By JAMES WEAR
One could easily spend several weeks visiting cemeteries in the Liberty Hill area, many of which date back over a century and mark the final resting place of many of those who played key roles in developing the community.
Among those cemeteries is the Williams-Buck Cemetery, which is located a few miles northeast of Liberty Hill, just down the road apiece from where US 183 intersects CR 207. Historians say the cemetery was established around 1854, with among the first burials being that of a black slave named Willie Osborne, who belonged to the Williams family.
In a piece written by Travis and Charlene Hanson Jordan that may be found on the Williamson County Historical Commission’s website, the couple note that “the earliest marked grave is that of Polly Williams (1854), the infant child of Louis and Polly Axley Williams.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting burials is that of the Stephen family, who according to the Jordans were ambushed by Indians in 1854 and “Instead of coffins, they were buried in the bed of their wagon after the wagon wheels and tongue had been removed.”
The Jordans wrote that, “In the early days, the rocks were grubbed out of the soil and piled on the property boundaries. Willie Osborne is supposed to have placed the stones around the cemetery. He, like other slaves, is thought to be buried within the stone walls, but outside the chain-link fence. These graves are still marked with limestone, but their names have long since disappeared.
“The names chiseled on the white limestone reflect the Anglo-American background of the settlement. Because many of the families have lived there half a dozen generations, most of the people buried in the cemetery are related through marriage and kinship. The dates on the stones show that their arrival was contemporary with the surrounding communities and reflect major events, such as the Civil War and the World Wars.”
According to the Jordans’ narrative, about 10 percent of those buried in the cemetery had military backgrounds, and at least six fought in the Civil War. The Jordans identify those six individuals as “Moses Thomas Whitehead (1825-1905), R.B. Bullen (1818-1888), T.J. Duncan (1822-1895), Terry’s Ranger Gary D. Stephen (1843-1921), J.N. Brown (1843-1894) (Brown’s wife’s obituary states that he left immediately after their wedding to take up service with the Confederate Army) and Major John Bullion (1829-1902).”
In the past, the Jordans noted that graves were dug by hand by families, pointing out that “During the Civil War when men were away at war or in the Home Guard, graves were dug by boys and old men. Funeral homes did not yet exist and the dead were usually laid on a cooling board on the back porch where the bodies were washed, dressed and prepared for burial. The early coffins were usually covered in black muslin, outside and inside, and the black fabric also lined the hole in the ground, but the pillow was white muslin.”
Coffins were also hand made, according to the narrative.
“The wood was usually elm or post oak grown on nearby Bear Creek and the North San Gabriel where the river bottom trees grew bigger. Because of the stony ground, cemeteries in western Williamson County had to be located where graves could be dug, usually in caliche deposits. A foot deep cut around the grave perimeter was also lined with black muslin up until the 1920s. It is thought to be a tradition brought from Europe. After the service, the coffins would then be lowered into the grave with lariats.”
On July 11, 1998, families and other interested parties gathered on the grounds for the dedication of a Historical Marker by the Texas Historical Commission. I recall being present for the dedication; however, any photos I took that day have long since been lost.