wishing to visit the final resting place of John E. McGuire is going
to have to travel to two different cemeteries.
Supposedly the first male Anglo child born in Comanche
County, McGuire came into the world on June 1, 1855. Actually,
that was the year before the county’s organization in March 1856.
The only written reference to McGuire’s posthumous distinction of
permanently being in two places at once is found in an obscure cloth-bound
volume called “In Remembrance of Those Sleeping in Downing Cemetery
Downing, Texas.” Privately published in 1977 by Raymond H. and Aline
Loudermilk Quenon, who then lived in Fort
Worth, the 48-page book lists all the people known to be buried
in the Downing Cemetery to that point. Since the book has 58 Loudermilks
on that roll, the couple’s interest in this particular cemetery
the book explains, the Downing Cemetery is near a small community
of the same name about nine miles north of Comanche
off State Highway 16. Just when the rural graveyard saw its first
burial is not known, but the earliest marked grave is that of one
Mary Carnes, who died on April 15, 1866. The authors noted that
the cemetery also contains several unmarked graves of people who
died “on the way to other places” and that there are also some graves
of Indians, presumably killed by settlers. (Normally in small country
graveyards, it’s the other way around, with unmarked graves of settlers
killed by Indians.)
Cemetery even predates the community for which it was named, which
did not get its start until the early 1880s. Later that decade,
when the community sought a post office, merchant William H. Loudermilk
suggested it be called “Dawning” for the inspiring sunrises the
local landscape afforded.
Processing the application, some bureaucrat in Washington figured
the locals had mistakenly used an “a” when an “o” had been intended,
so the hoped-for Dawning, Texas officially became Downing,
Texas. Opened in 1888, the post office continued to serve the
small community until 1911, when the government consolidated it
with the Comanche post office.
A one-room country school house used to stand near the cemetery,
but it has long since disappeared from the landscape. All that remains
is the school’s old bell, which now hangs in the cemetery.
To get back to McGuire, on page 27 of the Downing Cemetery book
is this simple notation:
“J.E. McGuire (arm)”
Was that entry intended to be taken literally? Though it is well
documented that Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna staged
a funeral for the leg he lost in the Mexican War, marked burials
of body parts are not common. Nowhere in the book on the Downing
Cemetery is any explanation offered for that strange notation about
McGuire. Solving the mysery, at least partially, took some digging
in the figurative sense.
McGuire’s parents, John Alpus and Dicey Martin McGuire, came to
Texas in 1854 from Georgia, soon settling in future Comanche
County. From 1860 to 1864, McGuire served as county sheriff.
One of their children was John E. As the Comanche Chief later noted:
“Mr. [John E.] McGuire’s early life was that of a boy on the extreme
western frontier. The prairie, covered with long grass, was his
playground and his brothers and sisters were his only playmates,
for neighbors were widely scattered. When only a lad of six, Mr.
McGuire was perfectly at home in the saddle and frequently drove
cattle over the prairie, keeping a sharp lookout for the Indians
who lived not far distant and often raided this section.”
Though he seems to have been more farmer than rancher, the newspaper
said McGuire bought and sold stock and enjoyed a reputation for
being one of the best judges of cattle in the state.
“Mr. McGuire ran a gin for 10 years, he and his brothers being proprietors
of the Comanche
gin and mill in the nineties, ginning 1741 bales of cotton in 1894
and often grinding as much as 200 bushels of corn per day,” the
And then, casually, the newspaper mentioned this: “He also operated
a threshing machine in his early manhood and while engaged in this
work lost his left arm by getting it caught in [a] separator.”
No further details are offered, but obviously that accident is how
McGuire’s arm ended up in Downing Cemetery. Whether he placed the
modest granite marker over his severed limb for fun or out of legitimate
mourning over his loss is not known. Or maybe a family member paid
for the marker at a later time.
Despite his handicap, McGuire lived a long life, all but three years
of it in Comanche
County. He died at 73 in his farm house on the last day of February
1928. His family buried him the following day in the Zion Hill Cemetery
near Van Dyke. Why they didn’t bury him in the same cemetery with
his left arm remains a mystery.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" May
3, 2012 column