Potter's Field/Pauper Cemeteries, Dallas County, Texas

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(Updated November 22, 2003)



Pauper Bodies Given Scant
Coverings of Earth.


Residents Near Trinity Cemetery Forced
to Appeal to the Commissioners
Court for Relief--Mr. Barkus In-
dorses Their Grievance.


    Mr. D'Ablemont and others living in the neighborhood of the grave yard in which the paupers of the county are interred, which is adjacent to Trinity cemetery on McKinney avenue, two days ago lodged complaint with the Commissioners Court that the bodies in that potter's field are buried in such shallow graves that the stench is sickening for a radius of 200 or 300 yards, and the people living thereabouts are afraid the unwholesome air will make their families sick.
    Commissioner Barkus to a T
IMES HERALD reporter this morning said:
    "I went out and examined the cemetery and found it quite as bad as represented. The end of one of the coffins has only a few inches of earth on it. A fearful stench came from the grave of a woman who was buried about the end of last February. The condition of these two graves satisfied me, and I declined to examine others, which are said to be as badly in need of attention.
     "I will to-day employ men and have these exposed bodies placed at a sufficient depth.
     "I do not wish to have anybody indicted for doing such work as this."

-August 6, 1895, The Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 6, col. 3
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     THAT pauper graveyard matter comes pretty close to being a public scandal and an outrage on living and dead humanity. The developments made thus far are a disgrace to Dallas that should not be permitted to longer exist. The idea of bodies, even of paupers consigned to "potter's field," having such miscellaneous shallow depths of earth as 22 inches, 2 feet or 3 feet, as coverings for coffins is revolting to human sensibilities. It matters not whether the contract with the public's representatives, the county officials, clearly expresses the depths at which graves shall be dug, the public's sanitary interest and the appeals of common decency dictate that in a warm climate, such as prevails in the latitude of Dallas, graves should not be less than 6 feet deep, and the earth compactly filled in around and above the coffins, that the graves may be permanent in their solidity and proper form, as is the case in private and corporate cemeteries. The officials of Dallas county should pursue this pauper graveyard matter on lines that shall prevent a repetition of the current scandal.

- August 8, 1895, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 4, col. 2.
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Judge Nash and Commissioner Smith Re-
ports Them All Right.

County Judge Nash to a TIMES HERALD reporter said to-day:
    "Yesterday forenoon I examined the section of the pauper graveyard in which the dead of the last five or six months sleep. I did not go so far as to see how deep the graves are, but from a superficial view I could see nothing wrong, and there was no odor that I could detect. Several days ago, Commissioner Barkus hired a man to refill one of these graves in which dirt had sunken. None of the other graves, so far as I could see, are out of repair. I did not walk over the old part of the cemetery. Our contract with Undertaker Loudermilk is that pauper graves shall be as deep as other graves, because paupers get nothing here and they are entitled to a full depth."
    County Commissioner Smith said that he had also visited the pauper graveyard, but filed to find anything wrong.


    The city ordinance says that all graves within the corporate limits of Dallas shall be of the depth of 4 feet and 2 inches from the surface of the ground to the bottom of the grave, thus leaving less than three feet of dirt above the coffin.

-August 9, 1895, The Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 6, col. 1
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Death of Pauper Raises Inter-
esting Question.

     The undertaker who has been burying paupers for the county, is in a predicament over who is to pay him for burying a pauper who died this morning. It seems that the smallpox discussion has estranged the city and county and both refuse to longer pay for the burial of paupers. The undertaker's charge is $1, and thus, it is seen that a great principal with but little money is involved. The county commissioners are not disposed to issue warrants to pay for such burials unless the city reimburses them for the amount expended on smallpox patients. This is the situation at 2:30 o'clock. An 8-months-old child is lying at the morgue and the undertaker is at a loss to ascertain where his pay is coming from.

- July 12, 1900, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 5, col. 1.
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Matters Remain as They Were
on Yesterday.

     The dispute between the county and city as to who pays for the burial of paupers remains unsettled. Undertaker J. E. Dunn buried the infant, which died yesterday, without a warrant, and if he is ever paid, either the city or county will have to reconsider their action. The county has always paid for the burial of paupers, but when the smallpox question was agitated, the commissioners decided to let the city handle everything within the city limits.
     Mayor Cabell stated this morning that he had just returned from El Paso and was at a loss to understand the position of the county commissioners. He said he would see Judge Foree this afternoon and endeavor to reach an understanding.

- July 13, 1900, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 5, col. 2.
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City Authorizes the Under-
taker to Proceed.

     The question of who will pay for the burial of paupers came up again yesterday afternoon. A six-months-old child died and the remains were turned over to Undertaker J. E. Dunn, who desired to know who was to pay him for his work. After some consultation, Mayor Ben E. Cabell issued an order to insure payment of the amount of the fee. This is the first time the city ever paid for the burial of a pauper. The question was raised by the county a few days ago when Judge Foree refused to issue a warrant for the burial of a colored infant. Mr. Dunn buried the child at his own expense and has not yet been reimbursed.

- July 15, 1900, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 2, col. 3.
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Many Humans Sleep in Graves
That are Unmarked.



The County's Six Acres is Almost
Filled--Another Field
Is Wanted.

     A well kept cemetery is not always a pleasant spot to visit and a potter's field is never conducive to cheery thoughts. There is something uncanny, weird, sad about a place intended to be the sleeping ground of the unwept and the unknown dead. Still, it is a subject fit for study.
     A few afternoons since, a Times Herald representative visited the plot of ground where rest the humans that the public authorities of Dallas county have buried. It lies to the south of Greenwood cemetery and is separated from that well-tended city of the dead by a high fence. Originally, it contained seven acres. One acre was sold to the King's Daughters several years ago and the pauper dead have rapidly filled the remainder.
     It has been more than thirty years since the county authorities first provided an official burial place for those too poor to purchase a lot of their own. It soon became known, as all other places of its kind, as "the potter's field." Month after month, week after week, sometimes daily, men and women have been "planted" there. To-day, it is estimated that all that is mortal of over 3000 human beings repose within the rude fences that line its borders.
     Dallas county's potter's field is not unlike other potter's fields. A picket fence with some pretensions of beauty bounds its northern border, and divides it from the grassy mounds and imposing shafts of Greenwood. The other sides are marked by ordinary farm posts and strands of barb wire. The county pays only $1 per capita for the burial of its dead and, as may be expected, there is little about the big grave yard that even approaches the beautiful. Trees, mostly cedars, surrounded by underbrush of various kinds, have grown up in all parts of the field. Every night, the trees become the roosting places of many birds, ranging in size from crows to wrens, all acting as silent sentinels.
     There isn't a mark in Dallas' potter's field that can be called a monument. Here and there, are small tombstones that have been erected by loving hands. They are not imposing, but they speak volumes. Even common tombstones are scarce. Headboards are not even plentiful. The great majority of the graves are entirely unmarked. The underbrush has grown above them---there is no such thing as defining the exact spot where some human form is returning to dust.
     The present potter's field is almost literally filled. The last graves that have been dug were located near the fences in small spots hitherto unused. Soon, every foot of the soil inside the fences will cover the inanimate remains of a creature made in the image of God. The county authorities are trying to buy another potter's field. They will have to act quickly, unless they mean to bury the dead in rows, one above the other.
     Now and then, an undertaker's wagon will stop at the gate of the potter's field. The grave-digger and the driver will take a rude box, containing all that is mortal of somebody therefrom, and deposit it in a grave that is open and waiting. Occasionally, there are mourners---oftener there is none. The box is lowered, the dirt is rolled in, a piece of plank is left to mark either end of the earthly cell and the occupant is with others just as silent, just as mute as he.

       "Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
       Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire,
       Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed,
       Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre."

     The grasses in potter's field are beginning to show signs of green. The buds on the trees are opening. The birds are calling to their mates. But for them, it would seem silent as the tomb, indeed. When one wishes to philosophize, let him visit potter's field. Every mound is a token, every rough slab is a forceful recollection.

- March 3, 1901, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 5, col. 3-4.
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Nature of Re-Union.

....benefits are manifold...nearly all, if not all, of the camps are chartered and it is the camps individually that do the eleemosynary work almost exclusively. These camps make provision for the helpless and needy Confederates within their reach, each one doing noble and most generous charity. They buy medicines for the sick, provide physicians, supply food and clothing and fuel and bury their indigent dead. Sterling Price camp of this city, has its burial plat in Greenwood Cemetery, now stuck with headstones marking the graves of its dead--those who died by natural means. It was the chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy of this city that raised the money and purchased the headstones for these graves. No Confederate can ever sleep in the Potter's field in Dallas or elsewhere if the Confederates know of his death. Almost the majority of Confederate are poor...

- December 22, 1901, Dallas Times Herald, pp. 6, 7.
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City Will Probably Be Forced to Take
This Action.

    It is very probable that condemnation proceedings will be instituted in the very near future by the city against certain property owners in South Dallas, through which a right-of-way is desired to the new negro cemetery and potter's field, set aside by the city council some time ago. Mayor Smith for some time has been negotiating for a right-of-way to these lots, but so far has been unable to accomplish satisfactory results.
    The present negro cemetery in North Dallas is filled to overflowing with graves, and because of its being condemned by act of the city council, bodies can only be interred in it by special permit of the mayor. The situation is becoming acute and, it is stated, some definite action toward opening up the new cemetery will have to be taken immediately.

-December 26, 1906, The Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 7, col. 6.
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Plenty of Room Provided for Burial
of City's Poor.

    Mayor S. J. Hay, Commissioner Doran, J. M. Strong and Undertaker P. J. Donovan took a trip to the new city cemetery located adjoining the east side of Oakland cemetery, early this morning and officially announced that the cemetery was opened to the public. The ground, which is comprised of some six acres, was surveyed and divided, one-half to be used for whites and the other half for negroes.

- July 26, 1907, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 6, col. 3.
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City Has Gang of Men Clearing Plot
of Underbrush.

     For several days a gang of men under the direction of Street Superintendent Sira have been engaged in clearing the underbrush and rubbish from what is known as the potter's field or old city cemetery, adjoining Greenwood cemetery in North Dallas. Already the clearing work has progressed to a considerable extent but it may take at least another week to completely clean up the grounds and put them in first-class condition. The plot of ground, several acres in extent, was used for many years as a burying ground for the unfortunate poor.
    It became so crowded about two years ago that a new plot was acquired adjoining Oakland cemetery. While little attention was paid the grounds while it was being used for burial purposes, practically no attention was given to the plot since it was abandoned for burying purposes and the weeds and underbrush has grown up in rank profusion.

-January 22, 1909, Dallas Times Herald, p. 2, col. 2.
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     City commissioners in their regular Monday afternoon meeting disposed of little but routine business. Bids were received on various public improvement work and petitions on miscellaneous matter.
     Two undertakers filed bids for the contract covering the interment of the negro paupers of the city. One firm agreed to prepare bodies for burial and make interment without any cost to the city, while the other stipulated the payment of one cent per body. The bids were taken under consideration.
     The R. S. Winn company was the only concern to file a bid for the construction of the proposed additional unit to the city crematory. The price offered was $6500. The bid was referred.
     The mayor was authorized to sign the contracts and bonds providing for the immediate construction of various sanitary sewers in Oak Cliff and North Dallas, as provided for in previous meetings.
     Ordinances abandoning two alleys were passed. One strip is through the Sears-Roebuck property and the other alley is between Swiss and Gaston, running through from Moreland street.
     J. B. Davis was refused permission to operate a wagon scale in the street at 610 East Tenth street. He was granted permission, however, to install the scale in an alley alongside his offices.

- April 1, 1913, Daily Times Herald, p. 3.
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     As a result of several complaints that have been filed, Health Directors, N. W. Andrews assisgned a member of his staff to the task of cleaning up the burial ground of the city pauper dead. The cemetery will be given its fall cleaning. The graves are overgrown with weeds and grass.

- December 1, 1925 Dallas Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 10, col. 5.
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     Protests against the $42.50 fee charged by city pauper burial contractors for embalming bodies of accident victims that are not claimed by relatives almost immediately, were lodged with the city Monday.
     This fee, under terms of the city contract, may be charged if relatives do not claim the bodies within an hour after they are delivered to the contractors. The undertakers wait one hour before they embalm the bodies. If they do not hear from relatives, they proceed with the process and collect the fee, even though the relatives may designate other undertakers to conduct the funerals.
     "Many Dallasites," said Dr. J. W. Bass, city health director, "contend that this fee is exorbitant. It undoubtedly is difficult for Negroes and many white persons to pay. But, it always has been in the contract, and undertakers claim it is a reasonable fee for the service."
     Councilmen indicated that they would award new pauper burial contracts next Friday.
     The white pauper contract, they said, will go either to Weever Funeral Home, the present contractors, or to Sparkman-Holtz-Brand. Both, under[takers] offered to bury white paupers, who number about 150 annually, for one cent.
     The two firms were willing to render this service virtually free of charge because of the contract's attendant privileges, which give the contractor the right to claim bodies of persons killed in accidents, persons whose families often order expensive funerals.

- July 26, 1937, Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 1, col. 5.
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     The city council was advised Thursday by Health Director J. W. Bass to disregard demands that the holder of the pauper burial contract be compelled to make interment in cemeteries maintained by the various religious denominations.
     The Catholic Women's League has complained the Weever Funeral Home, present contractor, has refused to bury paupers in the Catholic cemeteries, but has insisted on using the city's pauper graveyard.
     "From the city's viewpoint," said Dr. Bass, in a letter to the council, "it would be better for the contractor to use the church cemeteries. This would save space in the public graveyard. But, I do not think the contractor should be compelled to go to the extra expense of burying the paupers in the private cemeteries."
     The argument over the choice of a place of burial by friends of the deceased may cause delay in the letting of a new pauper contract.

- July 29, 1937, Dallas Daily Times Herald, Sec. II, p. 1, col. 2.
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