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The Matagorda County Historical Commission is conducting self-guided walking tours in five of Matagorda County’s historic cemeteries in October. Join us as we honor those who forged a life from the Texas frontier that we call home today.
Strolling through a cemetery and reading names such as Samuel Rhoads Fisher, Richard Royster Royall, Ira Ingram, Albert Clinton Horton and Major George Morse Collinsworth on markers, the visitor might think he is touring the Texas State Cemetery instead of historic Matagorda Cemetery.
Matagorda Cemetery was founded when Esther Randall Wightman, mother of Elias Wightman died June 30, 1830. She and her husband, Benjamin Wightman, accompanied their son to his new settlement in Texas in 1829. At 73 and 70, it was a rigorous trip for the couple to endure and then start lives again in an unsettled land Benjamin, the only US Revolutionary War soldier buried in Matagorda County, died shortly after Esther on August 1st.
Matagorda was one of the earliest settlements in the state and as such provided many of her sons to the fight for Texas independence. As the Texians began their struggle for independence from Mexico, Matagorda’s men were at the forefront of the events that would lead to the formation of the Republic of Texas. Collinsworth was the commander of the Texans at the capture of Goliad on Oct. 9, 1835 and Royall was temporary chairman of the Consultation of 1835 and was a part of the provisional government of the Republic. Fisher represented Matagorda at the Convention of March 1, 1836, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas and then became the first Secretary of the Navy of the Republic of Texas. Ingram was the First Speaker of the House for the Republic of Texas in 1836. Horton served on the committee which selected Austin as the capital and was the first Lieutenant Governor of the state of Texas, as well as acting governor from May 19, 1946 until July 1, 1847, while Governor James Pinckney Henderson was leading Texas forces in the Mexican War.
As one of the important early seaports of Texas, Matagorda drew immigrants from all over the world. A stroll through the cemetery reveals markers for residents born in countries such as Scotland, Germany, Mexico, England, Russia and Ireland. The types of markers range from simple hand-made wooden crosses to towering Woodmen of the World monuments. Markers for children attest to the hardships of frontier Texas life.
The cemetery is the final resting place for forty-five victims of a yellow fever epidemic in the fall of 1862. Approximately 150 residents were left in the town after the men left to fight for the Confederacy. Of those left, eighty-three contracted the disease and the forty-five who died are buried in the cemetery, one these men being James H. Selkirck. Several of the black residents became sick, but all recovered.
Also during the time of the Civil War, 40 of the young and old men left in Matagorda under the command of Capt. E. S. Rugeley, attempted to protect Matagorda from a Union attack. Twenty-one men died on the night of December 30, 1863 when they were drowned or frozen in Matagorda Bay by an unexpected norther. Most were buried in Matagorda Cemetery in now unknown graves. Several decades later, a memorial was erected in Section B of the cemetery in memory of the men of Capt. Rugeley’s company who lost their lives that fateful night. Their names are carved on the monument.
Matagorda Cemetery remains as a testament to the many residents of the area who played roles in the development of the county and the state.
The town of Palacios can trace its founding to the early 1900s when land developers planned a community on Trespalacios Bay, which came to be known as the City-By-The-Sea. People from northern points in the United States were attracted to the warm climate of Palacios and by 1910 it was a bustling little town.
As with all communities, the need for a cemetery arose in 1905, upon the death of Alice Singer, whose actual burial location is now unknown. Since then residents from the Palacios areas, including Jackson County, have been buried there.
Due to the large influx of families from the northern United States, Palacios has the most burials of Union Civil War veterans in the county. Those seventeen burials include men who participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea, Antietam and Harper’s Ferry. There are nineteen known Confederate burials in Palacios Cemetery and the early issues of the Palacios Beacon contain several accounts of banquets where the veterans of both sides joined again as brothers to remember the days of the war. Today they lie together peacefully in the cemetery.
The hard-working residents continued to build their community on the bay and many earned their livelihood from those waters. Fishing, oystering and shrimping were important occupations throughout the 1900s. In the 1970s Vietnamese refugees sought new homes in Palacios and are an important part of the community today. Their loved ones are buried at Palacios Cemetery and their ornate stones are a testament to their Asian heritage.
Join us on October 5th in Matagorda and October 12th in Palacios as we celebrate and remember the lives of those who were the builders of the Matagorda County that we know today. On October 5th you can also enjoy the Boil Blast in Matagorda and tour the restored African-American schoolhouse at the park. Palacios will also be having the BayFest on the 12th.
The other tours being held in October are Eastview and Cedarvale Cemeteries in Bay City on October 19th and Hawley Cemetery on October 26th.
Join us on these “walks through history” in October. You can take the tours any time by printing your own brochure or taking the virtual tours at www.historicmatagordacountytexas.com.Story By Carol Gibbs
Photographs Provided By Matagorda County Museum