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Unmarked graves at Calhoun Cemetery

In rural Walker County, Texas, a quiet cemetery rests on a hill ringed by an ornamental fence. It is near the Old Calhoun Ferry Crossing on the Trinity River, North of Lost Indian Camp Road. It is a small family cemetery belonging to the War of 1812 veteran and plantation owner Samuel Calhoun (1788-1871). [1] Generations of Calhoun's descendants were buried here from the 1850s to 1900. Concerning the Calhoun family, their graves have been thoroughly researched and preserved along with their legacy. [2] The question of the unmarked graves of their enslaved companions, however, is another tale altogether.


On March 27, 2024, David R. Hoffpauir and Dr. Zachary Doleshal, in collaboration with his public history class began work on searching for those lost graves. Hoffpauir, a University Program Associate with the Department of Environment and Geosciences and Applied/Geospatial Research Lab, proposed the application of non-invasive ground penetrating radar (GPR) to detect lost graves in the original black section of the Calhoun Cemetery. He had previous experience using GPR at the nearby Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. His findings at that cemetery indicated the presence of significant subsurface anomalies, representing many objects such as graves and headstones long submerged below the ground.


GPR operates by pinging an electromagnetic pulse down into the soil, on average around 10 meters, and records signals that bounce back to the surface. This methodology is usually done over a grid section across the Earth via a mounted instrument on a cart or vehicle. Other methods can include, but are not limited to, using boreholes, drones, and even helicopters. [3] The preliminary findings from the Calhoun cemetery, represented in this article, were discovered via a GPR instrument on a hand-pushed cart.


David Hoffpauir and Dr. Doleshal had long suspected the area beyond the ornamental fence of the Calhoun Cemetery of containing the remains of numerous enslaved individuals and servants of the Calhoun family, notably including a nurse and a maid. Their primary source was Margaret Calhoun's letter to her grandson, Mark Billen Calhoun, regarding their family's property renovations in November of 1971. Margaret's letter suggests two eye-opening details. One, enslaved labor was used to build the Calhoun plantation using brick and timber. Two, Samuel Calhoun's enslaved persons and servants, whom he brought from South Carolina, were segregated from the rest of the family at the grave in their square of land near the plantation home.


The preliminary findings from the two surveys on March 27, 2024, did not definitively show interments. However, subsurface anomalies suggesting the presence of unusual debris were found. The raw data from survey one represented a depth down of about 3'. Survey two in contrast represented 4' to 10'. While some irregular, linear features near the surface seemed to indicate possible tree roots a "blob" found around 1.9' suggested a possible marker near the surface. More promising were signs of linear features that emerged around 5'. The blobs disappear entirely at 10'. Hoffpauir believes it was indeed possible that the grave site may have been clipped in this range but expresses that there is not enough information to make a good call. A formal survey over a larger area is recommended to clarify these findings.

Video

Survey 1 - Depth Slices from 0' to 10' Linear anomalies appear at 5’. It is possible that the scan clipped the end of the graves, but there is not enough information to prove it without a doubt. The blobs visibly dissipate at 10’.

Images

Aerial photo of the Calhoun Cemetery survey site.
Aerial photo of the Calhoun Cemetery survey site. This location is believed to be the site of a currently unmarked burial ground.
Another view of the GPR survey site.
Another view of the GPR survey site. This location is believed to be the site of a currently unmarked burial ground.
The Calhoun Cemetery
The Calhoun Cemetery Large trees and an ornamental fence surround the cemetery. There is visible evidence of wear and tear. Because no one lives in the vicinity any longer, no burials have been in this cemetery for many years.
The Ground Penetrating Radar
The Ground Penetrating Radar This instrument was used to find anomalies submerged in the soil.
Front of Margaret Calhoun's 1971 letter to Billen Calhoun.
Front of Margaret Calhoun's 1971 letter to Billen Calhoun. The donation of this letter to the Sam Houston State University Special Collection in 2024 by the Calhoun family prompted the search for the lost graves.
Margaret Calhoun's 1971 letter to Billen Calhoun.
Margaret Calhoun's 1971 letter to Billen Calhoun. The donation of this letter to the Sam Houston State University Special Collection in 2024 by the Calhoun family prompted the search for the lost graves.

Location

Metadata

Christopher Gutierrez de Luque, “Unmarked graves at Calhoun Cemetery,” East Texas History, accessed May 26, 2024, https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/395.