Oakwood, Jefferson's Historic Cemetery
- By Jeff Campbell
Just north of downtown Jefferson, far from the roar of October's motorcycle engines and the jingle/jangle of Mardi Gras beads in March, lays a quiet sanctuary. Here, under the shade of magnolias, cedars, crape myrtles and oaks, stone angels stand silent watch over Jefferson's pioneers. The sanctuary is Oakwood Cemetery.
Oakwood cemetery opened around 1846. Earlier one of Jefferson's Founders, Alan Urquhart, had donated a cemetery site that was revealed to be unusable for burials. Mr. Urquhart then donated this present site which was much larger and contained more natural beauty than the previous site. It is important to note that many American cemeteries of the 1800's were known for their picturesque landscaping and were seen as parks and gardens as much as burial grounds.
Oakwood Cemetery is culturally and historically unique in that it contains above ground burial sites similar to those found in South Louisiana, while also containing elaborately ornamental monuments that would have been found in the original thirteen colonies. There are many locally famous and infamous people buried at Historic Oakwood Cemetery including Diamond Bessie, John Vines, Outlaws Jesse Robinson & Bill Rose, Kate Woods, Jessie Allen Wise and Captain Joseph H. Platt. Diamond Bessie has been immortalized by the play that has been viewed by audiences for over fifty years, The Diamond Bessie Murder Trial.
The Diamond Bessie Murder Trial Play is held the first weekend in May, every spring, during Jefferson's Pilgrimage weekend and is produced, directed and acted by members of the Jefferson community. Diamond Bessie, a New York manufacturer's daughter turned prostitute, was murdered in Jefferson at age 23. Her murder was one of the most sensational crimes of the 19th century.
John Vines served in the Civil War for the Confederacy as a Farrier. After the war he was the Sheriff of Marion County and was famous for bringing back Diamond Bessie's accused murderer, Abe Rothschild, back from Ohio to stand trial. If a grave is spotted in Oakwood Cemetery without a stone or inscription and consist of just two short poles linked by a chain, the final resting place of Jesse Robinson and Bill Rose has been found. Longtime outlaws and trouble makers to the people of Jefferson, these two rogues killed each other in a gunfight. Legend has it that the townsfolk buried them together in a single grave, chained together for eternity, just as their lives had been chained together by crime and violence.
Kate Woods, a German immigrant who arrived in Jefferson in 1877, purchased and ran the Excelsior Hotel. The Excelsior Hotel is now owned by the Jesse Allen Wise Garden Club. The Garden Club's namesake, Jesse Allen Wise, was also laid to rest at Oakwood Cemetery. The Garden Club is more than just gardening; they conduct the annual Jefferson Spring Pilgrimage and own the Jay Gould Rail Car and the Excelsior Hotel.
Also buried here is Captain Joseph H. Pratt, who served in the Confederacy. During the Civil War he led the 10th Texas Field Battery during the Civil War. Other Confederate soldiers are buried here too, along with soldiers from the United States of America who served and died in the Jefferson area during reconstruction.
When visiting Historic Oakwood Cemetery, or any other cemetery, please keep in mind that this is the final resting place for real people. Buried in these cemeteries are Fathers & Mothers, Sons & Daughters and Wives & Husbands. Always keep in mind that others may be paying respects to their loved ones, so keep your voices low. Please never walk or stand on anyone's grave and never sit or lean on someone's memorial. Also keep in mind that some of these gravestones date to the 1800's and are very fragile.
To visit Oakwood Cemetery travel north on N. Alley Street, which is adjacent to the Brookshire's Grocery on Highway 49, cross the railroad tracks and turn right on E. Webster Street. The gates of Oakwood Cemetery are open during daylight hours. Before traveling up to Oakwood Cemetery please consider picking up Mitchel Whitington's excellent book, "Angels of Oakwood". The book is available at the Jefferson General Store, on Austin Street, The Grove and many other stores in Jefferson. It makes for an informative field guide while touring Historic Oakwood Cemetery and fits easily into a purse or backpack. It has been an invaluable source to this author.
Jefferson, Texas is known for both its history and natural beauty. There is much history and natural beauty, along with peace and quiet, to be taken in at Historic Oakwood Cemetery.