If rock walls could talk…tale of Indians’ demise would spring to life
by Pete Kendall
Hood County News – June 16, 2004
If rock walls could talk, they’d tell a tale of murder and retribution. Probably. We can’t be altogether sure. What allegedly transpired, approximately two miles west of the present Rock Church Cemetery, was over 140 years ago. Every character in the cast has passed on.
Of natural causes…or otherwise.
Here’s what we know for sure, thanks to 19th century historian Wilson Hopkins Barker and his great granddaughter Vircy Macatee, who typed and published Barker’s memoirs under the title “Sketches.”
“In 1860 Gideon Mills, who was one of the first settlers on Paluxy about 20 miles above the mouth, sent his son who was almost grown and his son-in-law about three or four miles out in the timber to find and feed his hogs.
“They were going through the open post oak woods looking for hogs, perhaps not thinking of Indians, when they saw horses and men sitting around with hats on.”
Mills’ kin presumed them to be amiable cattlemen. This error in judgment was grave. The cattlemen were hostile Indians, who surrounded the young men, killed them with arrows, collected the scalps and left the bodies for the wolves.
Mills and a neighbor began looking for the boys the next morning. They believed them lost in the woods.
“After searching the country for miles in every direction, the boys’ bodies were found,” Barker wrote.
“I believe that their burial started the graveyard now known as the Rock Church Graveyard.”
Today’s Rock Church Cemetery opened for business 10 years after Mills’ loved ones rode to their doom.
Where they’re buried is Dunagan Cemetery on the present Milstead Ranch off Loftin Road.
Dunagan Cemetery was once known as Jackson Cemetery. Before that, it was Mills Cemetery. Gideon Mills originally owned the land. His oldest son (Henry Clay Mills) and son-in-law (John Wood) occupy the first graves.
William Bryant Baker, a Civil War veteran who died at the Battle of Pea Ridge, was brought to Mills Cemetery for burial in 1862. George Washington Dunagan was interred at the site in 1871 and Mary Emma Bayne Wood in 1872.
Meanwhile, back at the Indian skirmish, Mills was a cultured fellow who understood two wrongs don’t make a right. But he evidently had a temper and believed in country justice: an eye for an eye.
Or, in this case, two eyes.
According to written family lore provided by Mrs. Dorothy Bailey, he tracked down three Indians, shot them, secured the bodies to trees to expose them to the elements, and then buried them in the vicinity of his deceased kin.
Then, or shortly after, a rock fence was constructed around the little cemetery. Today, many of the same rocks lie scattered in the vicinity of the only marked grave, which belongs to Dunagan.
“The story goes that Mills killed three Indians,” Paluxy-Rock Church historian Janet Saltsgiver said. “I don’t know if he killed them right away or later.
“He buried them at the edge of the cemetery. I don’t know if he marked their graves or not.”
The rock wall was, and is, one landmark. So is, and was, a wagon trail adjacent to the cemetery.
Today, the trail is distinguished by a hump that almost appears to be railroad embankment.
“That road was built in the 1800s,” Saltsgiver said. “It ran right beside the cemetery’s stone wall.”
The doomed Indians could have been riding horseback on the trail in the direction of a Paluxy River hard-bottom crossing well known to Indians and white folks.
Mills could have met them, said howdy, and then said, “Goodnight, Irene.” The Indians may have tried, and failed, to outrun his bullets.
“It’s a pretty good ways from that cemetery to that Paluxy ford,” Saltsgiver said. “The trail came across the Paluxy and then up toward the cemetery.”
One obvious question arises:
Why would an angry white man bury three Indians in the same cemetery where he’d buried loved ones?
“That would be unusual,” Saltsgiver acknowledged.
Maybe he waited for the Indians from behind the rock wall. Maybe he buried them where they fell. We’ll never know for sure. Rock walls don’t talk.
It’s probably fair to speculate that Mills’ young kin and the three Indians rest in peace, not to mention truce, today at Mills-Jackson-Dunagan Cemetery. Who’s to argue?
Not Michael Dunagan, “second cousin five times removed” of George Washington Dunagan.
“Probably what happened is that the Indians had been down here raiding,” Dunagan said. “He (Mills) probably caught up with them up the road.
“Back then, if you killed an Indian, you dug a hole next to him, pushed him in and covered it up.”
The Indian story was just a rabbit trail for Michael, who located to the Rock Church area four years ago. He’d been in search of the cemetery in hopes of locating G.W.
“I’d seen Dunagan Branch Creek on a map,” he said. “Then on the Hood County Genealogical Society Web site, I’d found Dunagan Cemetery under the ‘lost and forgotten places.’
“I happened to have the GPS (satellite locating) coordinates for the cemetery. I had a cheesy little GPS. So I punched the numbers into the GPS and followed it.
“I was driving around trying to find the cemetery. I pulled over on Glen Cemetery Road to help a guy herd a calf back into his pasture. An elderly couple, Kenneth and Olive Morris, came down the hill.
“I told Kenneth that I was looking for the grave of George Washington Dunagan. He said, ‘That’s my great-grandfather. He’s buried over yonder on Loftin Road.’
“Well, that was like striking gold. So I drove over to Loftin Road. My GPS kept saying I was driving around the cemetery. I pulled over at a house to ask where it was.
“Some kids who came to the door told me, ‘There’s some Indian graves down there.’ I said, ‘Can you show me where?’ They led me through some heavy brush to some unmarked graves, just rocks.
“Then I saw George Washington Dunagan’s grave. His last name is spelled exactly like mine.”
G.W. was a battlefield hero…notably a live one.
“I’d thought he was a (Confederate) general,” Dunagan said. “He wasn’t. He was a private. Everyone just called him general after the Civil War because he fought in so many battles.
“He survived over 80 engagements around Atlanta and 160 total. He became a school teacher. He taught out of a school not far from Vinegar Hill Cemetery.
“Then in 1871, he was out hunting and got pneumonia and died.”
G.W. dug a well and built a cabin at the headwaters of Dunagan Creek, off the present Coleman Ranch Road.
“The well is still there,” Dunagan said. “From what I understand, it was still producing into the 1970s. The cabin isn’t there. It’s up the road with a house built around it.
“The cabin is probably 20 x 20 with a fireplace and a loft.”
G.W. was buried at Dunagan Cemetery for a good reason. “It was the closest one to his homestead,” Dunagan said.
When Rock Church Cemetery was created, it became the resting place of choice for the Rock Church area.
“Dunagan Cemetery was kind of in the middle of nowhere back then,” Dunagan said. “It still is.”
Most of the briars and brambles in Dunagan Cemetery have been chewed to the roots by voracious goats.
That’s helped make the grounds accessible…if not completely immaculate.
“There are between 20 and 30 documented graves,” Dunagan said. “Undocumented, no one knows.”
Dunagan and fellow historian Preston Furlow are heavily immersed in restoration projects up the road at Rock Church Cemetery.
“Rock Church Cemetery is heavily Masonic,” Dunagan said. “Preston and I are in the same lodge. In a way, we feel obligated to take care of the place, and we’re the youngest ones.
“Mr. (Jesse) Caraway gave the land for Rock Church Cemetery. It’s about four acres. When my time comes, I’ll be out here, too.”