HISTORICAL BAY VIEW CEMETERY,
CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS
by Leila M. Webb
This old military cemetery stands on a point of the bluff overlooking the blue-green waters of the two bays, Nueces and the Bay of Corpus Christi. The cemetery was surveyed by the engineers of General Zachary Taylor’s army in 1845. Then they encamped at Kinney’s Ranch on the present site of the city of Corpus Christi. In it are buried soldiers of five different wars, the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War, the numerous Indian wars, the Civil War — soldiers of both Union and Confederate armies, the Spanish American War and also many pioneers of Southwest Texas, besides others.
No lots were ever sold in this cemetery, which served as the only burying ground for almost half a century. Small fenced enclosures, some of which still stand today, were used by those who wished to protect their family plots. The place was said to have resembled a regular “potters’ field” and everyone who died was buried there, regardless of color, race or creed. Many former slaves lie not far from their “ole’ Master’s” graves.
Today the old military cemetery presents an appearance in keeping with its historical associations. Grass and native trees, mesquite and wild persimmons, vines, and blooming shrubs lend an air of peace to the hallowed ground, while the Stars and Stripes marking each veteran’s grave flutter in the cool gulf breeze.
A disaster, the explosion of the small steamboat, the Dayton, was significant in the beginning of the burying place, the Bay View Cemetery, as we know it today.
“Yesterday brought us a disaster. A small... steamer, the Dayton, employed for a few days by the government, burst her boiler a few miles from here, near McGroins [McGloins] Bluff, and killed 7 men and wounded 17. Among the killed were Lieut. Higgins and Berry of the 4th Infantry, and my regiment lost one excellent young man, private Hughes. The Dayton had just completed the time for which she was hired when she exploded, with such terrible results.”
“A military funeral took place today at the burial-ground which I selected. It is on the brow of a hill northwest of camp, and commands a view of the Nueces and Corpus Christi Bay. It is a beautiful spot. Another body was found afloat and brought in today, and two of the injured have died in hospital, making 10 deaths from the accident.”
“This afternoon Lieutenant Graham of the 4th Infantry, arrived in camp badly scalded, and reported that the steam boat Dayton had burst her boiler, killing Lieutenants Higgins and Berry, of the 4th, and some others, scalding many in the most shocking manner. The Dayton left in the a.m. for St. Joseph’s Island, having on board Capt. Crosman, Lieuts. Graham, Higgins, Berry, and Woods, of the 4th, Lieut. Gordon, of the 3rd, and Dr. Crittenden. Besides these there were several soldiers and citizens. At 20 minutes past 12 M., being opposite Maglone’s Bluff, she burst her boilers, scattering death and destruction on every side. Lieu. Higgins, just before the explosion, was sitting talking to Doc. Crittenden, and Lieus. Berry and Woods were lying down near them, the former asleep, all being in the small cabin aft the social hall. Capt. Crosman, Lieus. Graham and Gordon, with many others, were standing on the boiler-deck. Lieu. Higgins was killed immediately by a piece of iron striking him on the head; Doc. Crittenden and Lieu. Woods escaped any material injury; Lieu. Berry was killed; all on the boiler deck were blown high into the air, and were thrown into the water some distance from the boat. Lieu. Gordon was uninjured, Capt. Crosman very slightly, and Lieu. Graham very badly. There were 8 killed and 17 wounded.
.................. The boat is a complete wreck, literally blown to atoms. It was an old hulk of a thing, totally unfit to carry passengers. It was our only choice in the absence of proper transportation.
“They were buried on the 13th, with appropriate military honors. From some unavoidable delay, the procession did not take up its line of march until after sunset. It was a solemn, sad march; and the circumstances and time rendered it very impressive. The sun had just set; the clouds, piled upon pyramids, were tinged with golden light; flashes of lightening were seen in the North; the pale moon, in the East, was smiling sweetly forth, seemingly regardless of the sad feelings of those in that solemn funeral procession. They were buried about ½ mile from camp on the top of a beautiful bluff, commanding an extensive and picturesque view. The service of the dead was read by the light of a lamp. 3 volleys were fired over their graves. The escort wheeled into column, and, to a lively air from fife and drum, we left the soldiers to their long sleep, and their dreary but romantic graves.”
Thus we see that the old cemetery had its start in 1845 with the explosion. At that time General Zachary Taylor was stationed here with 5,000 men, en route to Mexico. A few other deaths occurred among the soldiers after the great tragedy occurred, and the following year when Taylor marched south to victory. These were also buried here and as time went on the place became the common burying ground. Location of many of the early graves has been lost and in later years many of the bodies were exhumed and moved to the then new Bay View Cemetery. Hundreds of graves remain here today. It probably was the first burying place of any consequence in and around Corpus Christi, and many of the city’s more prominent citizens, including the first mayor, are laid to rest here. Some forty years ago the Bay View Cemetery Association was formed and looked after the burial ground for years. As the original members died the association became inactive and the cemetery, located between West Broadway, Ramirez, Topo, and San Pedro streets, had to be cared for in a different manner. We will discuss the reorganization under the supervision of Eli T. Merriman later on. We would like to mention here that because of its location and surrounding development, the historic old cemetery is more or less foreign to younger generations. From the passing street, there is little to identify it except the seldom noticed grave markers peeping over its knoll.
There is little doubt that there are hundreds of graves today unmarked. Many bodies have been moved to other newer cemeteries. Through the efforts of E. J. Kilmer and the D.A.R., the graves of the Union veterans have been marked. In August, 1906, the Daughters of the Confederacy erected an imposing granite stone bearing the inscription: “To the memory of the Confederate dead who lie in this and adjacent cemeteries.”
The Texas Ranger Service is represented in the cemetery by the stone carrying the dates 1818-1888 and the name of Captain H. W. Berry, who was in command of the company of rangers stationed at Kinney’s ranch at the time that Taylor’s army was encamped there. Reports have it that there was sharp rivalry between the Ranger Captain and Lieutenant U. S. Grant of Zachary Taylor’s army for the favor of practically the only American girl in the community. The army and, necessarily, Lieut. Grant moved on into Mexico, and Captain Berry won the lady. The valiant captain was elected the first sheriff of Nueces County upon its organization, when Texas joined the Union. The district over which it was his duty to keep peace at the time extended from the Nueces to the Rio Grande, and it is said that there were few less peaceable territories in the Union.
One of the veterans of Taylor’s army who rests there on the bluff is William L. Rogers, a native of Alabama, who, with his party, was captured by Mexicans near the Arroyo Colorado while conducting a supply train from Corpus Christi to Matamoros. The Mexicans bound their captives, cut their throats, and threw the bodies into the arroyo. Rogers was the only member of the party who did not die; and he, after wandering in the brush for days, was cared for by a kindly Mexican family. He was later discovered by the bandits, and only the pleading of his little nurse, Julia, saved his life a second time. He later returned and married his pretty rescuer. After coming back to Corpus Christi, he accumulated several pieces of property of considerable importance, among which were the famous old St. James Hotel and the Palo Alto ranch. He died in December 1877.
Near the center of the cemetery stands the low marble shaft erected to the memory of Captain Mich’l E. Van Buren of the Maryland Mounted Rifles, who was wounded in an Indian fight near the mouth of the Nueces in 1851, dying later at the home of Mrs. Dolan. This stone bears two scars as silent witnesses of the bombardment of the city of Corpus Christi by federal gunboats during the Civil War. The stone beside it was badly shattered by grape shell, and the inscription is unintelligible. Recently a new stone was placed near the foot of Captain Van Buren’s grave, but the old one still remains as the genuine marker of the spot where this gallant soldier lies.
A tall shaft bearing the seal of the Republic of Texas is that of William Gambel, who died in 1887, “A soldier of the Republic of Texas, born in Manor Cunningham, County of Donegal, Ireland, August 10, 1808.”
Under the thick shade of a group of cedars are the graves of the Merriman family and of Dr. Eli T. Merriman born under the shadow of the Charter Oak at Bristol, Connecticut, a Yale graduate, a surgeon in the army of the Republic of Texas and, later, the Army of the Southern Confederacy, as well as a state representative. Dr. Merriman fell in line of duty in the yellow fever epidemic of 1867.
“In July a man on horseback arrived from Indianola. The next day he was sick. Within ten days the scene of 1854 was again being enacted. For days and weeks the streets were deserted, silent except for the rattling of wheels as the physicians drove rapidly from house to house or when the lamentations of the mourners broke the stillness of the sultry, death-laden air. The two resident physicians and all but one druggist became victims. A visiting physician at King Ranch was pressed into service.”
Times Magazine, Dec. 9, 1935, praised the Merriman family in a most unusual manner: “The descendants of the various branches of the families in America have spread to practically every state in the Union and have aided as much in the growth of the country as their ancestors aided in the founding of the nation. They have been noted for their courage, energy, ambition, industry, power, moral and physical strength, integrity, perseverance, hatred of hypocrisy, and fortitude.”
Eli Merriman contributed much also to his city, state, and country through his active participation in all civic questions of his community and his long years of editorship of the Corpus Christi Caller, which he helped to found, and was devoted to his church and mankind. Great honors have been bestowed upon Mr. Merriman, but we are indebted to him today for newspaper clippings and information concerning the old cemetery which would not have been at our disposal otherwise. (The only book kept on the cemetery was lost in the hurricane of 1919. He intended to write another book according to a statement made me by the present caretaker, Henry Clark, an elderly Mexican, but failed to carry out these plans.) It was Mr. Eli Merriman who pled for preservation for the burying plot, and actually served as manager of the cemetery for years.
The grave of John M. Cayce, who was born in Tennessee on April 12, 1819, and who died on Oct. 5, 1887, a Texas veteran and a Mason, has not been visited in more than ten years.
Among the graves of the soldiers of the Union Army are those of the Nolan brothers, Matthew and Thomas, of Company C., Fifth U. S. Cavalry; G. E. Heisselholdt, Co. 14, Tenth U. S. Infantry; and, under a gaily flowering tree in the von Blucher lot, that of James Downing, Company 1, Thirty-sixth C. T.
A victim of the Mexican raid of Good Friday, May 26, 1875, was George M. Swank, who had been in company with George Dunn, but who was alone at the time of the attack.
Perhaps one of the most widely known persons buried in the cemetery was Judge B. F. Neal, a Virginian by birth, the first mayor of Corpus Christi, district judge, editor of the “Nueces Valley,” a Confederate veteran, a defender of Corpus Christi during the Civil War; a man who was always interested in the welfare of the community and especially in the early schools.
Amon the late graves is that of Hugh R. Sutherland, a Scotchman, born in Toronto, Canada, who died July 4, 1906 at the age of 84. Sutherland was captain of the Ninth Regiment of Alabama Volunteers and was decorated for conspicuous bravery at the battle of Reams Station. He was seriously wounded at Salem Church and again while defending the crater after the mine explosion of Petersburg. Nearby is that of his wife, Mrs. Mary A. Sutherland, a southerner by birth, and historian of the Corpus Christi Chapter of the U.D.C., as well as the author of The Story of Corpus Christi, who died only this last year.
Distinguished peace-time citizens here are represented by the graves of seven mayors of the city, the first post master, the first fire chief, Felix Noessel, and even that of the first barber, a colored gentleman named Ben Hardaway.
Few of the soldiers’ graves are marked, but we know that they lie there. Owing to the efforts of the Post Commander C. J. Kilmer of the Grand Army of the Republic, the graves of the Union soldiers have been marked by a marble stone. This stone was erected by the local historical association, 1906, the committee of ladies being Mrs. Wm. Biggio, Mrs. H. R. Sutherland, Executive Com.; Mrs. W. B. Wrather, Vice Pres.; Mrs. T. B. Southgate, Corr. Sec. (June 1861). This was the first monument ever erected in Corpus Christi.
As previously mentioned, a cemetery association was organized in the early nineteen hundreds, with Mrs. Mary A. Sutherland, Mrs. G. R. Scott, and Mrs. Jesse Clark as some of its first officers. Mr. E. T. Merriman served as its press representative and corresponding secretary. The old cemetery name was changed to Bay View and a short time later the cemetery was purchased southwest of the city. the association was instrumental in having a neat, white picket fence, which stands in fairly good condition today, put around the old cemetery, in having water piped and various other improvements, the rule allowing only the burial of immediate relatives of those persons already buried there was formulated.
When the old Bay View Cemetery Association was reorganized, they expected a movement started to make the cemetery a national shrine. However, its immediate purpose of the reorganization was to “Further preserve and beautify this burial ground, and to arouse wide-spread interest in this hallowed place, where lie buried so many of those who laid the foundation for the city in which we live today, as well as the military heroes of three wars,” officers of the association announced. Mrs. Sam Rankin was elected president, with Eli T. Merriman the vice-president. (They further state that “some 40 years ago the Bay View Cemetery Association was first formed.”) Eli T. Merriman was one of the four remaining members at this time (now deceased, however) and served as overseer without pay for years. Henio Clark, the present caretaker, has probably served the city in this capacity for nearly 10 years now. The city pays him now instead of the $25.00 paid him by Mr. Merriman, but he no longer lives on the premises. A shack in the southeast corner houses his supplies and a very old car. Another need the cemetery had at the time the cemetery association was reorganized was the fence. Throughout the minutes references were made as to needing a better fence, etc. Mayor A. C. McGaughan planned to make the fence a project of the National Youth Administration. Mr. Merriman spent time and effort at the same time toward preservation of the cemetery and in converting it into a national shrine. No doubt this was never accomplished.
Several ordinances were written, one was reexplained and enlarged upon because people were getting around it. Most of the regulations provided for protection of the city cemetery dealt with the matter of the fence and who would keep the keys. The city-marshal was made custodian of the keys, and he was responsible for keeping the gates in order and secured. A fine was to be enforced upon anyone who injured any part of the fence enclosing the cemetery or broke the gates, or did any other act tending to desecrate the cemetery or its grounds. One would assume that it was kept locked at all times except for funerals or upon request or perhaps it was locked at a certain time each evening. This particular ordinance also stated that there would be a “fine for any person found guilty of putting or turning in within the enclosure of said cemetery any horse, cow, calf, sheep, hog, or other animal.” Evidently, according to the city minutes, certain livestock owners complained when the city asked them to restrain their stock from grazing there. In order to look into the matter to see if the city actually had the right to enforce fines, etc., the cemetery committee was formed. In other words, the city did not know if they had a written document to prove they legally owned the cemetery. Except to ask for extensions of time, the committee formed apparently did not accomplish too much. At one meeting a recommendation was made to solicit funds for repair and upkeep. The motion was made, but nothing was ever done.
References in the County Clerk’s Office dealing with property prove the city’s ownership (at the present time, also) and show that Kinney evidently owned the land it was on, and that after the army had buried men there, he planned for it to be the city burial plot of the city he dreamed of (later to be Corpus Christi).
At one time the name “Cemetery Beautiful” was given the cemetery by the caretaker in charge, but since the name was not officially changed, the original name “Bay View” took precedence over the other ideas.
Monuments and maps have been included in order to present a more realistic picture of the cemetery as it stands today. Some of the most outstanding tombstones and monuments found in the historic old place of burial are drawn. Note the inscriptions, or engraving as to names, dates of birth, place of birth, war casualties represented, nations, and age of the graves.
Webb, Leila M. Historical Bay View Cemetery, Corpus Christi, Texas. 1957.
Transcription by: Rosa G. Gonzales
DeGarmo, Mrs. Frank, Pathfinders of Texas 1836 - 1846.
Henry, Capt. W. S. (U.S. Army) Campaign Sketches of the War with Mexico, Harper and Bros. N.Y. (1847).
Hitchcock, Gen. Ethan Allen, Fifty Years in Camp and Field. Ed. by W. A. Croffut, Putnum’s Sons, N.Y. (1909).
McCampbell, Coleman, Saga of a Frontier Seaport, Southwest Press, Dallas (1934).
Southerland, Mrs. Mary A., The Story of Corpus Christi, Ed. by Frank B. Harrison, Pub. C. C. Chapter, Daughters of the Confederacy (1916).
Centennial History of Corpus Christi (Sponsored and Published by the Corpus Christi Caller Times).
La Retama Library, Vertical File Reference Material, consisting of clippings from Corpus Christi Caller Times – dated back to March 3, 1940.
Smith, Miss Margaret Ann, of San Antonio, Notes collected for a paper she plans to enlarge and write from, Old City Minutes (dated July 3, 1857 - Apr. 1, 1871), Record of Interment (List of some Confed. dead in cemetery, and Letter from Washington, D. C., concerning the negative photostat copy which may be obtained from National Archives and Records Service, Wash., D. C. for $1.20, made payable to the General Services Administration (concerning information Capt. Crosman of Corpus related to Quartermaster Gen. as to his version of the sinking of the Dayton, 1845).
E. J. Merriman’s Scrapbooks (Material supplied by Miss Gene North).
Caller-Times, Sept. 29, 1940.
Eli T. Merriman’s Scrapbook – Material supplied by Miss Gene North.
From the Diary of Major-Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Fifty Years in Camp and Field,
Sept. 13, 1845.
Ibid, Sept. 14, 1845.
Capt. henry, U. S. Army, Campaign Sketches of the War with Mexico, written Sept.
Caller-Times, Sept. 16, 1939.
Merriman’s Scrapbook (Miss North), (important personalities).
McCampbell, Saga of a Seaport Town “Yellow Fever Epid., 1857.”
Quotation given in Pathfinders of Texas 1836 - 1846, under topic “Eli T. Merriman.”
Eli T. Merriman’s Scrapbook (No doubt means more than just 10 years).
Ibid. (Does not give definite information here as to date of Mrs. Sutherland’s
(Overlook this paragraph. Notes from Miss Smith do not seem to agree exactly
here as to dates.)
Caller-Times (Notes used do not state date here).
Conversation with caretaker.
Notes - Miss Smith, “City Minutes.”
Old City Minutes (“Notes” from Miss Smith – copied as recorded, therefore some
justification of error.)
Old City Minutes (“Notes” from Miss Smith – copied as recorded, therefore some
justification of error.)
Old City Minutes (“Notes” from Miss Smith – copies as recorded, therefore some
justification of error.)