If you think of a cemetery as a vast outdoor history book, . . .
then Pioneers Rest is volume 1 of Fort Worth’s outdoor history books, and each tombstone therein is a marble page in that history book.
In fact, Pioneers Rest is so old that many of its pages are so weathered by time—especially those made of sandstone or limestone—as to be rendered unreadable. This page, for example, has been eroded by time and broken by vandals, then mended, set in a concrete “cast,” and laid on its back—a mosaic of mortality.
Fortunately, the Fort Worth Genealogical Society in 2001 published Pioneers Rest Cemetery as a guide to the people and the past of Fort Worth’s first cemetery.
Any cemetery begins under sad circumstances, but Pioneers Rest began under doubly sad circumstances: In 1850 Sophie and Willis, children of Major Ripley Arnold, commander of the Army’s Fort Worth, died of cholera (as had General William Jenkins Worth in May 1849).
The traditional story, told by historian Julia Kathryn Garrett and repeated on Pioneers Rest’s historical marker, is that Adolph Gounah, a friend of Major Arnold, donated the land on which to bury the two children in today’s Samuels Avenue neighborhood. Gounah also is said to have carved the stone slabs that cover their graves. The names “Sophie” and “Willis” can be seen carved on the slabs.
The cemetery’s stone entrance and iron fence were erected in the 1870s.
This is the layout of the cemetery as platted in 1870. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
About 1871, the genealogical society wrote, Gounah bought the land containing the cemetery from Johnson’s estate. Also about that time pioneer settler Baldwin L. Samuel donated three acres to enlarge the cemetery to six acres.
According to the genealogical society, after Gounah bought the land containing the cemetery, there is some doubt that Gounah gave his consent to further burials in what was then called the “city cemetery.”
In fact, the city did not own the land containing the cemetery. In 1878 a Fort Worth Democrat headline read “You’ve Buried Your Dead on Other People’s Property.” The story read, “It may not be generally known that what is called the city cemetery is not owned by the city.”
Nonetheless, because Pioneers Rest until 1879 was the city’s only cemetery, it was referred to as the “city cemetery.” By 1879 its six acres were filling up. B. B. Paddock, editor of the Fort Worth Democrat, called for a new cemetery.
That year Fort Worth opened volume 2 of its outdoor history books—Oakwood Cemetery—when John Peter Smith donated some of his farmland north of the river for a new cemetery. Afterward Pioneers Rest became known as the “old cemetery” or the “Samuels Avenue cemetery.”
On October 12, 1882 the Dallas Weekly Herald published this summary of Fort Worth news: an infestation of grasshoppers, convictions in district court, bales of cotton and wool received, cars of beeves passed, and burials in the “new cemetery” and the “old cemetery.” Even the name “Oakwood” did not catch on right away.
Fort Worth’s first cemetery has faced some challenges. In 1895 the Dallas Morning News reported that “a few years ago” the Santa Fe railroad wanted to lay track across the part of the cemetery that contains the graves of Major Ripley Arnold and his two children. But a court ruled, “Let them rest in peace.” Clip is from November 12.
And in 1909 there was a campaign to convert the “old cemetery” to a park. But that campaign was quashed. Clip is from the November 18, 1909 Star-Telegram.
Also in 1909, on December 2, the “old cemetery” finally got a proper name: “Pioneers Rest.” A new cemetery association was formed, and again plans to erect a monument to Major Arnold were reported. Clip is from the December 3, 1909 Star-Telegram.
Volume 1 of our outdoor history books contains much military history. Pioneers Rest contains many soldiers. Among the soldiers who are given fuller treatment elsewhere in Hometown by Handlebar are:
• Major Ripley Arnold, who established the Army’s Fort Worth. By 1905 the Telegram lamented the sad condition of Major Arnold’s grave. Clip is from March 15.
• General Edward H. Tarrant, for whom the county is named.
• General J. J. Byrne, who had a premonition of his own death.
• Abe Harris, buried not far from Arnold, Tarrant, and Byrne, fought in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and was serving under Major Arnold when Fort Worth was established in 1849. According to Harris’s obituary in 1915, he commanded the squad of men who cut down trees to make logs for the first building in the fort. Early in the twentieth century (1905) Harris was one of the first to urge a monument to honor Major Arnold. It took us 109 years, but finally, on June 6, 2014 Major Arnold got his monument. When Harris died he was thought to be the last of the original soldiers of Fort Worth. (Clips are from the December 12, 1909 Star-Telegram and February 22, 1905 Telegram.)
Pioneers Rest contains veterans of every war from the War of 1812 to World War II. There is even a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). The genealogical society says the cemetery contains the graves of more than 140 Confederate veterans. On this Iron Cross of Honor, “Deo Vindice” (“Under God, [Our] Vindicator”) was the motto of the Confederacy.
The cemetery also contains the graves of eleven soldiers who died while serving at Fort Worth.