|John Durst Centennial
Photo courtesy Barclay
Gibson, December 2010
take FM 977 about 2 mi. E to CR 142 (Durst Rd.), go N .5 mi. to gate
on left, go W down dirt road .3 mi. to Durst Family Cemetery"
- Texas Historic Sites Atlas
Came to Texas in
Owner of the Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches in 1835
Moved to Leon County in 1844,
His wife being the first Anglo-American woman resident of the county.
Born in Arkansas
Feb. 4, 1797
Died, Feb. 9, 1851.
Harriet M. (Jamison) Durst
Born in Virginia, Feb. 5, 1807
Died, September 23, 1885.
Leon County was
my last county of the 17 or so contiguous East
Texas counties to see all the Texas
Centennial Markers placed in those counties back in 1936. Of the
145 markers in these counties, I had been able to find and photograph
138 of them, so far. There are seven Centennial markers in Leon County
including the El
Camino Real monument in Normangee.
With two more markers yet to be seen, the directions to the John Durst
grave marker was east from Leona
to Durst Road. Then, north and through an open pipe gate. Follow the
dirt road 0.1 mile to the Durst Family Cemetery.
Leon County - Looking for John Durst
No problem. I went up to the house but there was no answer to my knock.
Leaving a card in the door jamb, I followed a dirt road. Up, over,
around and through several deer feeders and turn-arounds. Nothing.
Another dirt road. Same thing. Then a third. I double checked my mileage
and checked to see if there were any other gates on the left or right.
Nothing else. This must the place. Time was running out. It was Friday
afternoon barely an hour before sunset and I had an appointment to
see the Fort Milam Marker sixty miles to the west near Marlin
at sunrise the next morning. This was my last chance to see all the
markers in Leon County.
The other Leon County marker to see was about ten miles away. Maybe
I could locate it and still have enough time to come back to find
Durst. The Baxter King marker was supposed to have been set near the
grave site but the weather and unpassable roads back in 1936 necessitated
that the marker be set near an intersection. Finally found it and
came back to find the family cemetery.
Still no one home. The sun was nearly setting, and I went further
on down the road. Found a house, knocked on that door, and asked the
man if he knew where the Durst Family Cemetery was. "Sure," he said,
"I'll show you." He got into my truck and said that it would be easier
to show me than to try to tell me where it was.
Sure enough, there was one more, barely visible, dirt road. We came
right to the walled cemetery. He told me the story of John Durst,
and how he rode nearly a thousand miles to tell of General Santa Anna's
march north to Texas. Too bad the marker doesn't mention this important
part of Durst's life, as well as an important part of Texas History.
Side Story: A Mushed Landing in Leona
On the way back to his house, he pointed out a grass runway. I was
stunned not only that is very grassy, but that there were some pretty
tall trees for a plane to clear on take off and landing right at the
end of the runway. He told me the story of how a man was coming in
for a landing when the wind shifted. The pilot decided it would be
best to go around for another attempt. The plane stalled and, he said,
'the plane landed right in the top of that tree' and wasn't damaged
much at all. I couldn't see how a plane could 'land' in a tree like
The tree was maybe thirty feet tall and not all that strong looking.
He said the plane's weight kind of settled into the tree, and before
long, the pilot and passenger simply stepped out onto the ground,
much like exiting a taxi. Amazing stories: Missing the marker, knocking
on a stranger's door for information, his taking me to the marker,
and his relating an airplane adventure to me. I asked him when this
happened and he said maybe around 1985. I thanked him for his time.
He was more than cordial, and appeared to have been glad to revisit
As you might suspect, I am interested in anything related to aviation,
especially accidents with happy endings. When I got home, I went to
the FAA Accident Investigation database. Simply entering the location
as Leona, Tx,
and a date range of 1/1/1980 to 12/31/1989. Sure enough the incident
came right up. The final report was very close to the one related
to me. On April 3, 1988, a Cessna 172 missed a landing on a grass
runway and "mushed" into some trees. This is the first time I have
seen the technical aviation term for this type of landing. A Mushed
Landing. Wonder is this is covered in pilot training landing techniques.
Add to all that, I checked the plane's registration number. It was
recovered, repaired and is still flying today!
Gibson, December 2010