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Big Country Journal: PLEASE SLOW; GRAVE AHEAD: Woman's final resting place in middle of the road
By Ronald W. Erdrich
The Grave in the Road is the resting place of Mrs. I. Williams in Stephens County.
About a mile north of Necessity, the grave has long been a landmark in the area.
NECESSITY—"It's her name that sticks with you, if only because it says nothing about her.
Mrs. I. Williams was the name of a woman buried at what later became the intersection of FM 576 and FM 207 in Stephens County. Locally, the site is referred to as the Grave in the Road as the right-of-way splits to go around what has been her final resting place for 127 years.
Artie Mitchell is the secretary and treasurer of the Necessity-Bradshaw Cemetery Association, the group that maintains the grave and two other cemeteries nearby.
"It could have been Ira or Ivan or lots of things because there are a ton of graves in the Necessity Cemetery that are Mrs. E.L. Williams or Mrs. B.F. Satterwhite," said Mitchell. "You know, they didn't put the wife's first name. She was basically property of her husband, and that was all she was known as. Only her friends called her by her first name."
Mitchell's grandfather was 13-years-old when Mrs. Williams died. The story her grandfather told was that a wagon train was heading west through the area and had paused before going on.
"I don't know if they were going to join family in Texas or if they were actually taking the southern route to California," she said.
It was during the height of westward expansion in the 1800s. With the Civil War a memory and Indian raids dropping, at least in Texas, the allure of the west drew many settlers from the eastern United States and Europe.
Sometimes they headed west to start anew. Other times it was simply for health reasons. Mitchell's family moved up from the Houston area in 1886 to get away from what they called "East Texas fever."
"I imagine that a lot of those folks who came from Georgia and Alabama moved into that damp country and were allergic to a bunch of things, developed bronchitis and then pneumonia — and there was nothing to help them," she said
A move toward drier climates is something doctors prescribe even to this day. Some say Mrs. Williams fell ill. Others like Mitchell say she died during childbirth. Originally all that marked the grave was a pile of rocks and a simple wooden cross.
"During that general time she was buried was when property lines and actual fencing began to come about," Mitchell said. "All the roads we have nowadays, (U.S.) 180, 183, (State Highway) 351, all of those sprang up from Indian trails to wagon trails to cattle trails to car roads."
As the Williams' wagon trail turned into a real road, drivers had to negotiate the grave.
"People in wagons cut the corner just like we cut the corner in a car if we have the area to do it, so they started going around the grave on either side," Mitchell said.
In the 1930s Stephens County Commissioner J.W. Ramsey commissioned a concrete tomb be placed over the grave with an inscription to protect it.
The grave sits opposite FM 576, splitting the road at the intersection. In such a location, it was only a matter of time before an accident occurred. Mitchell said during the oil boom in the 1980s the brakes gave out on a salt water truck traveling down 576 and it crashed into the monument, shattering the concrete and destroying the marker set in it.
"It sat that way for a number of years, and then in 1989, they commissioned a new marker, and the county commissioners came in there and set it on a base, put a pipe fence around it, and that's what is there now," said Mitchell.
Indeed, the grave appears well protected now, guarded not only by the low pipe but also a giant yellow double-arrow sign that towers over Mrs. Williams, facing west and warning drivers to go around.
Because of its prominence, the Grave in the Road has been a natural magnet for ghost stories and rites of passage.
"When we were teenagers, there were lots of kids that wanted to go out there on Halloween and sit at the Grave in the Road and see if they could hear the spirits and the ghosts and the goblins," Mitchell said and laughed at the memory. "There were kids that swore that they had heard or seen something out there."
But if you think about it, the tale of Mrs. Williams is more frighteningly tragic than any Halloween ghost story. Imagine heading through an area that only a short time before was renowned for its bloody battles between Indians and settlers. Then imagine giving birth in a covered wagon or falling ill with no doctor. And then finally, imagine losing your spouse or mother and having to leave her behind, never able to return.
But then again, the story of Mrs. Williams also is the story of you. Your ancestors took those same risks, fought those fights and lost the ones they loved, as well. And yet, here you are today.
That's part of why Mitchell said they take special care for the Grave in the Road.
"In this day and time of people being disrespectful, we've always tried to be very respectful of her place, however she got put there," said Mitchell. "We feel like she is part of our family and our heritage, whether she is kin to anybody here or not."
Mitchell said she hopes one day someone will search the Internet and finally make the connection between the mysterious grave splitting a road in a rural Texas county and their Great-Great Grandma Williams who died bringing her family west for a new life.
"Hopefully, one day some of her kinfolks will come looking for her," said Mitchell. "That's one of the things I've always hoped."
(3939)http://www.reporternews.com/news/big-co ... 51121.html
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a "new" direction--"yea U go down a bit until U see that old oak tree & turn lefty by the Grave in the Road."
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