Postcard from the Texas State Cemetery

A cemetery is a history of people - a perpetual record of yesterday and sanctuary of peace and quiet today. A cemetery exists because every life is worth living and remembering. - William Gladstone

Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what kind of people you have. - Benjamin Franklin

Entrance to the cemetery and Visitor Center
If you want to take a walk among the figures who shaped Texas, take a stroll through the Texas State Cemetery, located in Austin about one mile east of the State Capital between 7th and 11th Streets. It is there where many of the shakers and movers and honored Texans lie peacefully at rest.

In 1851, General Edward Burleson, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto and former vice president of the Republic of Texas, unexpectedly passed away at the age of 53 after contracting pneumonia.  At the time of his death, he was serving as senator for the 21st district. The Texas Legislature convened to plan a state funeral for him. Senator Andrew Jackson Hamilton donated the land and General Burleson became the first person buried in what became the State Cemetery.

Unfortunately, very little money was allocated for upkeep. In 1874, a newspaper reporter  wrote that the cemetery was poorly maintained and was a "bleak and rocky hillside bordered by a dilapidated picket fence with no tree or bush in sight." A rather feeble effort was made to upgrade the grounds, but little was actually accomplished. 120 years later in the early 1990's, Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock attended a funeral at the cemetery, found it to be disgraceful and immediately spearheaded a drive for funds for major improvements.

The State Government and citizens of Texas rallied to the cause and a 3-year, $4.7 million restoration and renovation project was begun. New grass was planted and carefully tendered to replace the sparse grasses and weeds, Texas roses and other flowering greenery were planted to beautify the landscape, a new water pond and fountain were built, new sidewalks were added, funereal statuary was cleaned and repaired, including over 2,150 marble headstones of Confederate veterans. Also built was a new limestone visitor center which was designed to resemble the long barracks at the Alamo. The center included a Texas history gallery and an administration building. New walls were erected around the grounds, including columbarium walls made of granite along the northern border.

Today, the grounds are immaculate, the walkways clear, the headstones well maintained, and the staff friendly, helpful, and respectful. Every grave here tells a story - from Civil War heroes to Texas-born Medal of Honor winners in WWII, Vietnam and later conflicts; from Sam Houston, the father of Texas, to historical old-west period Texas Rangers to Darrell Royal, the hallowed coach of the University of Texas Longhorns to one of the most recent burials, U.S. Navy Seal Kris Kyle whose headstone reads, "It is our duty to serve those who serve us." A walk through these grounds provides a true history lesson of the people who made Texas "Texas."

Albert Sidney Johnston - general in the Texas Army and later
served as a general in the Confederate Army. Killed  while
 leading his forces during the battle of Shiloh in 1862.

Over 2,000 graves contain the remains of men who served
in the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Served in the Texas Army and fought in the Battle of
San Jacinto, the battle which enabled Texas to become
a nation. He carried the only Texas flag during the
battle and was the first to see the fleeing Mexican
General Santa Anna and helped capture him.

Grave of Stephen F. Austin, the
father of Texas
Grave of "Bigfoot" Wallace, famous
soldier, Texas Ranger, survivor of many
battles with Mexicans, Indians, and out-
laws and teller of tall tales. Popular folk
hero who died in 1899, it was said of him,
"Without directing many of the events which
shaped Texas history, he was there when they
happened and did not hesitate to tell the tales."
Monument Hill and the graves of Medal of Honor winners,
most of whom gave their lives in the service of America.

Native Texan who was the author of numerous highly
acclaimed books. Most famous as the author of
 "Old Yeller."
Vietnam Memorial dedicated to
Texans who served in that conflict.
Moving and solemn 9/11 memorial with two steel beams
from the World Trade Center towers. 
Looking toward the Texas State Capital from Monument Hill
within the cemetery.

Postcard From Toltec Mounds

Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park in Scott, Arkansas is a National Historic Landmark. The site preserves and interprets the state's tallest Native American mounds. 

Toltec Mounds is one of the largest archaeological sites in the Lower Mississippi Valley. At one time, the mounds had an 8 to 10 foot-high earthen embankment on three sides and was protected on the fourth by a small lake. A century ago, 16 mounds were known inside the embankment with two of them being 38 and 50 feet high. Today, several mounds and a remnant of the embankment are still visible and the locations of other smaller mounds are known.

Two of the larger mounds
Toltec was built by Plum Bayou culture people between A.D. 700 and 1050. The mounds were religious and social centers for the people living in the surrounding countryside. The Toltec center itself had a very small resident population  which consisted mostly of the political and religious leaders and their families. The mound locations were planned using principles based on alignment with certain important solar positions and standardized units of measurement. This alignment can still be witnessed at the site during the spring and fall equinoxes.

The lake on one side of the mounds with a
mound in the background.
"Cypress Knees" - roots of the cypress trees
growing around the lake next to the mounds.

Early sunset at Toltec Mounds.

Owney - The Good Luck Postal Dog

Owney with some of his medals and tags
Owney was a scruffy mutt who became a regular fixture at the Albany, New York, post office in 1888. His owner, a man named Owen who had adopted him as a stray, was a postal clerk who let the dog walk with him to work. One rainy day, the back door to the post office was accidentally left open. The dog found his way inside and the workers didn't have the heart to put him back out in the rain and in the following weeks, continued to let him come in and spend his days there. When the supervisor inquired about the dog the workers were keeping in the back room even though it was against the rules, they told him it was Owen's mutt. Falling for the pup's cuteness, wagging tail, and likable nature, he let them keep him. After that, the dog became known as Owney. 

Owney was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags and slept on them every night. When his owner moved away, Owney stayed with his mail clerk friends and his mailbag bed. He soon began to follow mailbags around on their daily travels. At first, he just followed them onto mail wagons, returning every afternoon to his home at the post office. Then he began to follow mailbags onto Railway Post Office (RPO) mail trains and traveled with them on their journey across the state and then all around the country.

Before long, railway mail clerks considered the dog a good luck charm. At the time, train wrecks were all too common and resulted in a number of deaths of postal employees. However, no train Owney rode was ever in a wreck.

Somehow, he knew the mailbags were for postal employees only and wouldn't let anyone but a uniformed postal worker touch a bag. One time a mail pouch fell unnoticed from a wagon during a delivery run. When the carrier returned to the office, not only was the bag found to be missing, but so was Owney! Upon retracing the route, the bag was found with Owney laying on top of it, guarding it by barking and growling at anyone who approached. When he saw the postal carrier, he jumped off the bag and began wagging his tail. 

In a book at the time it was reported "The terrier Owney travels from one end of the country to the other in the postal cars, tagged through, petted, talked to, looked out for, as a brother, almost. But then, no matter what the attention, he suddenly departs for the south, the east, or the west, and is not seen again for months." In 1893 he was feared dead after having disappeared for longer than usual, but it turned out he was slightly injured in an accident in Canada. Word went out that Owney was missing and when the Canadians heard this, they put him on a mail train back to Albany with a note telling what happened and that they had paid a local vet to nurse him until he had recovered enough to once again travel. They did, however, request a payment of $2.50 to pay for his food. The money was quickly collected in Albany and sent to the Canadians. 

Owney with Mail Train workers
Fearing he would get lost someday, this incident led the Albany workers to buy him a collar with a metal tag which read, "Owney. Post Office. Albany, New York." Railway mail clerks around the country adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot and began marking his travels by placing medals and tags on his collar. Eventually there were so many tags attached to the collar that the small dog was unable to carry them all around his neck so each time Owney returned home to Albany, the clerks there removed and saved some of the tags. 

Postmaster General John Wanamaker was one of Owney's biggest fans. When he learned that the dog's collar was weighed down by the ever-growing number of tags, he gave Owney a harness on which to display the "trophies."  On April 9, 1894, a writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that "Nearly every place he stopped, Owney received an additional tag until now he wears a big bunch. When he jogs along, they jingle like the bells on a junk wagon." Eventually, there were so many tags that it was too heavy even with the harness so during his travels, clerks would remove some and send them to Albany for safe keeping. It is unknown exactly how many medals Owney accumulated during his time riding the rails, but an unofficial total of 1,017 has been given. Many have been lost. Others,for one reason or another, were not saved. The National Postal Museum has 372 in its collection today.

 In 1895, Owney made a 4-month around-the-world trip, traveling with mailbags on trains and steamships to North Africa, Asia and across Europe before returning to Albany on December 23rd. In Japan, the Emperor gave the dog 2 medals bearing the Japanese coat of arms. It was estimated that before his death, Owney had traveled over 143,000 miles.

In June, 1897, Owney boarded a mail train for Toledo, Ohio. While he was there, a new clerk chained him to a post and he was shown to a newspaper reporter. Exactly what happened is not known; some say the reporter tried to pick him up by the scruff of his neck and others say it was simply because he wasn't used to being chained up, but for some reason the normally calm and docile Owney became ill tempered, bit the reporter and then a police officer who came to investigate and was shot in response, Owney died in Toledo of a bullet wound on June 11, 1897. Mail clerks raised funds to have Owney preserved and he was given to the Post Office Department's headquarters in Washington, D.C.  In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution, where he has remained ever since. Owney can be seen on display in the National Postal Museum's atrium, wearing his harness and surrounded by several of his tags.
Owney at the Smithsonian today

Owney’s unusual life and wide-spread travels have inspired five children’s books and a song sung by Trace Adkins. In 2011, the Post Office issue a stamp honoring his memory. Elementary schools across the United States continue to use the story of Owney as a way to connect their students with those in other states by sending stuffed toy dogs from school to school through the mail accompanied by messages from students to one another.

Owney stamp