SHADOWS OF HISTORIC PIONEER DAYS IN CORPUS CHRISTI
HOVER ABOUT OLD BAY VIEW CEMETERY
By E. T. Merriman
One of the oldest cemeteries in Southern Texas is that located on the bluff in this city, only a few blocks from the court house of Nueces County known as the City Cemetery, or the Old Bay View Cemetery, the first interments there having been made, it is believed about the year 1846, while Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army was station here for about a year, just previous to its march for Old Mexico. That some of the brave men died here during the army’s stay and that the U. S. government used the ground for the burial of its soldiers, there can be no doubt. As evidence of this it can be stated that not long ago a letter was received from Washington by the Ladies’ Cemetery association inquiring about the grave of Colonel Hodgekiss, the letter stating that he was here with Taylor’s army when he died, and that he was buried on the hill. This ground was then used for burial purposes and afterwards, for many years, was the only cemetery the city had for the burial of its dead. In 1868 the ground was dedicated to the public by Doswell, who dedicated for burial purposes three acres more west of where the standpipe is now, but the latter plot was never used. After this, some time in the early 70s, the present large and substantial fence surrounding the grounds, was built, the money raised, it is said, by public subscription. On November 18, 1896, when the cemetery had gotten into a deplorable condition, a meeting of the women was held at Mrs. Elizabeth Merriman’s place on Chaparral street, the ladies organizing at this meeting the Bay View Cemetery association, with the election of the following officers: Mrs. W. H. Griffin, president; Mrs. Le Lamin, secretary; Mrs. Jessie Clark, treasurer; Mrs. H. R. Sutherland, chairman of executive committee. At a subsequent meeting, attended by a committee from the city council, upon invitation from the association, it was decided to permit no more burials in this cemetery, except to those having close relatives interred there, the ground being about all taken up, and it being the wish of every one present that the remains of no old-timer and pioneer be disturbed. The city then ordered all the old dilapidated fences in the enclosed cemetery removed in order that the sacred grounds might be cleaned up and made to look decent and respectable.
Now, as to some of the pioneers buried in this cemetery, men who fought and died in defense of the city and country, others who suffered, worked and struggled to make a town here; in other words, blazed the way that the country might be made habitable for those coming on later – those here now enjoying the fruits of their labors. First we find, about the center of the grounds, a tombstone, broken and re-set, the inscription on it reading as follows: “In memory of Capt. E. Michael Van Buren, of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, U. S. Army, a native of the state of Maryland, born Jan. 29, 1817; died at Corpus Christi, Texas, July 20, 1854, of wounds received in an engagement with a band of Comanche Indians. Erected by his only sister.” It is said that Captain Van Buren was killed out beyond the Oso, near the Petronila. On the western part of the cemetery is a headstone to the memory of George W. Swank, who was killed by the Mexican bandits at Nuecestown, March 26, 1875. Mr. Swank was a carpenter, working on the building now owned by Mrs. John Jordt, on the bluff, when the startling news of the raid reached the city. Getting down from the ladder as soon as possible, he mounted his horse and was soon going at full speed with Winchester in hand, in pursuit of the bandits. He lost his life in defense of his country.
The story of Wm. L. Rogers, a Texas pioneer who had a hair-breadth escape – an awful experience is known to most old timers here - and is worth relating. Mr. Rogers came to Corpus Christi with his father in 1846, to join Taylor’s army, the old man bringing other sons with him. Finding that the army had left for Mexico, Rogers and his men started towards Brownsville to join it. Camping for the night at the Arroyo Colorado, about thirty-five miles this side of Brownsville, the Rogers party was attacked by Mexican bandits, who tied the hands of their victims behind their backs, cut their throats and threw them into the arroyo. In some miraculous manner, William Rogers managed to swim out on the opposite side, making his escape in the chaparral, where he wandered about until he was almost dead, when he strolled into a Mexican ranch, where some of the women, taking pity on him, picked the worms out of his throat that had been fly-blown, dressed the wound, gave him sustenance, and soon had him on the mend, when more enemies arrived who wanted to “finish him up,” and would have killed him but for one of the women who, like Pocahontas, pleaded for the life of the stranger, and he was saved, the band taking the younger Rogers with them to the Rio Grande, where he was released or made his escape. As the story goes, Rogers learned the Mexican language as soon as possible, returned to the ranch where his life was saved, married the Mexican lady, Julia Corona, his proven friend, from whom he gained much information about the bandits who had murdered his father and brothers, getting the names of the outlaws and killing most of them, it is said, taking one at a time. Some years after this Mr. Rogers moved to Nueces county, setting on the eat bank of the Agua Dulce creek, about six miles below the Banquete, not far from where is now Driscoll station. There he engaged in the stock-raising business, also sheep, becoming very wealthy. A few years after the Civil War Mr. Rogers moved his residence to Corpus Christi, building a nice home on Chaparral street, on the corner west of the present location of the San Antonio Machine and Supply company. He had hardly moved into the house when it was destroyed by fire. The following day he ordered a duplicate building to the one lost, built on the same spot, and it is there today. This fire was the starter of the Corpus Christi fire department. Felix Noessel and Peter Benson (Mr. Benson still lives here) starting out the next morning with a subscription list to raise money to buy a fire engine. At the first meeting, held Nov. 28, 1871, the “Pioneer Fire Company” was organized with Wm. L. Rogers as its first president, the present paid fire department being a continuation of the volunteer pioneers. Mr. Rogers was the owner of the St. James hotel, purchasing it shortly after it was built in 1869 by Tom James, the estate owning the property up to a few years ago. Mr. Rogers who was a business man with much public spirit, was elected president of the board of managers of the Corpus Christi and Rio Grande railroad, (now the Texas-Mexican – the first railroad to reach the Rio Grande) at a meeting of the commissioners held in this city, June 19, 1873. Mr. Rogers, who held various positions of trust in this community and was very popular, died here at his home, December 17, 1877, his remains being laid to rest in the old cemetery, upon the hill, his funeral attended by the Masonic fraternity, members of the Corpus Christi fire department, and citizens generally, as well as friends from far and near. In a short time his widow, the noble woman that she was, had a large gray granite monument erected to his memory, and it stand there today, considered one of the finest in this section of the state. Messrs. Manuel and Tom Rogers of San Diego, are sons of the old pioneer, Manuel holding the office of sheriff of Duval county some years ago.
Source: Corpus Christi Caller, May 18, 1924
Transcription by: Rosa G. Gonzales