Tales from Hallowed Ground: Miss Jack McDonough



In my time involved with the Jefferson County Historical Commission, along with my own personal adventures, I have spent a considerable amount of time in cemeteries tracing the history of our area through the lives of those who have passed. I have found many things that are not widely known or that have been obscured by time. It would seem that every time I enter a cemetery, I come across either a memorial, an interesting headstone that catches my eye, or both. And just as certainly, a mystery will follow.

In, 2014, while planning the first of our annual October cemetery tours, I noticed a unique headstone placed behind the Firefighters plot, located near the flagpole. At first glance, it was difficult to make out the wording, simply because the stone, once ivory white, had been weathered for over a hundred years on this bluff. I asked Judy Linsley, local historian and co-founder of the tour, about it. She did have some recollection of its origin, but didn’t know the specifics. The story was of a woman who lost her life, as did many, in the Great Hurricane of 1886 in Sabine Pass. Her body was never recovered, and this stone was a memorial to her, erected by her brother.

During the first two cemetery tours, we acknowledged the memorial, but we never went into the story in full detail as it wasn’t really a part of the main tour. It wouldn’t be until 2016 that I tried to document what I could of this tale, but, as usual, I ended up with more questions than answers. So, as of early 2017, I still haven’t found all of what I am searching for, but it is becoming more clear that this isn’t just a memorial to Miss McDonough; to me, this a springboard to find out more about this family’s alluring history.

My search began, of course, with the question, who was Miss Jack McDonough? There are a few sources out there, but little was known to me until I ran across her memorial page on Find a Grave. For those who don’t know, findagrave.com is a free website in which you can make a memorial to your departed family members, friends, or anyone you would like remembered. I’ve used this website for research a few times, and I’ve had mixed reviews with regard to the historical accuracy of some of its members, but it can be a good starting point all the same. In this case, the source behind the memorial page was family, and they did seem to have knowledge of, or at least family lore, pertaining to Miss McDonough.

Miss Jack McDonough was born in Henderson, Texas (Rusk County), in 1855 to Benjamin Franklin McDonough and Adalissa Williams McDonough, but there is no information regarding her childhood or her adulthood until 1885, when she was appointed Postmistress of Sabine Pass on August 17. I did find documentation of this on both the memorial page and in a scanned document on Ancestry.com. The next documented evidence of her unfortunately, is of her demise. I found countless articles of the aftermath of the hurricane, but mostly mentioning Miss Jack McDonough in the list of the dead and/or missing. Miss McDonough’s memorial page tells the story of what happened on that dark day. Note: The story is from research and genealogy done by Martin McDonough (1915–1987), who was the son of Andrew T. McDonough (Miss Jack’s brother).


On October 12, 1886, a tremendous hurricane hurled high waters and fierce winds through Sabine Pass, and more than 50 residents were drowned. Benjamin and Adalissa, Benjamin Jr., and the small grandchild, (son of the deceased Jesse) went to the post office to rescue Jack; she would not leave until she had counted up the postal funds and put them in a bag to take with her. By then the two Benjamins were pushing a boat with the two women and the child in it. The boat overturned, and in the darkness, wind, and the confusion the three occupants were lost. The bodies of Adalissa, and Benjamin Foley, were recovered by rescue workers two days later, but that of Jack was never found.

Some of the citizens of Beaumont and Sabine Pass erected a monument to Jack in Magnolia Cemetery, in Beaumont, where it still stands in a prominent place.



Another mystery in this story was Miss Jack’s father, Ben Franklin McDonough. While I believe he lived in Sabine Pass in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, with a few minor stints in Austin County, Texas, I found no evidence of his existence here locally. I contacted a few local historians on Sabine Pass, sifted through another historian’s papers, at the Sam Houston Center in Liberty, and even contacted the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I figured if anyone would have information on him, it would be the SCV, since he was a Confederate veteran. Unfortunately, nothing was found.

At first I believed that the family might have been mistaken, but last week, instead of typing Benjamin Franklin McDonough’s full name into a Google search, I typed in his initials B.F., which opened a wealth of information on him through Google books. Not only did I find records of his life in Sabine Pass, I found documents concerning his life in Henderson as well. But best of all, I found a letter he had written to the then-sitting President of the United States Andrew Johnson, dated May 27th, 1865.

He writes:

From Benjamin F. McDonough

                                             Sabine Pass Texas May 27th 1865

His Excellency Andrew Johnson

President US

Dear Sir

     You will perhaps recognize in the signature attached to this letter an old friend and relative.

    I am the son of James McDonough (Brother to your Decesd. Mother) of Bledsoe County Tenn. My Father now resides in Georgia. The last time I had the pleasure of seeing [you] was in Pikeville Tenn. 9th May 1840, in great contest for the presidency between Van Buren & Harrison since which time a great many changes have taken place. I have married and removed to Texas some years ago. When the war commenced I was appointed to the office of Collector of Customs for the Port of Sabine Texas, which office I have held until the re establishment of the U S Authority in this District.

   I have nothing to conceal having acted my part as I believed properly & honestly and have nothing more to add except that as the war seems to have terminated and finally it appears to be the General wish to settle down once more in amicable relations &c.

   The gift of the Collectorship of the Port of Galveston Texas in your hands in remembrance of times now past and our former friendship &c you will confer a favor by appointing me to the office of Collector of Customs for the Port of Galveston Texas. If my application is granted it [will] be remembered with pleasure. If not I shall not harbor an ill feeling or even feel disappointed.

   I can give the best references as to my General Character. I refer immediately to Honl L D Evans who is now in Washington and was formerly a member of Congress from this State who has known me for years in Henderson Texas.

  Your Brother Wm. P Johnson who as you know married my Sister is residing in Columbia Texas. Family all quite well. I will not further trespass on your time &c with a long letter well knowing how much you are occupied with public business &c.

  Hoping soon to have a favorable reply I remain

                                      very respectfully your B F McDonough

address B F McDonough

Sabine Pass Texas



I guess being first cousin to the President of the United States could be a plus when asking for a pardon, and a new job!. Don’t you think?

In the end, my continuing pursuit of collecting research on the McDonough family for future reference will go on. Their mark on Southeast Texas history, however minor, should be remembered and told. It is good, though, to see their descendants keeping their history visible. For whether prince or pauper, no one should be forgotten

The Uninvited Guests: The Funeral of Wong Shu



Doing research for the Magnolia Cemetery tour for the last three years has taught me a few things. For starters, it’s taught me that you never know what you’ll find when you start researching the past. Some stories can be poignant, and others, not so much. What skeletons lurk in someone’s history? There could be many or none, so we take the good with the bad here at rediscoveringsetx.com and try to preserve our findings correctly for all to see. I write this because recently, we’ve stumbled on one of the oddest stories to date. I want to give you a little backstory before I go on.

When I first walked the hallowed grounds of Magnolia Cemetery, I noticed a Chinese headstone close to the line of trees near Brakes Bayou. We’ve had it partially translated for our yearly tour, but unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do a rubbing so that we could get a more complete translation of the inscription. So, this stone still presents a mystery, and we’re not certain who is buried beneath it. When a fellow researcher found an article in the Beaumont Enterprise about a Chinese sailor who drowned in the Neches River, I began wondering if our mystery could soon be solved. As sad as the sailor’s death was, the aftermath was a fascinating oddity that could not easily be explained.

(Note: I have two articles about the Chinese sailor, and both include different spellings of the ship’s name. In the original article, the steamship was named Sapanta. The second article called it Santanta in the heading and Satanta in the body. Since the ship was primarily used in Mexico, I’ll assume all three attempts at naming the vessel were wrong. Furthermore, because all three names seem to be a misspelling of Santana, I’ll be using this name throughout this article. If I discover a clearer document that indicates what the ship’s name was, I’ll update this article accordingly.)

Wong Shu was a Chinese sailor who sailed on the Standard Oil Company tanker Santana. The ship had been docked in Beaumont for some time, on hiatus because of the volatility of the Mexican oil trade. Tragedy struck, and Mr. Shu drowned in the Neches River, just off the Magnolia docks in Beaumont, in the evening on Saturday, August 6, 1921.

Mr. Shu was Cantonese and a Buddhist, as were approximately half of his fellow Chinese crewmates. Knowing this, the crew attempted to hold the traditional funeral rites for Mr. Shu, but a few problems arose. While many of the items needed for the ritual were purchased, such as rice, meat, and bread, organizers were unable to locate a band to provide music at such a late hour. Automobiles were provided to transport mourners to the cemetery, but when they arrived, they were met by a multitude of locals.1921-08-09-beaumont-enterprise-enhanced-edit

As the first article explains:

. . . there were fully 400 Beaumont men, women and children and some of these behaved themselves in a manner unbecoming to American citizens and believers in the Christian religion, according to some of the ship’s officers who were there.

The thirty-four Chinese mourners and British officers of the Santana who attended were distressed, to say the least. The locals were asked to step back so the mourners could finish the ritual, but the locals ignored the plea. Most of the mourners did not throw their offerings of rice, meat, and bread into the grave, as is custom, due to fear that the locals would take the food away.

Then each Chinaman passed around the grave and cast a handful of dirt on the casket. A titter rippled about the grave and the Chinamen were displeased, but decided to continue with the ceremony. Then each mourner cast into the grave his handkerchief, which had been bought new for the occasion. Again there was a titter and the Chinese mumbled something and expressed a wish to leave the cemetery to return at some other time to complete the ceremony without interruption.

Wong Shu was buried at Magnolia Cemetery, though the exact location of his grave is not known. The newspaper article stated that he was buried in the Chinese part of Magnolia Cemetery, but this is incorrect, as there is no “Chinese part” of the cemetery. Records show he was buried on public ground, but this information is largely unhelpful, as it means he could be buried nearly anywhere.

1921-08-14-beaumont-enterprise-enhanced-editOn August 14, another article about Mr. Shu’s death graced the pages of the Beaumont Enterprise. This one featured the “chief mourner,” second engineer Alexander Lawson Watson. He was chosen as chief mourner by the Chinese crew for his selfless actions of diving into the Neches River and attempting to save Wong Shu. Although the first part of the article is mostly an account of Mr. Watson’s war record, Mr. Watson had many things to say about the crew, and about the Chinese in general.

A Chinaman is not coldblooded and heartless, he says. They love, hate and sorrow as much and as genuinely as members of the Caucasian race but they show their love, their hatred and their sorrow in a different way. It is not the belief of the British officers of the Satanta that the people of Beaumont who attended the funeral last Monday of the Chinese sailor to be disrespectful but they failed to take into consideration that the odd things they saw were not intended to provoke levity. Some of those who were there deny anything was done by Beaumonters that was disrespectful of the dead. However, American manners were just as odd to the Chinese as the manners to Americans and on a less sad occasion the Orientals would not have taken offense at what they heard and what was done.

After reading both articles, I got the impression that the Beaumonters’ ignorance of cultural and religious differences was on full display. Yes, you can also say this about the Chinese crew, but you must admit they were surely in a vulnerable state at the time. To lay a loved one to rest is a solemn and poignant moment for family and friends. I think (or hope) most cultures would agree on this.

This wasn’t the first time that Southeast Texans were introduced to Asian culture. During the same period, a few Japanese rice farming families settled in SETX and went on to make a big impact on the industry. Although some residents were initially hesitant to welcome them, they eventually found them to be hospitable neighbors.



Tales from Hallowed Ground: Catherina Jeanette Stengele



My first introduction to Miss Stengele was on a cold morning during a walk through Magnolia Cemetery. As the story goes, she was a lowly seamstress who worked hard to save her money. In her short 43 years of life, she purchased a costly St. Catherine of the Wheel statue for her mausoleum, along with the twelve plots near her intended resting place, all of which she had tiled in.

Sounds like an amazing story, right? Well it is, so let us throw the rumor out and try to ascertain the facts.
Catherina Jeanette Stengele Nat. paper1Early Beaumont was home to an entrepreneur in the form of the youthful Miss Stengele. According to her naturalization form, she arrived in this country in 1884, spent a few years in Baltimore learning the millinery business, and then moved to Beaumont in the late 1880s. The form also shows she was born on February 28, 1856, and not 1866 as stated on her mausoleum. (I suppose, even in death, some need to hold onto their youth.) Her country of origin is also unclear because of contradictory documentation. I have found some papers stating that she was from Germany. Others indicate that she was from Holland. My belief is that she was probably born along the present German–Holland border, which was initially a part of Germany but later became Holland.
Miss Stengele was certainly competent in the world of business. As a single woman in the 1890s, she made a good living in her millinery business, and other ventures in the financial and real estate sectors also seemed to work well for her. She was so successful in finance that she placed an ad in the Beaumont Journal in May 1899 stating that she was “Going to quit the business! I am going to quit the millinery business, and from the date will sell my entire stock at very low prices.”
Catherina Jeanette Stengele seemed to be a natural at finance and the lending market. So much so that she quit her day job, so to speak. Her investments would even finance a return trip to Europe in 1901. See the article in the Beaumont Enterprise dated January 6, 1900. 1900.01.06 Beaumont Enterprise Special Notice
You may notice the name Stengele Building, highlighted in yellow above the article. Miss Stengele also owned a three-story brick building at 345 Pearl Street in Beaumont, which had housed her millinery shop as well as several of her tenants.
While records from 1900 until her death in 1909 tell a tale of a successful businesswoman, not every investment would always go as planned. For instance, around 1905–6, records of court proceedings show the bankruptcy of the Nederland Rice farms in which she held a $20,000 stake. Unfortunately I haven’t yet had the time to research the court files in detail, but this is on my to-do list.
In April 1909 Miss Stengele left Beaumont for Los Angeles because of an illness. An article from the Houston Post dated September 16, 1909 states she “underwent two surgeries for appendicitis during the summer.” Unfortunately Miss Catherina Jeanette Stengele had passed away the day before the article was printed, on September 15, 1909.
I found a few articles from the Beaumont Journal that explained the highlights of life and the aftermath of her death, but her will is undoubtedly of considerable interest. According to hearsay, she was at odds with one of her brothers and left him nothing, but technically that’s not true. Browsing through her will, I found that she did leave a detailed list of her heirs and her final wishes. Her wish for the St. Catherine of the Wheel statue was originally included in the first draft of her will in 1908, but the mausoleum was only added in May 1909. She had many family members, both locally and in Holland, to whom she bequeathed her wealth. Her assets were around $120,000. That’s the equivalent of $3.1 million today. Not too bad for a lowly seamstress… or should I say, a milliner?

Tales from Hallowed Ground: Virginia Lee Rowley


While walking through Greenlawn Cemetery in Groves one mid-August morning, I came across a monument erected by the American Legion Auxiliary. Surrounding the stone memorial, which was inscribed “They gave their lives that freedom shall not perish,” were the graves of several veterans. Although most survived the conflicts of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and subsequently went on to lead healthy lives with their loved ones, there was one memorial that differed from the rest. Corporal Hugo J. DeBretagne, it seemed, paid the ultimate price for his country and never returned. The inscription on his headstone reads:

In memory of Hugo J. DeBretagne, CO D 1st Bat. 2nd Marines Killed at Tarawa Buried at sea.  Oct. 13, 1923 – Nov. 23, 194312186843_919687414771958_5085764410071279457_o

There are multitudes of stories at the cemetery that I would like to pursue. Many veterans lived simply and some even heroically, but there are no claims to their historic pasts. In fact, most of us will similarly end up forgotten in the end. It’s sad but true; most of our history will disappear when we die. There may be a few friends and/or family members who will grab the torch and try to prop us up for eternity, but ultimately, death, for most, is where personal history ends.

As I maneuvered through the area to take photographs of the residents’ headstones, I came across what will probably go down as one of the oddest mysteries in my search through SETX history. Located near the American Legion’s monument was a flat headstone with an image of the deceased in porcelain. This is not entirely unusual in and of itself, but the text that went along with the image was very disturbing to say the least:

If I must die then die I must and when the coffin round me rusts my bones will go whence they came and all that’s left is my name. To shield that name I’ll do my best; that’s all that’s left when I’m at rest. I’ll do no harm and bring no shame upon my dad and mother’s name.

Not really a poignant tribute to an attractive 20 year old who lost her life so young, is it? So who was she, and what was her story? Let’s try and piece together this tale.

Virginia Lee “Gene” Rowley

While doing research that evening, I came across a couple of leads, but unfortunately (as usual), the facts didn’t add up to the reality. My first find was an IMDB page for a 12-minute film called Roothold (2004). It was directed by, and starred, Port Arthur native Eric Patrick alongside Jennifer Baker. According to the IMDB plot summary, the film has some historical significance:

Roothold is a divination film that speculates on Gene Rowley: a woman pictured on an abandoned gravestone in Port Arthur, TX. The film is an elusive narrative that places the filmmaker in an emotional and psychic state of ceremonially rehearsing for mortality and burial.

– Written by Anonymous

I looked for Eric Patrick’s website but all I could find was his Wikipedia page:


The second—and last—mention of this mystery that I found on the internet was on an Angelfire web site. You remember those free sparkly web sites that never really amounted to much? I could hardly believe this one was still up and running, but there it was, in all its glory. It shared the following story:

The story of Virginia Rowley, ‘Gene’ as her family and friends called her, is a sad one. Gene was born on October 8, 1922 in Port Arthur, Texas. Gene’s father, Clyde, worked for the city as a railroad operator. Gene’s mother, Martha, was a seamstress with a strange disposition. The strange behavior would today probably be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, something that Gene likely would have been diagnosed with as well. Gene was the eldest of four children; Elroy, Clyde Jr. and Tara. Martha would require the children in church each Sunday; usually promptly switching the children with branches for doing the slightest thing. Though Martha loved her children; she was aggressive and was quick to anger. The children grew up attending private schools. The children, especially Gene and Tara were not allowed to date. This was taboo for Martha until her children came of age. Though Martha kept the children under her wing to an extreme degree; she demanded that they make their own way in life by obtaining jobs at a young age. Martha encouraged the children to live at home so that she could keep a close eye on them. By 18, Gene ventured from the nest, shortly after graduating and took a job as a telephone operator for Southwestern Bell. She became independent and even found a boyfriend. The dashing young man was 22-years-old, his name was James. It was instant love for Gene. The two became inseperable; this was something Gene went to great depths to hide from her mother. Though Gene was on her own; Martha did not approve of James. Martha thought of James as too worldy. Gene was more of a straight laced girl to Martha; she needed a likewise young man. Martha, too, didn’t approve of James’ age. After a year long union Gene discovered the unthinkable. She was expecting a child. James was confronted with the issue; to Gene’s disbelief; James fled Port Arthur, refusing to contact Gene. Heartbroken and betrayed; Gene confronted several friends and relatives with the issue; they all assured her that they would help her and everything would work out, however, Gene knew that this would shame and devastate Martha a great deal. On June 18, 1942, Gene took the day off from work and stopped by Martha and Clyde’s to say hello. Gene never breathed a word about her pregnancy to her parents. It was simply a good bye visit. Gene later drove to Nederland. Once there, Gene found an unoccupied truck and plowed into it. Gene died shortly after reaching the hospital. That night Martha found a note (At top) that Gene had left in her bedroom while visiting that day. It became quite clear that this had been no accident. The reasons were quite clear. Gene’s pregnancy would have brought harm and shame to her parents name.


Knowing this, the first site was possibly an author/director’s take on the mystery. It was honest enough I guess, but I haven’t seen the movie, nor do I know how to watch or buy it. To be frank, the second site comprised plain nonsense. The author had devised an epic story around a few facts but failed significantly in producing details, resulting in what I can only assume was an attempt at historical fiction. All names, except Virginia’s, were inaccurate, so if the narration of a historical tale was intended, it was shoddily done. I wondered if both the first and second sources were related. I still have no idea, but their timeframes were similar. Again, I haven’t seen the 12-minute movie and IMDB was scant on detail.

But now that we have discussed what is online, let us delve into some of the “real” facts.


Virginia “Gene” Lee Rowley was born on October 16, 1922 in Nederland, Texas to Rex Blanton Rowley and O’ciela M. Roy. She was the oldest of four siblings. Her brother Rex, who was born in 1924, would go on to serve in World War II. Vera, her sister, was born in 1925, and the youngest of the bunch, her brother Jerry, was born in 1928. I found very little on their childhood other than that they lived in the Van Oostrom addition. (This addition, according to records, is the area around Van Street and Herring Avenue in Port Neches.) The father Rex, a World War I veteran, served with Company C, 9th Infantry, and held several jobs through the years. The records showed that he was a machinist at an oil refinery (the name of which one is unknown) in the 20s, and at other times a dairyman (in Nederland) and a seaman.

In November of 1934 I can only assume that life changed dramatically for the Rowley family because the father Rex decided to take his own life in their house. Obviously I’d be promoting the same theorizations as those who speculated on Virginia’s scenario, so I will disregard my thoughts as to why he may have taken this extreme route and terminated his life, leaving a wife and four children behind to fend for themselves. I will say that Rex’s exposure to the vile war (1916–1919) is currently unknown, but I can only surmise that his experience would have been unimaginable if he had seen the front.

Knowing that Virginia’s father died so tragically, I wondered if this was the origin of the inscribed words that were placed on her headstone eight years later. Unfortunately we will possibly never know, but there is more to this story than a couple of web sites will tell.

Virginia eventually moved to San Antonio where she was employed as a radio operator in Duncan Field. Virginia met her demise on Frio City Road in an auto accident in the early morning hours of July 24, 1942. The death certificate stated that her death was an accident, not suicide. There was no mention of a pregnancy in any of the documents that I found.

The tragedy of the family would continue almost 20 years later. Rex, the oldest remaining sibling, was electrocuted while working on an air-conditioning unit in 1961. He is also buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, next to his mother O’ciela who died in 1963. Jerry H. Rowley died of a cardiac arrest in 1981 leaving Vera as the sole sibling. Vera, as far as I can tell from the records, died in 2008. I say this because a Vera B. Rowley married an Elmo J. Rowley in Port Arthur in 1943, but that doesn’t fit the other available records. Also, Vera and Jerry are not listed in the relevant census and city directories of the 20s, 30s, and 40s, although I do know that they were siblings to Virginia because of their birth and death certificates.

There is a further mystery. According to the 1920 census, O’ciela (or Ciela in some documents) was the daughter of Albert and Metta Wee Bossman and lived with her husband Rex B. Rowley. It is an original document, but I see no way that it can be right since all other documents state that her parents were A.J. and Maria Alida Roy.

There was much tragedy in this family, and I would certainly not want to resuscitate any negative memories for their descendents.  I would however somehow like to find out the meaning of the words on the headstone. Was it some sort of tribute or perhaps a memorial left by the living family members? Was it Virginia’s poem? The tragic loss of a father for a 14-year-old girl could certainly have brought out thoughts of sorrow. She may even have felt partially to blame for the tragedy. Did her mother O’ciela write it? This is quite possible, but until I find evidence, I could not say for sure. My only goal in this saga was to bring to light the facts about Virginia, but as I dug deeper, this family’s ongoing tragedies and mysteries came to the fore.

If anyone knows any part of this story or has knowledge of the family, I would love to hear from you.


Update: 1/04/2016

What a difference a week and a few newspaper archives can make! While conducting research for my next endeavor, I veered off my intended path and found myself back on the Rowley’s trail. I inadvertently unearthed a few more answers to some of the questions that were still puzzling me about the Rowley family.
Rex B. Rowley Sr.’s death
A Port Arthur News article dated November 27, 1934 informed its readers of Rex’s death and the probable cause of his suicide:
“Relatives said he had been despondent because he had not had steady work. Justice E.B. Moye returned a suicide verdict.”
I have included a photo of the full news article here. seaman kills self rowley 112734
Who was Albert Bosman?
Another mystery the article cleared up was the link between Albert Bosman and the family. As previously explained, I had discovered a 1920 census showing O’ciela as the daughter of Albert Bosman and “Metta Wee.” I was certain this was an error because all the other documents pointed to Andrew and Maria Roy being her parents. The truth was revealed at the end of the article: Albert Bosman was actually Rex’s stepfather.
“Besides his wife, Rowley is survived by two sons, Rex Jr. and Jerry; two daughters, Virginia and Vera; and his stepfather, Albert Bosman, all of Nederland.”
I also discovered that “Metta Wee” was the maiden name of Vera, Rex’s mother.
Who wrote the poem on the headstone?
I still cannot say for sure, but I found a few articles in The Chronicle (1939) that offer a clue.
VLRowley poem PNCA February 17 article entitled “Nederland girl, poet given second honor” announced that one of Gene’s poems, “March,” was to be published in the World’s Fair Anthology. It went on to say that Virginia (Gene) had previously had a poem published in an anthology of verses.
Another article, dated November 10, 1939, stated that O’ciela Rowley was the author of a poem appearing in Christmas Lyrics of 1939, which had been published by Beacon Publications.
“This anthology, according to the Beacon concern, has been issued annually since 1936. Work of Mrs. Rowley already has appeared in the World’s Fair Anthology.”
This I found very interesting. Were both mother and daughter published poets? It is possible, but as I’ve discovered through my research, you should never assume that the printed word is without errors. I do believe Virginia was an accomplished poet. At Nederland High School, I found multiple articles on her awards as well as her studies. And this makes me think that she was indeed the source of those dark words etched under the photo on her headstone. Again, we will probably never know for sure, but it seems we are getting closer…




M. F. Yount Mausoleum



Magnolia Cemetery is full of marvelous statues, monuments, and mausoleums, which are lasting tributes to the who’s who of Beaumont history. I admit I have spent more time there, strolling through this majestic locale, than at the many other SETX cemeteries that I haunt. For me it has always been a special place. Unfortunately, one of the most stunning memorials to grace this hallowed ground no longer stands. Why? Let us delve into the story.

Miles Franklin Yount was born in Arkansas in January 1880. At age 15 he moved to Texas and began working in the rice and oil fields. Eighteen years later, he formed the Yount Oil Company, which became the Yount-Lee Oil Company in 1915. In that same year he married Pansy Merrit. In 1925 one of his wells struck oil and thus began Spindletop’s second oil boom. MFYount81337a

MFYount81337bFrank Yount was known as the “Godfather of Beaumont” because of the aid he provided for building projects in the city of Beaumont in the late 20s and early 30s. He even loaned money to the city to meet its payroll demands in 1932.

Sadly, in November 1933 Yount perished from a sudden heart attack. Pansy, his wife, decided to build a huge mausoleum in honor of her dear departed husband, but one day, while walking through the mausoleum, she noticed a bit of debris on the floor. Fearing its eventual collapse, she asked the architect how long the mausoleum would remain standing. The architect replied that it would be good for around 500 years. To Pansy, this was not long enough, and she had the mausoleum torn down. Both are now buried side by side in bronze vaults on the same grounds where the mausoleum once stood. I have no idea how long these vaults will last, but as you can see by the photos of the mausoleum, it is a shame that this is not still standing. Nevertheless, Pansy has her own story, and I can only respect what may have been going on at the time.MFYount81337c


Sources: Handbook on Texas, Judith Linsley, Beaumont: A Chronicle of Promise




IMG_2368 IMG_2367

Tales From Hallowed Ground: Evelyn Keyes


Evelyn Keyes

This month, Tales from SETX’s Hallowed Ground takes us to Port Arthur for a look at one of our early daughters who achieved fame and fortune but never forgot her roots.

Evelyn Louise Keyes was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on November 20, 1916. The daughter of Methodist minister Omar Dow Keyes and Maude Olive Keyes, her life in SETX was brief to say the least. At age three, her father died, so she and her mother moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where her grandparents resided. In her biography, Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister: My Lively Life In and Out Of Hollywood, she tells of her impoverished youth and the hardships that she would overcome. In her teen years, she took dancing lessons, which signaled the start of her journey out of poverty and into what would become stardom.Evelyn in Port Arthur

Discovered by Cecil B. DeMille, Keyes was cast in a few lesser known pictures until she landed the role of Suellen, Scarlet O’Hara’s sister, in the movie Gone with the Wind (1939). She then went on to star in other motion pictures, including The Jolson Story (1946), The Prowler (1951), and A Thousand and One Nights (1945), and played Helen Sherman in the classic The Seven Year Itch (1955). She officially retired from acting in 1956 but did take on a few roles in her later years.

Sueellen 1939Keyes’ private life appeared similar to that of a Hollywood script. Her first husband committed suicide in 1940. After divorcing her second husband, director Charles Vidor, after two years, she married director John Huston. The couple adopted a boy that Huston had discovered in Mexico while filming The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Unfortunately that marriage failed as well, and they were divorced in 1950. After her retirement from film, she married bandleader Artie Shaw in 1957. That marriage would last 28 years.IMG_1178

In her later years, on occasion, Keyes traveled back to her birth city and donated memorabilia from her career to the Museum of the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and at the ripe old age of 91, succumbed to the retched disease at her home in Montecito, California. She died on July 4, 2008.

She now rests in her birth city of Port Arthur, but when scanning the old stones from Greenlawn or the Calvary cemeteries, I found no mention of her. This is because, “it was her last wish that, upon her death, her ashes be placed in a lamp, similar to the one she emerged from when she played a genie in the 1945 film  A Thousand and One Nights.”IMG_1181

When you visit the Museum of the Gulf Coast, you will find that there is a lot to see. But remember when you are strolling through the Evelyn Keyes exhibit that you are, for all intensive purposes, walking through hallowed ground.

The Mysterious Little Stone


At the very back of the southeast corner of Magnolia Cemetery stands a small headstone shaped almost like a Japanese or Chinese temple. Indeed, the characters adorning the front of the stone support the view that it is oriental. Unfortunately, Asian alphabets are not my forte so I will have to leave it to the experts to figure out the translation of this interesting piece of our SETX history. 9533144901_a89dd1a926_c

The stone is from the turn of the 20th century, give or take a decade. Regrettably, there are no records for this stone since it is so old. However, looking back at SETX history we did have a few wealthy Japanese farmers who lived and tended their rice fields around this period, but at the time of writing, I only know of one buried at Magnolia Cemetery: the infant son of Yoshio Mayumi.

IMG_3559One evening in early December Mayumi rode horseback up to the Bailey Wingate home. For days it had been raining a cold drizzle, and the roads were under water. Apologizing for what he said was an intrusion, Mayumi explained that his first child, a son. Had been born, but after only one day of life, the baby was dead. Mayumi needed help.*

As the story goes, Mr. Wingate’s widowed mother aided Mayumi’s young bride and helped prepare the baby for burial. Two days later, on December 13, 1917, the baby was buried in Magnolia Cemetery. Why the baby was buried in Magnolia Cemetery and not in a cemetery closer to the Mayumi farm in Fannett is not clear.

On reading the story of the Mayumi family, I was convinced that this old headstone at Magnolia Cemetery was that of the infant Mayumi, but Jimmy Sparks, Magnolia Cemetery, pointed out where the actual headstone of the child is.IMG_0080

With the child’s true whereabouts now known, Mr. Sparks brought another interesting story to my attention.

In a lone paragraph in a San Francisco newspaper dated December 30, 1902, there is an alluring bit of information that could possibly account for the origin of the stone.


BEAUMONT, Texas, Dec. 29.— Fatma Sing Hpoo, reputedly the smallest person in the world, died very suddenly here this afternoon. She and her brother, Smaun Sins Hpoo, were on exhibition, and after the afternoon performance Fatma became ill and died at the Crosby House before the doctor could reach her. She was 22 years old, weighed 15 pounds and stood 28 inches high. **Fatma and Smaun Hpoo

I have come across a few photos of Fatma and her brother Smaun, but there is little, if any, other information about the life and times of the Hpoos. I did find an ad in the Beaumont Enterprise from the day before Fatma’s death, as well as an article in the Beaumont Journal dated January 3, 1903, stating that this would be the last day to see Smaun perform. That short article speaks of a reality that is more mysterious than an unidentified headstone.

Smaun010303Sadly, the show must go on. We may never find out who is buried under that headstone near the tree line in Magnolia Cemetery, but now that we know of it, there is a small chance that its owner’s identity might one day be revealed. Nevertheless, we will continue to search for further Tales from SETX’s Hallowed Grounds.


Sources: * – Southeast Texas Rice Beckoned Japanese by Gwendolyn Wingate Beaumont Enterprise

               ** – San Francisco Call newspaper

              Jimmy Sparks Magnolia Cemetery, Beaumont Enterprise, and Beaumont Journal

Tales from Hallowed Ground: Tom The Tramp



Still inspired by the Liberty County Historical Commission’s “Whispers of the Past,” I find myself wanting to bring a few stories from my own county’s cemeteries to light. This is why I want to start a new topic about the inhabitants of cemeteries, which will hopefully feature on this blog once a month. There are many stories out there, hidden away in our hallowed grounds, and I for one am interested in bringing these stories, legends, and tales to the fore. I would also love your input, so please leave your suggestions, stories, and comments on the Rediscovering SETX Facebook page or email me at rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com.

Roaming through the hilly terrain of one of Beaumont’s oldest cemeteries, I passed many obelisks, mausoleums, and other monuments dedicated to the “who was who” of Beaumont’s 175-year existence—each edifice undoubtedly clutching a story that’s waiting to be told. However, let us sidestep our SETX citizens at this time in favor of a hero who became a permanent resident of the Magnolia Cemetery too soon.

Because the Great Storm of 1900 took many lives and devastated Galveston’s shore, most forget that the residents of Bolivar Peninsula also shared the same fate, and this is where our story begins.

Alice and Frank Keith were two prominent names in old Beaumont, not least because Frank owned the Keith Lumber Company. On September 8th of 1900, Alice and Frank were in New York while their two daughters, Alice and Olga, stayed with relatives at a hotel in Patton Beach (now named Crystal Beach). As the storm worsened, Mrs. Irwin, the hotel manager, and an employee, Tom, nicknamed “Tom the Tramp,” thought it would be safer for the Keith’s daughters to ride the storm out in another house near the hotel.

Unfortunately the severity of the storm proved too much for the structure, and the house began to break up. Mrs. Irwin picked up Alice, and taking Olga’s hand to hers, headed for another house. As they departed, a large wave knocked Alice out. Mrs. Irwin managed to hold onto the girl, but Olga was separated from her. As if by fate, Tom swiftly retrieved Olga from the water and gave her back to Mrs. Irwin. He then took Alice and began to roll her back and forth over his shoulder, which revived her. As the storm raged on, the four again sought shelter in the house. Luckily, they all survived.

Both Frank and Alice were unaware of their daughters’ struggle for survival, but I’m sure they were devastated when they read a story in a New York newspaper that reported that their daughters had perished. However, as we already know, the newspaper was fortunately wrong, and the Keith’s were able to hold their daughters once again and hear the tale of heroism of the girls’ two saviors. Indeed, the Keith’s were so grateful to the two that they offered them each a house, which Tom accepted.

This would have made for a happy ending to a great story, but sadly in 1909, Tom kicked over an oil lamp while having a seizure and burned to death in his house. Ever grateful for his heroism, Frank and Alice laid him to rest in their family plot at Magnolia Cemetery with the name they knew him by and a tribute befitting of their hero:


The Tramp

Died December 5, 1909

“He alone is great, who by an act heroic, renders a real service.”


Source: Judy Linsley

Elisha O. Brewer Cemetery



Not many people know about the grave off Amoco Road just south of Beaumont. I never knew of it until it was pointed out to me while I was working at Oiltanking Beaumont (formerly Amoco). After looking over the cracked stone, I knew there was a story there, but what story, I did not know.

That night I did an internet search for Elisha Brewer, the name on the headstone, and found an article written by W. T. Block, which was first published in the Beaumont Enterprise on November 13, 1999. It told the story of Elisha O. Brewer, who, after visiting the deathly ill mayor of Beaumont, Columbus Caswell, had been un-harnessing his wagon when his horse had kicked him in the groin. Elisha died a short time later. He was 31.

Elisha Brewer was the grandson of Christian Hillebrandt, a cattle baron, who was the namesake of Hillebrandt Bayou. His wife Mary was the granddaughter of John Sparks, the first settler and founder of the Sparks settlement (Aurora), which was the precursor to the city of Port Arthur.

It is unclear why Elisha O. Brewer had been buried in what would have been his backyard 129 years ago. Possibly it was out of haste or necessity, but whatever the reason, we can assume from the words on his gravestone that he was deeply missed.

“Since thou canst no longer stay

To cheer me thy love

I hope to meet with thee again

In yon bright world above.”

Elisha O. Brewer

February 2, 1852 – August 5, 1883

The grave is located less than a hundred yards from Amoco Road, and the small fence surrounding the hallowed site can be seen from Highway 347. Although it is technically on Oiltanking Beaumont’s property, it is not located in a fenced or restricted area. With that said, I do make a point of driving past the grave and up to the guard shack and explaining to security why I’m there and what I am doing.