Sunday, April 23, 2017

2017-04-16: Geocaching in 7 New South Texas Counties for Ghost Towns, Cemeteries, and History

Another weekend off and another opportunity to hit the road for a Geocaching adventure. Yesterday after lunch, we drove south along the Rio Grande to Eagle Pass, Texas. Today we explored South Texas and found caches in seven new counties, bringing our total up to 168 of 259 counties.

So this morning after a couple of ordinary Geocache finds along US-277 south, we stopped at our first non-cache site of historical interest. I found this place looking through the Find-A-Grave website for old cemeteries. According to the Historical Marker along the roadside, this is called the Burleson Cemetery.
Among the earliest settlers in the area later named Dimmitt County, the Burleson family settled near Carrizo Springs between 1865 and 1970. James A. (1869-1895), Joseph E. (1870-1895), and Samuel (1877-1895) Burleson died suddenly , probably of food poisoning. The following July, Marion M. Burleson (1853-1895) succomed to heat stroke and was buried on family land with his brothers and a Burleson child. As time passed, the graves on this site became a mystery. Investigations at the end of the Twentieth Century by the Texas Department of Transportation found it to be the final resting place of the Burleson Family. (1998)
I am assuming from the marker that while construction of US-277 took place, the Texas DOT researched the history of the graves and constructed these pavers in place along the roadside to mark the graves. 

After a quick cemetery cache (GC68Q3P) in Carrizo Springs, we continued onto US-83 and a few more quick picnic area and roadside caches. 

Several miles to the south, we came to the ghost town of Catarina and our next geocache (GC1B4CV). The tiny town of Catarina was on the Old San Antonio Road -- El Camino Real -- an important travel corridor in early Texas history. The name has been associated with the area since at least 1778; legend holds that it is the name of a Mexican woman killed by Indians on or near the site.

The town was established after Asher Richardson, a rancher, decided to build a railway link from Artesia Wells to his planned town of Asherton. In return for an easement through the nearby Taft-Catarina Ranch, Richardson agreed to allow the ranch to establish a railroad depot, with cattle-shipping pens, on his railroad. By 1910, when the Asherton and Gulf Railway began operations, these cattle pens had become the nucleus of a small community built by Joseph F. Green, the manager of the ranch. Green moved the ranch headquarters to the depot and added a bunkhouse, a commissary, a hotel, a post office, and a small schoolhouse.

By 1915 the little town had twenty-five residents, and had become famous in the area for the Taft House, an expensive mansion that Charles Taft, the owner of the ranch, supposedly built with oversized bathtubs to accommodate his brother, President William Howard Taft. Catarina Farms, a development project, built roads, sidewalks, and a waterworks and an impressive new hotel and installed electric power and a telephone exchange. Agent Charles Ladd imported entire orchards of fruit-laden citrus trees to impress prospective investors with the area's agricultural possibilities. 

By 1929 Catarina had between 1,000 and 2,500 residents, a bank, at least two groceries, a lumber company, and a bakery. A water shortage (precipitated by the drying-out of the nearby Artesian wells), marketing problems, and the Great Depression hurt the town. By 1969 some of the town's most picturesque old buildings had been abandoned, and the population was 160.

C. H. Kearny and Lee Peters designed and built this hotel in 1925-26 in the Spanish Eclectic style, with features including tiles roofs and mission elements, cast stone detailing, and a U-shaped plan with courtyard and fish pond. The building, which once also housed a bank, cafe, shops and offices, is a reminder of the towns boom era.

Turning north on I-35 to start the loop back to Eagle Pass, we come to the Nueces River at the southern edge of the town of Cotulla. Here we found another historical marker and our next cache (GC3AMC7) at the Old Mexican Border. Until 1836, the Nueces River formed the undisputed western boundary of Texas. By the Treaty of Guadalupe Hilgado, signed in February 1848, the boundary line between Mexico and the United States was fixed at the Rio Grande.

While in Cotulla, we stopped by the LaSalle County Courthouse and Cotulla City Park. The Presidio Rio Grande Road brought travelers to this area for centuries. In 1852 the U. S. Army  built and garrisoned Fort Ewell for protection. The first permanent settler William A. Waugh (1832-1901), an Ohio native who found gold in California in 1849, opened a ranch near the Cibolo Crossing in 1856. On February 1, 1858, the county was created and named for Robert Cavalier, Sieur De La Salle (1643-1687), the first French explorer of Texas.

Polish immigrant Joseph Cotulla (1844-1923) migrated to the county in 1865. In 1881, when the International & Great Northern Railroads pushed through South Texas, Joseph Cotulla offered part of his homestead in exchange for running the track through his property. He platted a town site with a central plaza and a row of store front businesses that drew cowboys and homesteaders for miles around. The town of Cotulla was founded in 1882 and became the county seat in 1883.

Before leaving we stopped by the Cotulla Cemetery where both William Waugh and Joseph Cotulla are buried and to grab another cemetery geocache (GC69ADM).

Another exit further up the northbound I-35 brought us to our next Geocache (GC69ADH) at the Millett Cemetery. Since starting Geocaching, I've been to a LOT of cemeteries looking for caches.

But I don't recall ever seeing anything like this next headstone: "The Arm of Sam B. Tyree." I just had to take a picture. Researching further, Samuel Burnham Tyree was born in 1896. While attempting to tame some wild horses at the age of 14, somehow the rope severely tangled around his arm. Badly damaged in the accident, his arm then had to be amputated. His family then buried his arm in the Millett Cemetery with a marker and cross.

He lived another 76 years and died in San Antonio on November 22, 1982, where he is buried nearly 100 miles from his arm.

While on the way to the cemetery, I spotted something and made note to stop on the way back. And while taking a quick stroll through the cemetery, I saw these concrete steps with a plaque stating that they used to be the front steps leading into the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. So I stopped back at the other display and found that was where the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church once stood.

The original mission began Circa 1900 with Priests coming from San Antonio. In 1911 a church was built northwest of here. It burned down in 1920. For 22 years mass was offered in private homes. In 1942, Father M. Reis bought the small grocery store located on that very spot. He converted it into a chapel under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe to serve the ranchers and farmers of this area.

Father John Van Lare came to South Texas in the 1950's. In 1976, he became the Pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Cotulla. He spent over 30 years ministering to the communities of Cotulla, Fowlerton, and here in Millett. He retired in 2004 at the age of 84 and returned to his native Holland.

The church which had fallen into disrepair was closed in 2005. It was then later demolished in 2008.

At this point my phone was nearly dead and I forgot to bring my car charger. Fortunately though I had loaded all the caches into my old GPS. This meant caching the old fashion way with only a compass. No turn-by-turn navigation through the unknown streets going from one town to the next. This also meant not knowing anything about what I was looking for in the way of size or difficulty. I did have a general idea of the highways needed to continue the loop north and then back to the west for Eagle Pass. Several times I almost decided to just skip the remaining caches and head back to the hotel. But I'm glad I didn't and as you'll see below.

Anyway, we passed through and found eight more Geocaches in several different cemeteries. They were larger still active cemeteries and being Easter Sunday were busy with visitors paying their respects to loved ones. There was one we stopped at where they were having a picnic by a grave site with about 10-12 family member in attendance. At yet another there were some too close for me to search for the cache and so had to DNF it.

Moving forward and now on our US-90 westbound loop back towards Eagle Pass, we stopped in the town of Hondo for our next cache (GC707EJ). From the historical marker:
The first rail line reached this area in 1881 and town lots were sold that year for Hondo City. The line was built by the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway. It connected with the Southern Pacific System building east from California. The railroad was vital to the early growth of Hondo, but rail traffic began to decline in the 1940s. The last passenger train, pulled by engine No. 6, left the Hondo Station on June 8, 1958. The Southern Pacific Depot was moved to the present location in 1970 from the original site, seventeen blocks east.
The next two caches (GC14PPJ & GC14PPF) were probably the best of the day and just solidifies the reason we like to go Geocaching. There are no signs along US-90 and travelers along the route would never know this historic place is even here.

The town of D’Hanis was the third settlement founded by Henri Castro, an Alsatian employee of the Texas Congress charged with populating the desert with European immigrants. He named the village after one of his top employees upon its groundbreaking in 1847. It was inhabited by a just few dozen families in mesquite shacks.

As the town grew the shacks were replaced by European-style stone buildings. A post office and a schoolhouse made it a real town. The church of Saint Dominic was built, and priests from another of Castro’s settlements held mass there.

D’Hanis wasn’t quite substantial enough to be included as a railroad stop though. When the newly laid tracks skipped over D’Hanis, residents picked up and moved closer to the tracks. The new D’Hanis just a mile and a half away, centered around a railroad depot.

The only thing that remained in Old D’Hanis was Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church. Churchgoers continued to attend mass there until a fire ravaged the old building in 1912. In 1915 new church was built closer to town and the ruins of Saint Dominic’s were left behind.

Little is left of Old D’Hanis aside from the ruins. The history of the town might be lost to time if not for the cemetery attached to the church, in which D’Hanis’ original settlers are interred. The grave markers themselves are French-German in style, and the epitaphs, though difficult to read, tell much about the people who lived in Old D’Hanis.

Alexander Bohemia Hoffman’s gravestone reads, “Killed by Indians in Uvalde County;” Mary Anne Rudinger’s sadly states hers was “The first death upon arrival of settlers at Dhanis May 25, 1847 Carrying smaller children over streams she became ill and died on above date.”

New D’Hanis is still small, with a population of 550 or so. The ruins of Saint Dominic Catholic Church and the D’Hanis Cemetery are part now of the D’Hanis Historic District. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 24, 1976.

Again, so glad I decided to continue Geocaching along the way using the old Garmin GPS. We didn't know what the caches were or where they would take us because we didn't have the names or descriptions of the caches. But we managed to find them old school style and were rewarded with this historic treasure.

It was now getting late in the afternoon and we still had some miles to go back to the hotel. So even though we found six more cemetery caches, we didn't have much time to really explore the cemetery looking for those interesting stories. They were also still active cemeteries with recent burials. As you may have noticed, I prefer the older historic cemeteries.

So that was the end of our day today. Another great day of history and adventure. Tomorrow we head back home and I already have some great stops planned. Thanks again for stopping by and reading about our adventures. Be sure to follow our blog nfor the latest updates and feel free to share us with your family and friends.