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Footnotes and supporting documents follow this article.
Decatur Cemetery and the
A paper by Alton Cook (December 2001)
The earliest item published August 29, 1935, is a “Know Wise County” column of 10 questions and answers the first 7 of which deal with the cemetery.
Mrs. Bat Milholland (sic), in 1855.
Capt. John W. Hale and Archer B. Fullingim, brothers-in-law, and settlers in what is known as the Oak Grove community.
She was a sister of Eli Lindley, resident of Hopkins County, and cattle owner in this section. She lived on what is now known as the Chris Harmon farm.
About midway section of the extreme east margin.
Alleged to have been poisoned by two negro women slaves who put poison in her coffee.
Yes. the march was directly across the field. Two men walked at the head and played a funeral dirge on fiddles. They were Charles Cates and his brother, Clabe.
For many years thereafter how was the cemetery managed and financed?
By a volunteer society, the old Decatur Cemetery Society. Mrs. Henry Greathouse for many years president.”
The article says that J.W. Hale and A.B. Fullingim selected the site of the cemetery.
“The first person to be buried here was a Mrs. Millholland, wife of Bart Millholland, Sr., and great-grandmother of County Commissioner, Thurmond Cook.. What is now known as the Harmon place was their home. This was about 1855.
This family were slave-holders and Mrs. Millholland’s death was sudden and mysterious. Some of the negro slaves were accused of poisoning her and were later tried for it. This trial, or investigation (before there was a Wise County Courthouse of any description) was one of the most dramatic incidents in early Wise County history. Mrs. J.W. Hale, the nearest neighbor, who was the first person to reach the bedside of the stricken woman, was summoned, among others, to testify, but nothing was proven against the negroes and the case was dismissed. Perhaps they were innocent – perhaps they were too valuable as property to be given up.”
Then there follows a description of the burial of Eli Lindley with the same funeral procession described in the 1935 Messenger item for Mrs. Millhollon.
I am interested in this matter in part because Bat Millhollon and his first wife are my great-great grandparents, and my intent here is to examine these newspaper items in relation to my family history.
Bartholomew W. (Bat) Millhollon was born in Kentucky in 1809 and married Elizabeth Lindley in Hopkins County, Kentucky, in 1826. They were parents of 8 children. In 1842 the family moved to Hopkins County, Texas, where Millhollon was the first sheriff of the county.
Sometime between 1849 when Elizabeth’s last child was born and 1857 when Bat married her widowed sister, Ruth Lindley, Elizabeth died, but I had been unable to find any record of where or when until I read the 1935 and 1940 Messenger articles.
Ruth Lindley was the widow of Jahu Lindley (same name), and they were the parents of 5 children.
B.W. Millhollon and Ruth were the parents of 2 children, Clem and Eli.
On September 8, 1854, B. W. Millhollon purchased a land certificate, No. 22-3rd Class, for 320 acres originally issued to James M. Merrell February 15, 1850, by the Board of Land Commission of Hopkins County, Texas. The record of this purchase was filed July 3. 1860, and recorded July 14. 1860, in Hopkins County.[i]
Land grant certificates were issued under various legislative acts since the days of the Republic, and they could be bought and sold and traded. They were not issued for a specific tract of land. It was the responsibility of the certificate holder to find vacant public land, obtain a survey, and apply for the patent.
In early 1855 Millhollon and several of his sons were in what is now Wise County, then a part of Cooke County, surveying land. A turn through the pages of Book A of the Surveying Record in the Wise County Clerk’s office shows that the area had land surveyors all over the place in late 1854 and 1855, for in addition to the land certificates already issued the Texas Legislature in 1854 had passed an act granting 160 acres to anyone settling on unclaimed public land and making improvements.
The old Survey Book in the Wise County Clerk’s office shows at least 9 surveys from March to May, 1855, in which B. W. Millhollon was a chainman. His son, John, is recorded as chainman at least 3 times from January, 1855, to May, 1856.
Another son, Reason Millhollon, recorded January 2, 1855, that he was occupant of a tract of 160 acres he believed vacant, and a preemptive survey was made for him of 160 acres on Catlett Creek adjoining the Alston survey by J. W. Hall (Hale) and A. B. Foolingame (sic). Both John and Reason were chainmen for the Levins Survey in May, 1856.
B. W. Millhollon applied his Merrill certificate to 320 acres north of Decatur, and this land was surveyed January 10, 1855, by John Millhollon and Sam Birdwell. B.W. Millhollon kept the Merrill land until March, 1871, when he sold it to J. W. Conelly. Conelly in turn sold it in April, 1872 to Jackson J. Conelly and Carlo Ball, J.J. Conelly’s son-in-law. And in February, 1874, they divided the property excluding the flourmill, which they jointly operated. (This land division should precisely place the location of this first mill in Wise County if survey lines can be determined.)
Ball later sold his land to C. Harmon. And so we have the explanation for this property being called the old Ball place and the old Harmon place. This property adjoins the east boundary of the old section of the cemetery.[ii]
Other evidence that Millhollon was in the area at this time is in Cliff Cates Pioneer History of Wise County. He states that among the students attending a school conducted in the summer of 1856 were Sam, Bartholomew, and Simon Millhollon.[iii] All were children of B.W. and Elizabeth Millhollon. And by 1850 census calculation they were ages 14, 16, and 7.
Having been in Wise County in 1855 and 1856 Millhollon was back in Hopkins County in 1857 where he married Ruth Lindley. And he was there in 1860 when the U.S. Census enumerated him.
He returned to Wise County in 1861. In a biographical entry on Rufus Lindley, Ruth and Jahu Lindley’s youngest child, in his Pioneer History Cates states that Rufus Lindley came to Wise County in 1861 with his step-father, B. W. Millhollon who settled on the Carlo Ball place 1 ½ miles north of Decatur.[iv] That is the Merrill survey. And he was living there in 1866 when his grandson, B. W. Cook, (my grandfather) was born to his daughter Isabell and her husband William Cook.
Because of the general lawlessness in the area following the Civil War and difficulty with the Indians many residents left the county. B. W. Millhollon and William Cook moved to Wilson County south of San Antonio. Isabell Cook died in 1869 leaving two small sons, B. W. and W. A. Cook, and they were to a large extent reared by their grandmother whom they called “Aunt Ruth”.
The family returned to Wise County in 1872. Millhollon died sometime in the 1870’s in Thorp Spring, an early mineral water health spot in Hood County. He is buried there. Ruth died in 1899 and is buried in the Millhollon lot on the eastern edge of the old section of the Decatur cemetery “about half way”. Beside her monument is that of her son, Clem, who died in 1881. The family story is that he was found dead setting under a tree; they believed he was struck by lightening. And based on the Messenger stories I believe Elizabeth Millhollon is buried there also.
When I began this research I thought I would find that Mrs. Bat Millhollon was buried on the family farm, the Merrill Survey, and that the cemetery had begun as a family cemetery. It may have been a family cemetery, but it was not on the Merrill Survey.
The old section of the Decatur cemetery is in two surveys. The southern part is in the J.B. McClyman survey and the northern part is in the Bean survey.
The 39 acre land warrant of J. B. McClyman passed through several hands and ended up with W. T. Peery (or Perry) of Cooke County who had the land surveyed in August, 1858 with J.W. Kelly and J. W. Connely as chain carriers. In 1878 Peery acting through his agent John W. Hale sold 7 ¼ acres out of the north end of the survey to the City of Decatur specifically to be used as a cemetery. The rest of the 39 acres he sold to Carlo Ball.[v]
Sylvanus Bean, whom Cates describes as an early settler in the Upper Catlett area, claimed 160 acres under the 1854 legislative act and surveyed the property with Floyd Smith December 27, 1854. In a transaction on March 16, 1858, Bean sold 48 acres of the south end of his survey (along with the right to remove the house Bean was living in) to John Hanson. And October 13, 1858, he sold the rest of the survey to Bishop & Blythe. Perhaps these transactions were not completed (I don’t really understand) because on May 15, 1861, Bean sold the entire 160 acres to Bishop & Blythe (Absalom Bishop and his son-in-law Edward Blythe). Both Bishop and Blythe were very active in land transactions at this time. I have not been able to find when they sold the Bean land or how the City of Decatur obtained part of the survey for the cemetery.[vi]
Bat Millhollon did not bury his wife on his own land He buried her just across the property line on public land if it is in the McClyman survey or on Bean’s land if it is in the Bean survey.
Charles Smith in the Wise County Appraisal District office showed me an aerial map of the area on which he placed an overlay showing the survey lines. This placement of the overlay puts the McClyman – Bean line running east and west several yards south of what appears to be the Wagner mausoleum. If this is correct the Millhollon lot is in the Bean survey. But I have a problem with this placement of the overlay because it makes the boundry between the Merrell survey and the McClyman – Bean surveys several yards east of the cemetery fence. And that doesn’t seem likely. Copies of the Heydricks map that hang in both the County Clerk’s office and in the Appraisal District office seems to show the west boundary of the Merrell survey to be cemetery line.
The writer or writers of the Messenger article would have known the facts
of their story. Jack Cates, Cliff Cates, and Ada Cates were siblings. Charles Cates was their father and Clabe Cates their uncle. Their mother was the daughter of John W. Hale and the niece of Archer B. Fullingim. Clabe Cates married Eli Lindley’s daughter. The Hales and the Fullingims were neighbors of the Millhollons. And the writer clearly knew the family relationships in correctly identifying Mrs. Bat Millhollon as the great-grandmother of then County Commissioner Thurmond Cook.
I note that they never gave Mrs. Millhollon’s first name. Perhaps they did not know it. Neither B.W. Cook nor his brother, W.A. Cook remembered their grandmother’s name. Rufus Lindley’s daughter, Grace Breedlove, did not know her name either.[vii] I have only found that her name was Elizabeth through genealogical research.
As to the cause and investigation of her death there is probably nothing more to be found. The only Cooke County records prior to 1856 are land transactions.[viii]
[i] Wise Co. Warranty Deed Book E, p. 67
[ii] Warranty Deed Books A-2 pp. 288-292 and L, p. 7
[iii] Cliff Cates, Pioneer History of Wise County, p. 58
[iv] ibid. p. 329
[v] Survey Record Book A, p. 111; Warranty Deed Books Q, pp 183-185 and N, pp 266-285
[vi] Survey Record Book B, p. 410; Warranty Deed Books A p. 209; B, pp. 78-9: F, p. 87
[vii] Interview with Grace Breedlove, June 7, 1960
[viii] James E. Riney, Inventory of County Records, Cooke County Courthouse, Gainesville, Texas, 1975
Question and Answer Article from Wise County Messenger (August 29, 1935) - referred to above
Wise County Messenger article by Ada Cates - 1940
of Ruth Millhollon
Section 6 - Block 4 - Lot 21 (by east fence of cemetery)
Aerial photograph - Survey Map of Oaklawn Cemetery