Texas State Cemetery
Words By Gene Fowler
“So Far, So Bueno.” Thus reports the late Austin writer Edwin “Bud” Shrake, speaking from the mysterious territory that awaits us all at some distant date when each of our hearts must grow cold and still. The encouraging words are incised upon his tombstone in the Texas State Cemetery, an oasis of repose and reflection amidst the often hectic pace of Austin’s boom.
The Texas State Cemetery is indeed a great place to contemplate the larger-than-life figures who shaped our state and charted the course of its government. Allow yourself to amble amongst its stones, letting the mind unroll and wander as it may, musing about the lesser-sung lives represented here. Seek out the grave sites of those whose magic power was snatched from thin air in stories and visions—artists, writers, healers, performers of the seemingly impossible.
Situated at East 7th and Navasota, the cemetery’s 18 acres of landscaped hills are the final resting place of thousands of movers and shakers of the Lone Star State, from a 17th century Frenchman who went down with his ship in Matagorda Bay to Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle, killed in 2013 by a fellow Iraq veteran suffering from PTSD.
In the words of the authors of the 2011 book, Texas State Cemetery, these are “the people who made Texas so Texas,” from politicians to soldiers, lawmen, educators, athletes, artists, authors and other influential residents.
Bud Shrake represents the “Mad Dog” school of Texas literature in the prestigious graveyard. Remembered for a golf tome that became the best-selling sports book ever, Shrake engaged readers as the author of evocative novels about the contemporary and pioneer Southwest such as Strange Peaches and Blessed McGill.
“A museum of history unlike any other in
the state.” -Harry Bradley
Bud’s latter life romantic interest, Governor Ann Richards, rests beside him. Sculpted in flowing white marble, Ann’s headstone imparts a sense of feminine strength. The quote on the stone, from her 1991 gubernatorial inauguration address, sounds almost like a description of our state from some forgotten dream. “Today we have a vision of a Texas where opportunity knows no race, no gender, no color—a glimpse of what can happen in government if we simply open the door and let the people in.”
Embodying that vision perhaps more completely than any other Texan, the late U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, an African American who rose from humble beginnings in Houston’s Fifth Ward, also rests here. “Many people come to the cemetery solely to pay their respects to her,” confided TSC Senior Historian Will Erwin.
TSC superintendent Harry Bradley describes the cemetery as “a museum of history unlike any other in the state.” Fittingly, the unique museum includes the gravesite of the “Father of Texas” and the capital city’s namesake, Stephen F. Austin. As with most historic cemeteries, the elaborate and varied headstones provide an important museum component. The Art Deco headstone of Governor Jim “Pa” Ferguson and Governor “Ma” Ferguson, for instance, reflects a design style popular during the 1930s, when the couple provided the people of Texas with “Two Governors for the Price of One.”
One of the most unusual stories in the cemetery is that of Gideon Lincecum. Born in Georgia in 1793, Gideon studied medicine informally as a young man and began to treat people according to the allopathic system of the day, which often involved bleeding the patient and administering toxic substances such as mercury. Noting that the cure was often worse than the disease, he concluded to quit “the man-killing business” and sought out a Choctaw medicine man to learn the Indians’ herbal treatments.
After moving to Texas in 1848, Lincecum hung a shingle as a “botanic physician.” He also became a remarkably productive naturalist, contributing plant specimens to the Smithsonian, the British Museum, and the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. He corresponded with Charles Darwin and other progressive thinkers of the era.
Another intriguing find is the final resting place of Fred Gipson, author of the 1956 classic Old Yeller. On Gipson’s birthday, February 7, Old Yeller fans leave dog biscuits at the author’s grave.
The headstone of El Paso novelist-painter Tom Lea features a carving of a mountain. The stone reads, “I live on the side of a mountain. It is the side to see the day that is coming, not the side to see the day that is gone. The best day is the day coming.” Look to the future, the day that is coming because one day it will be gone.