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Grave Concerns

April 2023
1min read


The solemn crowd photographed around 1870 in the Mitchell family plot in the now-defunct town of Booneville, Texas, are not paying their respects to the dead but, rather, to themselves. The Mitchells didn’t trust their relatives to see them off in sufficient style. Instead, their descendant Mrs. Norma Herbst tells us, “they erected their own monuments during their lifetimes.” And then, perhaps to ensure there would be no mistakes, they posed next to their mostly elaborate stones. Reading from left to right, Mrs. Herbst identifies great-great-uncle Jefferson Davis Mitchell; great-great-uncle Harvey Mitchell, “who had something to do with the founding of Texas A&M”; great-uncle Marsh, leaning on “his rather modest tombstone”; great-grandfather James, standing next to a graceful urn; great-great-uncle Whit, “who was very ‘peculiar,’” all the way in the background; great-great-grandfather James, near his obelisk; and great-uncle John Calhoun Mitchell, at far right. The disturbingly youthful presence in the right foreground is, Mrs. Herbst guesses, “one of Uncle Harve’s children, all of whom died of typhoid—along with their mother—after which Uncle Harve said he was ‘no longer on speaking terms with the Lord.’”

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