- Texas State Cemetery
The Texas State Cemetery is a beautiful oasis on the edge of downtown Austin. Situated on a gently rolling tract of land a short distance east of the state capitol, its carefully landscaped park-like setting attracts scores of visitors each day. They come not just to appreciate the beauty of the setting; they are drawn by the myriad layers of history that blend to convey the story of Texas. A walk among the trees, monuments, sculptures, and memorial markers transports the visitor to a world full of artists, soldiers, politicians, writers, trailblazers, musicians, scientists, teachers, sports legends, community builders, and more. In Texas State Cemetery, cemetery staff members Jason Walker and Will Erwin undertake the daunting tasks of recounting the site’s history and providing brief insights into the lives of some three dozen of the thousands of people interred or memorialized there.
The Texas Legislature established the state cemetery in December 1851 upon the death of Sen. Edward Burleson, “a soldier and commander of troops at the Battle of San Jacinto, vice president of the Republic of Texas, a founder of the city of San Marcos, and an early settler of Waterloo” (18). Among the many people eventually reinterred at the site are “Father of Texas” Stephen F. Austin and Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, whose graves are marked with some of the cemetery’s most prominent statuary.
Authors Walker and Erwin offer a brief history of the cemetery in the opening chapter, in which they convey a chronological story of the site’s development, discuss some of the more famous burials, and tell about the 1990s restoration of the grounds, an effort that involved numerous state agencies, the genesis of which is rightly accredited to the leadership and tenacity of former Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. Subsequent chapters contain brief biographical sketches [End Page 206] of a select sampling of persons buried at the cemetery, organized by topic or era, with an introductory essay by a variety of contributors: historian Gregg Cantrell on the Republic of Texas; U.S. Air Force Gen. (ret.) Hal Hornburg on Civil War and Reconstruction; former U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans on Public Officials; Texas author Stephen Harrigan on Cultural Figures; University of Texas physicist and Nobel laureate Dr. Steven Weinberg on Educators and Academics; and retired Texas Rangers Capt. Jack O’Day Dean on Texas Rangers. The book ends with an epilogue by Gov. Rick Perry.
In the volume’s foreword, the current members of the Texas State Cemetery Committee state, “Not much new historical ground is being broken within this book; rather, it is a compendium of notable Texans at the Cemetery” (xi). That is an accurate statement, and in fact seems to set the tone for the text in the biographical sketches that follow, much of which reads as if written by a committee, and which often is bogged down by an overabundance of passive-voice verbiage and an inconsistent writing style. This book does not rise to the level of scholarly history, and perhaps that is by design, but it misses the mark considerably in its sparse documentation. Many quoted passages, for instance, are not credited, and many other statements of fact contained within the text are similarly lacking in documentation. Others offer only cursory references, such as the numerous citations of The Handbook of Texas that mention only page numbers, without reference to volume, article title, or author. In some cases, entire entries, such as those for Ashbel Smith (152–155) and Gideon Lincecum (157) include no documentation at all.
Texas State Cemetery is a handsome volume with considerable information contained within its pages. With many archival images, as well as stunning color photographs by noted Texas photographer Laurence Parent, it is an attractive volume surely destined to grace the coffee tables of proud Texans everywhere.