Stephen F. Austin State University

Historic Cedar Hill Cemetery in Rusk (April 2013)

Historic Cedar Hill Cemetery in Rusk (April 2013)

Historic Cedar Hill Cemetery in Rusk

By Deborah Burkett

Old massive cedar trees touch the sky, at the base of their weathered trunks are gravestones scattered about. Buried here on the north side, in the oldest part of Cedar Hill Cemetery in Rusk are African Americans and early pioneers, settlers from the 1800s. The town was established by an act of the Texas legislature on April 11, 1846, which defined the boundaries of Cherokee County and called for the county seat to be named for Gen. Thomas Jefferson Rusk, one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

In preparation for an upcoming Cherokee County Historical Commission (CCHC) workshop-"cleaning and preserving cemetery headstones", I walked the grounds to determine what kind of mold or lichens were present on the old stones. Struck by the variety of markers--a few made of metal, many ornate obelisks, others craved stone-like tree trunks denoting Woodmen of the World members; I was especially touched by the graves of children. One had a dome-shaped metal cover cast with three dimensional flowers; another had a pair of small boots sitting atop a collection of school books, all made of stone. 0ne huge marker in need of cleaning simply says 'Our Mother-as a mother she did all she could'; her name not legible due to lichens.

During the 1850s Rusk grew rapidly, fueled by immigrants from the old South and Europe, including the British Isles, Germany, and Norway. Cemetery headstones are visible reminders of these immigrants; names etched on grave markers serve as a 'directory' of the times. I found a family plot devoted to German immigrants; one stone reads: Benedict Renn, Born in Germany in 1825, Died at Rusk May 23, 1899.

Looking for a state historical marker to enlighten me about the founding of the cemetery; I was surprised to learn this historic place has no marker. I called Judge Davis and Marie Whitehead for background and was led to John Williams, born and reared in Cherokee County, an accomplished pianist and someone who had worked for the City of Rusk. His duties included upkeep of the cemetery books. During our walking tour of Cedar Hill he shared, "The oldest map of the cemetery is lost…in the past Orville Johnson and C.D. Monroe were involved with the cemetery; they would know more of the history…but those two voices are silent now, they are buried here…"

Mr. Williams continued, "The city has a microfilm copy of a map platted in 1933 when a cemetery association was started…The oldest marked grave I've found is for Dr. Wm Finch, with the inscription: Died March 13, 1851, Where Immortal Spirits Reign, There We Shall Meet Again-a Daughter's Tribute.

There are some buried on this hill I feel especially close to, my Long ancestors and my good friend Marvin Troublefield (9-30-24 to 12-10-12); he taught me so much about the history of Rusk. I miss him. I'd like to think he'd be pleased that work has begun to acquire a Texas State Historical marker for this resting place, known as Cedar Hill.