemetery
Stone grave enclosures of this late nineteenth-century cemetery
dot the rocky hillslope.

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A wrought-iron fence is a distinctly German element in the otherwise rustic cemetery. The occupant of the grave is unknown. Photo by Susan Dial.
A wrought-iron fence is a distinctly German element in the otherwise rustic cemetery. The occupant of the grave is unknown. Photo by Susan Dial.
Plan map of cemetery drawn by TARL archeologists during survey. Some 30 graves may lie in the cemetery, based on size of the rock-walled enclosures and other evidence of individual burials.
Plan map of cemetery drawn by TARL archeologists during survey. Some 30 graves may lie in the cemetery, based on size of the rock-walled enclosures and other evidence of individual burials.

Cemeteries springing from the southern traditions have been described by cultural geographer Terry Jordan as "a mixture of order and chaos."

A cut stone cairn with a hand-carved marker of I. Hale. The Missouri native died in 1883, his grave one of the few still identifiable in this small cemetery. Photo by Tom Hester.
The grave of Birdie Rose is enclosed by a cut-stone cairn. Photo by Tom Hester.


In the hilly uplands of Barton Creek, low rock enclosures and an ornate wrought iron fence stand out in odd relief amid an otherwise stark landscape. Yucca, scrub oak, and native grasses have overtaken this small cemetery, moving in and taking hold where cattle and goats have nudged the stone walls over.

At times in the past, this somewhat desolate place saw family members gather to bury a loved one, bringing the coffin on horse-drawn wagon over rocky roads. Nine-year old Birdie Rose was laid to rest here in 1879 by her family— Swedish immigrant Charles Rose, who served as postmaster in Cedar Valley, mother Rebecca, a native of Arkansas, and four brothers and sisters. Nearby is the grave of the ill-fated Phillip Doeppenschmidt, who according to local lore, was kept locked up on the front porch of his family's loghouse. Census records for 1880 list him as insane and an invalid; he died a year later at the age of 61. Missouri native Issac Hale came to the Texas Hill Country to farm the land, but died at the age of 30 leaving behind a wife and two small sons.

Fred Haas, who grew up in a nearby log house, recalls that a funeral in the Hill Country around the turn of the twentieth century might, at best, involve a circuit-riding preacher. There were, of course, no funeral homes, and bodies were generally laid out on a table at home prior to burial.

Although perhaps as many as 30 other individuals were buried in this small cemetery, their identities and stories have been lost or forgotten. The few existing gravestones, including those for the three accounted for above, have weathered now almost beyond recognition. There may have been wooden markers in the past, but these, too, have vanished. But in the cemetery itself—in its layout and general plan—we can see traces of the people who were once here, a microcosm of the traditions and cultures brought into the Hill Country.

The single decorative wrought-iron enclosure is distinctly German in style; similar grave fences can be seen in early communities such as Fredericksburg. But unlike German cemeteries, with their more rigid organization and family hierarchy (children were buried in a children's section apart from the parents), there is little patterning in the graves in this hillside cemetery. More likely, it evolved over a brief period of time as families of several different backgrounds came together in a community effort.

There are low walls of stone—some carefully cut, others unshaped—enclosing what clearly are multiple graves. A few of the larger may contain as many as five or six graves, and these may be family plots. There is no evidence that these were capped with a stone slab, as were similar graves in other communities of the period. Although legend claims the walls were erected to keep Indians and wild animals from disturbing the graves, the more likely explanation is that they were built to keep out grazing animals.

Cemeteries springing from the southern traditions have been described by cultural geographer Terry Jordan as "a mixture of order and chaos." The single measure of order in these cemeteries, he tells us, is an unfailing orientation of the graves to an east-west axis; a design anticipating Judgement Day, when the dead might rise facing Christ, as symbolically represented by the sun. In spite of the lack of markers and the deterioration of many of the enclosures, the orientation of the graves in this small Barton Creek cemetery is quite clear.


Ornate detailing of the gate on the wrought-iron enclosure is similar to graveyard furnishings in Fredericksburg and other German Hill Country communities. Photo by Susan Dial.
Ornate detailing of the gate on the wrought-iron fence is similar to graveyard furnishings in Fredericksburg and other German Hill Country communities. Photo by Susan Dial.
"Not lost but gone before;" marker of nine-year-old Birdie Rose, who died in 1879. Photo by Tom Hester.
"Not lost but gone before;" marker of nine-year-old Birdie Rose, who died in 1879. Photo by Tom Hester.
Headstone of Phillip Doeppenschmidt. A native of Bavaria, he married a French woman, Caroline Cezeaux, and moved to her Hill Country land. Their log house (see the Haas House) has now been restored by the current landowners.
Headstone of Phillip Doeppenschmidt. A native of Bavaria, he married a French woman, Caroline Cezeaux, and moved to her Hill Country land. Their log house (see the Doeppenschmidt-Haas House) has now been restored by the current landowners.