Islands of Eternity (Part 4): Mosier Valley in Memoriam

In far east Fort Worth, Mosier Valley Road is a narrow, inhospitable backroad that leads to a still-narrower, more-inhospitable backroad: House Anderson Road.

mosier-establishing-shot

At the end of House Anderson Road, just north of the Rock Island tracks, a still-narrower road leads to—unmarked, ungated, and largely unremembered—Mosier Valley Cemetery.

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The soil is sandy in Mosier Valley and riddled with sandstone rocks weighing from a few pounds to a few hundred pounds. These rocks have bedeviled everyone who has dug in the soil there, whether they were excavating sand and gravel or digging a grave. So, residents of Mosier Valley made the best of a bad situation: As they buried their dead they used the sandstone rocks to line their graves, to line the driveway through their cemetery, to line the perimeter of their plots, . . .

mosier-3-sandstonesand even to make their tombstones with hand-scratched inscriptions.

Anderson Blackburn is one of eleven Blackburns buried in Mosier Valley Cemetery.

The sandstone marker of Frank Young bears only his name and lodge affiliation.

Only the top of the marker of M. J. Barkwell (born 1865) survives.

Mosier Valley Cemetery has more than two hundred graves, but many of them are marked by only sandstone rocks with no inscription.

mosier-miller-crossThis tombstone was homemade, concrete poured into a form. The stamped metal tag tells us that Mrs. Pollie Miller was born in 1858 and died in 1953.

mosier-brothersMosier Valley takes its name from a family of plantation owners who settled there in the 1850s, moving from Missouri with their slaves. Father Jeremiah K. Mosier died in Tarrant County in 1867. By 1867 sons Adam Carson and Thomas W. appeared on the list of Tarrant County voters. They had been in their precinct twelve and ten years. The brothers returned to Missouri sometime after 1867.

Another plantation family in the valley was the Lees. In 1870, six years after emancipation, Lucy Lee gave forty acres of land in the valley to former Lee plantation slaves Robert and Delsie Johnson as a wedding gift. Lee also donated two acres for Mosier Valley Cemetery. The first recorded grave is from 1870.

Soon other ex-slaves, some from the Mosier and Lee plantations, joined Robert and Delsie Johnson to start new lives as free people in Mosier Valley. Many of that first generation continued to do what they had done as slaves: They farmed, growing crops to eat and crops to sell. Residents built a church in 1874, a school in 1883. Some of the second generation left the farms to work in the big city as “domestics” and “laborers” (such as at the packing plants after 1903). Among more-recent burials in the cemetery are teachers and aircraft workers and bankers.

mosier-two-johnsons-70-censusRobert and Delsie Johnson (listed as “Dilsa”) were in the 1870 census.

mosier-johnson-foundersThis is a replacement tombstone for Robert and Delsie Johnson, “founders of Mosier Valley.”

mosier-3-johnsonsTop photo shows the cabin—the original part built of log, the addition built of board and batten—of Robert Johnson Jr. With him are wife Sallie and daughter Delilah (old photo from Tarrant County College NE, Heritage Room).

mosier-parkersSarah E. and John C. are among thirty-five Parkers buried in Mosier Valley Cemetery.

mosier-nelsonsAndy and Bell Nelson (old photo from Tarrant County College NE, Heritage Room).

mosier-woods-joejoe-woods-obit

Joe Woods spent all of his one hundred years in Mosier Valley, at one time was its oldest resident (old photo from Tarrant County College NE, Heritage Room).

mosier-woof-tccne-heritage-roomDelia Woof and family (old photos from Tarrant County College NE, Heritage Room).

mosier-leesFive Lees are buried in Mosier Valley Cemetery in the sandstone-walled plot. “M. Lou” is probably Lucy, who donated land for the cemetery. A. J. was her husband. W. L. probably was a brother of A. J.

mosier-map-1895This 1895 county map labels seven property owners in Mosier Valley as “(Col.).” Among them are four persons (Bob Johnson, Anderson Blackburn, and John Calhoun and Sarah Elizabeth Parker) whose tombstones are pictured in this post. “Jo Barkwell” may be M. J. Barkwell (see above).

The map shows that just to the east of Mosier Valley lived brothers Richard and Joseph Calloway. Just south of the Calloway surveys, in the J. R. Newton survey, are Calloway Cemetery (see Part 2) and Calloway Lake, site of Bird’s Fort.

Note also the W. L. Lee survey. W. L. Lee probably was the brother-in-law of Lou Lee. The Lee plantation surely was in or near that survey.

By 1930 Mosier Valley had a population of perhaps three hundred. But it remained unincorporated: no city services. Even after Fort Worth annexed Mosier Valley in 1960 the city provided few services for thirty years. With school integration and general desegregation, the population of Mosier Valley declined.

Today Mosier Valley is home to the Arlington municipal landfill, water-filled sand and gravel quarries, a concrete and asphalt recycling plant, a water treatment plant, the Rock Island tracks, even a golf course. “Mosier Valley” is mostly a name on street signs, a historical marker, and a sign for the city’s Mosier Valley Park on the site of the Mosier Valley School.

But at the end of a narrow road north of the Rock Island tracks, scratched by hand on sandstone rocks, there is history to be read.

garden-street-signsA half-mile northwest of Mosier Valley Cemetery, this is the intersection of Mosier Valley Road and Trinity Boulevard.

garden-street-signs-wideIt is also the intersection of crime and commemoration.

This intersection is, literally, a crossroads. There are 127 white crosses arranged in rows here. Just as with tombstones, each cross bears a name and a date of birth and a date of death—numbers that only bracket the story of the life lived between.

But no one is buried here.

garden-signThis is Our Garden of Angels, and its caretakers say it is the only place of remembrance in the country exclusively for victims of murder.

garden-amy-firstVisible from the intersection five hundred feet west on Trinity Boulevard is a single white cross.

In 1998 Amy Robinson was nineteen years old, but Turner’s syndrome gave her the mental ability of a fourteen-year-old. On February 15 she was riding her bicycle to work at a Kroger store in Arlington when she was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by two former co-workers.

Her body was dumped along Trinity Boulevard. Amy Robinson is buried at Shady Grove Cemetery in Grand Prairie. Her murderers were convicted and executed.

In 2000 Amy’s grandmother, Carolyn Barker Maifield, erected a cross near where Amy’s body was found.

Maifield didn’t know it at the time, but she had planted the first cross of Our Garden of Angels.

The garden began to grow as the family of Vern Price put a cross for Vern next to Amy’s. The family of Chad Houston added a cross for him. Others added their crosses for their loved ones who had been murderred.

Sadly, the garden soon needed a bigger plot. At the intersection of Mosier Valley Road and Trinity Boulevard a quarter-acre was donated by an adjacent construction company.

garden-highway-wideAnd still the garden grew. Today, just across Mosier Valley Road on land owned by the city of Fort Worth along Trinity Boulevard, stand still more crosses, a gazebo, and a plaque listing every person honored in the garden.

garden-hagermanSeveral victims of high-profile crimes are remembered by crosses in the garden, including nine-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, whose abduction and murder in 1996 inspired creation of the national Amber Alert for missing children.

garden-yatesAlso represented are the five Yates children, drowned in 2001 by their mother Andrea in a bathtub in their Houston home.

And a memorial bench honors Polly Klaas. On October 1, 1993 Polly and two friends were having a slumber party. That night Richard Allen Davis entered their bedroom with a knife. He tied up Polly’s two friends, pulled pillowcases over their heads, and told them to count to one thousand. He then kidnapped Polly. She was twelve years old.

During the next two months about four thousand people helped search for Polly. Television programs such as America’s Most Wanted and 20/20 covered the kidnapping.

On November 30 Davis was arrested for a parole violation and, based on forensic evidence, became a suspect in the kidnapping. On December 4 Davis confessed to kidnapping and murdering Polly and led investigators to her shallow grave. Davis was convicted of murder in 1996 and is currently on Death Row in San Quentin.

garden-sixA grim sampler of Our Garden of Angels:

Garry Brooks Jr. (1973-2001) was shot and killed by his wife’s uncle.

Evan Roselle of Arlington (1997-2014) was shot to death by a sixteen-year-old friend, who was charged with negligent homicide because the gun discharged accidentally.

Heather Weed (1989-2007), a graduate of Fort Worth’s Southwest High School, was beaten to death by her boyfriend.

Amy Wingfield (1970-2002), a nurse in McKinney, was shot to death by her husband.

Patrick Nunnelley (1987-2010) had been a volunteer for Our Garden of Angels. He was shot and killed, his mother said, while defending a friend.

Debra Massey (1959-1982) was the daughter of Our Garden of Angels founder Carolyn Barker Maifield. “She was killed by her husband,” Maifield said, “but he only got ten years. Justice was not served.”

Each year the caretaker organization hosts a few gatherings of commemoration at the garden, such as on National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims each September.

But throughout the year people come to the garden to place flowers, a photo, or a personal memento on a white cross bearing a name and a date of birth and a date of death and to remember the life lived between.

garden-angels-gather-here

Islands of Eternity (Part 1): Common Ground

Islands of Eternity (Part 2): Family First (East Side)

Islands of Eternity (Part 3): Family First (West Side)

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