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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Old Mass Grave
at Gonzales

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Back in June of 1998, I came across a story about a mass grave that was discovered in Gonzales, Texas, in 1905. Since then, because I was so fascinated with the story, I have written several more columns about that haunting discovery. The idea keeps gnawing at me that, maybe somewhere, there may be ancestors of the folks in the grave who are searching for the history of their lost relatives. And just so the rest of us won't forget, what follows is a revised version of the first article I wrote about the mysterious tomb.

I wonder what would happen if an old grave containing numerous human skeletons was discovered in present day Gonzales, Texas. Don't you know that the town would be descended upon, promptly, by the news media? They would all be here: CNN, TNT, CBS, NBC, ABC, etc. But it seems apparent that 113 years ago, old mass graves didn't receive that much attention.

In April of 1905, human remains were found in Gonzales while excavation work was underway at a site on St. Michael Street. According to The Gonzales Inquirer, workmen uncovered the bones while working on the foundation of the T.F. Harwood brick warehouse. This structure was to be built on land known as the old A. Fischer homestead.

One of the amazing things about this discovery was just how casually it was treated by the local paper. It wasn't even considered important enough for the front page. Instead, the article was a mere one column by about ten inches and was buried on the inside of the paper!

The reporter who wrote the article didn't seem the least bit interested in following up the story by seeking new information; in fact, the writer closed by saying, "The find is a very interesting one from an historic standpoint, for it gives evidence of events in human history of which the present generation is in total ignorance."

Were finding old graves a common thing in Gonzales back then? I sure wouldn't think so. It makes me wonder if folks here had experienced so much in the way of violence and hardship in their lives that a few old bones just didn't impress them. We have to remember that many of the people living there in 1905 had experienced the most devastating conflict in American history; the Civil War.

The Gonzales Inquirer did do a good job of describing the grave site. It reported that, " protruding from either side of the excavation could be seen pieces of ribs, skulls, thigh bones, etc." The report also included information that the grave was about two feet wide and ran north and south. It was about 30 feet long and people at the scene estimated that there were approximately nineteen skeletons. Another interesting observation was that the remains were only two to three feet under the ground.

There is no way for us to know just how old this discovery was in 1905. Reports from the newspaper described the bones as being in advanced stages of decay. Also, there wasn't any precise order in the way the bodies were buried. According to the Inquirer: "In one place were noticed two skulls lying close together, the remains extending in opposite directions, while above both were seen the remains of others."

The information depicting the grave as being more like a trench - makes me wonder if it was the site of an execution. The Inquirer reporter made the observation that the burial seemed to have been done in haste. Again, the reporter came to this conclusion because of the lack of any order to the way the bodies were situated in the tomb.

The folks at the Inquirer in 1905 had different theories as to who might have been in the grave. Some thought the remains were of Indian braves who died in battle. Others believed it to be the bones of Mexican or French soldiers - their death being caused by some hostile tribe of Native Americans.

Something about this discovery seems very strange to me. Why weren't there any other artifacts found? Were these poor souls stripped of their clothing before they were thrown into the grave? I can understand them having their weapons taken away but there should have been some personal items.

I'm no archaeologist, but wouldn't a metal belt buckle or button last as long as bones? If other artifacts were found, I can't believe that any competent reporter would have disregarded that kind of information. Also, nothing was said about what happened to the remains after they were discovered. Were they re-buried or simply just thrown away?-

From reading the article, I got the impression that the workmen only investigated the area where the foundation was to be built. That location was just a narrow trench and bones were sticking out from both sides of the excavation. It's very possible that this was a much larger grave and could very well have contained more remains.

Here is something else to consider - the remains were found just two to three feet below the surface of the ground. One good metal detector (if there is any metal) shouldn't have any problems finding the items.

There is another little twist to this story. It seems one of the skulls (the only one completely intact) was presented to the Inquirer. The newspaper reported that, " it is now on exhibition in the office, where it has been viewed by a number of people. The skull is rather small, with retreating forehead, and is of unusual thickness. The teeth are in a fair state of preservation."

What happened to the skull? We know it was on display at the Inquirer office. So, where is it now? With the technology available today, DNA and all - I'll bet if we had that skull - the mystery could be solved.

Think about it; the historic old town of Gonzales could be sitting on the remains of yet another important piece of history.

Murray Montgomery March 3 2018 Column
More Lone Star Diary

Related Topics:
Texas Cemeteries
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