by Pete Kindall
Hood County News – March 6, 2004
Vinegar Hill is a detective’s delight.
There’s no town, no population, little documented history to prove that what supposedly happened really happened.
But there is a cemetery. And that’s a stirring starting point for researchers, statewide and local, documenting the existence of post-Columbian civilization near the municipality of Paluxy.
Chris Dyer and Frank Saffarrans did their homework…as much as was available to do. The primary source material dried up long ago.
Anybody who might know the God’s truth about Vinegar Hill is buried on it among a grove of junipers that prevented Dyer and Saffarrans from documenting the entirety of the obscure graveyard.
The parasitic vegetation proved as impregnable as barbed wire.
“You can’t really know how many people are buried at Vinegar Hill Cemetery,” Saffarrans, of the Hood County Genealogical Society, said. “It’s so grown up with junipers.”
You can’t blame the junipers for the cemetery’s abandonment, abuse and neglect, though.
“According to a lady who lives nearby and a lady who’s a historian, someone went in there in the 1970s, took the headstones and used them in a construction project.”
“Carl Droste owns the land now,” Saffarrans said. “He said he’s going to get a work crew together this spring to cut down the junipers.”
But for a theological dispute, Vinegar Hill might be as cosmopolitan today as nearby Glen Rose.
“There was a church in the Vinegar Hill area in the 1870s,” Saffarrans said. “One of the factions decided to have a dance. That so infuriated the other faction that the congregation split.
“The second faction turned over the floorboards because the church floor had been defiled by the dance.”
A Baker’s Crossing historian who probably wishes to be nameless said he was told that the structure, whether a church or school or community cabin, was originally located near the site of Vinegar Hill Cemetery.
That makes sense. It would have shortened the length of funeral processions between structure and graveyard.
Mean-spirited ex-citizens gave Vinegar Hill its unfortunate moniker, Saffarrans said.
“Supposedly, it was said that members of the remaining faction had so much vinegar in their blood that nothing would ever grow on that hill.”
They forgot that junipers can grow in cement.
“The name stuck,” Saffarrans said. “The people buried there probably don’t appreciate the vinegar connotation.”
Vinegar Hill was among county cemeteries identified and mapped by Saffarrans and Dyer, a Texas Historical Commission staffer, in an extensive THC survey.
Intriguing is the story of Dunagan Cemetery southwest of Granbury.
“I’d never visited that cemetery before,” Saffarrans said. “There was never anybody in a house nearby.
“Chris went with me this time. He suggested we ask at another house that turned out to be Paluxy Valley Ranch, owned by Troy and Verla Milstead.
“They said when they bought the land, the seller asked at closing, ‘Do you know you just bought a cemetery?’ Verla got interested in it. She’s cleared a lot of the underbrush.
“There are four graves there, plus 30 marked by stones. Three or four are said to be Indians.”
Every grave tells a story. G.W. Dunagan’s tells a dandy.
“It just says G.W. Dunagan on the tombstone,” Saffarrans said. “I looked in the Judge Davis (county historical) papers and learned the man’s full name was George Washington Dunagan.
“He died in 1871, the same year he married. His only child was born after he died. Even though it was a girl, she was named George Washington after her father.
“They called her Georgie for short. The mother (Martha) never remarried. She died at the age of 92.”
The Caroline Orum tale tugs at the heartstrings. Caroline gave up the ghost in 1880 after bearing nine children. She’s buried oh-so-alone west of Tolar.
“That individual grave was real interesting to me,” Saffarrans said. “I thought there was just going to be a field stone, and there turned out to be a tombstone by itself.
“I looked up Caroline Orum in the census. She was head of a household with a husband, nine children and two grandchildren.
“She died three months after the census. That must have been traumatic for the family. The father died two years later in Limestone County, so evidently the family broke up after she died.”
Millington Cemetery is forgotten by many but not by those with ancestors buried in it.
“It’s on the Millington Ranch, about a mile off the highway to Lipan,” Saffarrans said. “You go through two dry-weather crossings of Robinson Creek. It’s a little cemetery almost in the middle of nowhere.
“The person who led us there is the son of the ranch owner. He knew exactly where it was. He’d found it while he was hunting.”
Saffarrans and Dyer confirmed the existence of another cemetery on property near Millington Ranch. They didn’t confirm the site.
“The person who showed us Millington Cemetery wasn’t well enough acquainted with the owners of the other property to go on their property,” Saffarrans said.
“That site is on the geodetic map. I wouldn’t expect to find anything but the remains of a few graves there.”
Saffarrans is much beholden, he said, to Mildred Thormann of Lipan. She wrote the definitive history of Hood County cemeteries.
“She spent about five years visiting all the cemeteries and recording them,” he said. “Her book was really the basis for what Chris and I did.
“I’ve never met her, but I’ve always been thankful for her.”