Trying to Find Henry Hamilton in a Haystack
On Saturday at 10:30 a.m. I decided that I would drive to Hill County, Texas to find the cemetery which is said to contain the unmarked grave of my Great Great Great Grandfather, Henry Hamilton Porter, 1788-1850. Henry was born in Tennessee, moved to Alabama and then, after the Texas Revolution was safely won, took most of his family to the Republic of Texas. I may have mentioned before that I have no famous ancestors, nor do I believe that I have too many brave ones. The reason more people don’t have brave ancestors is that those type of ancestors tended to get killed in wars at a young age. This has the effect of cutting off that particular part of the family line. Most of us have ancestors who preferred to hide out until the shooting was over. That’s the whole reason we are here to research them and we ought to properly thank them for their discretion (which, of course is the better part of valor, or at least that portion which keeps you alive.).
No one will ever know for sure why Henry and the rest moved to Texas or went to Hill County in what is now the area of Blum (pop. 399, 2000 census). There were Porters in that county already and several things named after the family so my guess is that they went there to freeload for awhile off of distant cousins when things got sticky in Alabama. The great thing about going to the Republic of Texas is that no American civil court could serve process on you and you could conveniently forget your debts, and most of your crimes. Not that I have any evidence that H.H.Porter was a reprobate or a deadbeat. I do, however, have my suspicions.
The cemetery I was looking for is called the Dodson Cemetery but, according to local lore, was once known as the Porter Graveyard, which has a nice ring to it, as long as the bell is not presently ringing for thee. I found a listing of people buried there and old Henry Hamilton was there, although his grave was listed as unmarked. Several of his kids, the brothers and sisters of my Great Great Grandfather, who moved on to Palo Pinto county after the building of a line of protective forts (no fool he) in that area, are buried there and actually are said to have headstones. I thought that it would be worth a three hour drive and a tramp through woods and underbrush to see the gravestone of a Great Great Uncle. My wife and daughter did not agree with me, and I set off by myself.
I had directions, of sorts, or as one of my colleagues here called it, “a treasure map” and it was actually remarkably easy to find the spot I was looking for, despite the tiny shale covered and dusty roads that I had to drive down in order to reach it. I will say that Toyota Avalon’s are not really engineered for four wheeling but, for the most part, I held my own. Only once was I in actual physical danger when I crested a hill and noticed that rather than a continuation of the road, the locals had decided instead to go with a sheer drop off.
Once I found the spot though, I could not find the cemetery. I had been forewarned that it was unmarked. I had not known that it was either invisible or perfectly camouflaged. The thickness of the trees and the green spring brush made it almost impossible to see past or over the side of the road. I hunted for an hour or so and finally decided just to take in the scenery . The scenery was worth the trip. The cactus were in full bloom, the beautiful yellow cactus rose growing off of the prickly pear. From a ridge I could see the Nolan River flow into the Brazos as it continued its long slow trek down to Freeport and the Gulf of Mexico. I don’t know why those folks came here, but I know why they stayed. Crops were covering the fields. The corn was already chest high on a man of six foot three. The hay had been cut and lay in great rolls over the green, but now clipped, fields. The angus cattle looked so fat that you wondered how that could even get themselves down to the Nolan for a drink. Honey bees buzzed and circled everywhere. For maybe a minute and a half I envied the sturdy yeoman who still tills the fields. But then I noticed that it was kind of humid because of an early morning rain and I recalled how pleasant it is to work in the air conditioning.
The rain had followed me, on and off, all day. I tried my best to catch up with it when I could. I love the fact that you smell rain before you see it and hear it before you feel it. I had not smelled rain like this in a long time and for a couple of miles it came down in sheets, beating hard against the roof of my car, but not so hard as to impair visibility. Nothing feels as fresh as rain in the country. After the rain stopped I turned onto a little farm to market road and a Chaparral came beeping by. I don’t know why the roadrunner never evolved to the point of flight. Then I saw a rusting sign of another flightless bird. On a fence was an old picture of an Emu. Even here, the scam artists had convinced Texans that the Emu was the next great food craze, and it is good stuff. But the Emu went the way of the Chinchilla ranch and the open fields of Texas are full of Emus which were turned out when it became apparent to ranchers that the smart money was still on beef.
I wish that I had found Henry, but I still found plenty to enjoy. When the winter comes and thins the brush I will return to Hill County and take another look. I bet that I find the cemetery. But something tells me that a desolate graveyard in mid-winter is not going to compare with the cactus in bloom, no matter who is buried there.