Finding Eula – Oakwood Cemetery

I’ve often been asked if I know where Eula Phillips is buried and my answer has always been that I don’t know the exact location, just that she was buried in an unmarked grave in the oldest section of Oakwood Cemetery known as the Old Grounds.

And that raises the question, why doesn’t her grave have a marker or headstone or why isn’t there some indication of where she is buried?

I guess it’s puzzling how the last resting place of this 17-year-old girl, whose death was at one time the cause of so much consternation, could now be lost.

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The City Cemetery, as it was known in the 19th century, was located on a small parcel of land to the northeast of the city.  It was later enlarged to approximately 40 acres and is now known as Oakwood Cemetery, located in east Austin, bounded by Interstate 35, University of Texas Disch-Falk field, and residential neighborhoods.

Oakwood Cemetery

Old Grounds, Oakwood Cemetery, Austin, Texas.

The original, oldest part of cemetery, designated as Old Grounds, is demarcated by irregular-sized family plots, rather than the numbering system used in the rest of the cemetery.  There is a road that leads through the grounds – West Avenue – but it is hardly an avenue, more of a path laid with rocks to provide traction for the tires of maintenance vehicles that occasionally drive through.  In the past, the wheels of horse-drawn carriages would have made their way up the road as the recently deceased were carried to their final resting place.  Walking up the path today one can see a variety of styles of 19th century funerary embellishments, although many of the monuments are in poor condition, eroded by years of weathering and neglect.

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Oakwood Cemetery records can be searched using the name of the deceased and the burial location can be determined by the recorded section and lot number.  However, if the deceased is buried in the Old Grounds, there is no number, only the designation “Old Gr” and the name of family plot if there is one.  If no family name is designated in the record – for example burials of strangers, immigrants, orphans and other singular individuals – and no location is specified, then the only recourse for finding the deceased would be to search the cemetery for their headstone.  If there is no headstone, numbered lot or family plot, then the deceased is effectively lost and it would be almost impossible to determine where someone is buried (apart from excavation and forensic analysis), and such is the case with Eula Phillips.  The original internment ledger only notes Eula as being buried in the Old Grounds with no further clarification and there is no headstone.

Oakwood Internment Ledger Dec 1885. [detail] showing cause of death, physician, location buried indicated by Lot number, Str Gr (stranger grounds), Mex Gr (Mexican grounds), Col Gr (colored grounds), Old Gr (old grounds). Eula Phillips was one of the few persons buried in Old Grounds in 1885. Note Susan Hancock three lines below buried in Lot 459.

Oakwood Internment Ledger Dec 1885. [detail] showing cause of death, physician, location buried indicated by Lot number, Str Gr (stranger grounds), Mex Gr (Mexican grounds), Col Gr (colored grounds), Old Gr (old grounds). Eula Phillips was one of the few persons buried in Old Grounds in 1885. In the left column, Eula’s cause of death is noted as “Murdered,” V. Rosenberg, Coroner, burial location “Old Gr.” Three lines below Susan Hancock’s cause of death is noted as “Murdered,” V. Rosenberg, Coroner, and burial location noted as Lot 459.

There were 384 burials in the City Cemetery in 1885, and almost all of them were in numbered lots — for example Susan Hancock was buried in lot 459.  Eula’s burial in the Old Grounds was one of only nine burials in the Old Grounds in 1885.  Prior to Eula’s burial in December, there were four still-born infants buried in the Old Grounds; there was also Clinton Powell (age 1 month), M. Everett (age 47, male), A. Tiedemann (age 17, female, from Sweden), and Jules Boisnier (age 38, male, from France) all of whom were buried in the Old Grounds in 1885 and all buried in single graves that were not located in family plots.  Of these 1885 burials, only two — Powell and Boisnier — have headstones.  The surviving headstones from 1884-85 are all located in Section C of the Old Grounds. It is likely that the other persons  — Eula Phillips, Everett and Tiedemann — who were buried without headstones were also buried in Section C.

One very valuable artifact for researching cemetery history is the City Cemetery Plat commissioned in 1911 by the Austin City Council.  The 1911 plat shows many features and details of the cemetery that have long since disappeared.  Most notably the 1911 cemetery plat indicates locations of graves that were unmarked but still recognizable as graves at that time. Comparing the original internment ledger which gives the chronology of burials, the 1911 cemetery plat which notes the locations of unmarked graves, and the surviving headstones, it’s possible to make a reasoned guess as to where the unmarked graves from 1885 are located.

Plat of Old Section of City Cemetery. 1911. [detail] showing location of marked and unmarked single graves in Section C. Austin Travis County Collection.

Plat of Old Section of City Cemetery. 1911. Drawn by John D. Miller. Austin Travis County Collection.  [detail showing location of marked and unmarked single graves in Section C.] The graves of Jules Boisnier and Clinton Powell, both buried in 1885, are noted in this illustration, as are three unmarked graves beside the burials from 1884-1885.

If I had to guess, Eula is probably buried in one of the unmarked graves noted above on the 1911 plat, beside the old road (West Ave), next to Prosper Humbert (d.1884), Fanny Rosenberg (d.1884), Clinton Powell (d.1885), Jules Boisnier (d.1885) all of whom are noted on the 1911 plat.

Location of three unmarked graves in section C. Eula Phillips is likely buried here.

Location of three unmarked graves in section C.
Eula Phillips is likely buried here.

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It is hard to imagine the anguish and confusion that followed in the wake of the Eula’s murder on Christmas Eve 1885.  The Phillips household had the immediate concern of caring for the gravely injured James Phillips, whose survival was still in question in the days following the attack.  They also had to make arrangements for the burial of Eula, a responsibility that would normally have fallen to her husband, but since he was in no condition to do so, others had to make arrangements on his behalf, most likely his father, or Eula’s father Thomas Burditt.

As to why no headstone was put in place on Eula’s grave – I think in the weeks that followed Eula’s death, the arrest and subsequent trial of James Phillips was a public embarrassment and humiliation for the Phillips family and they would have been anxious to put it all behind them and move on with their lives.  I imagine the aftermath of those events was too emotionally difficult a subject for them to revisit — I don’t think there was any malice intended to Eula’s memory, they just wanted to forget and so no marker was ever placed at her grave.

eula001

Location of several unmarked graves and headstones from 1884-1885 next to road (West Ave) in Section C of Oakwood Cemetery, Austin, Texas.

For more about Oakwood Cemetery see:

Oakwood Cemetery Database

Austin Genealogical Society Oakwood Cemetery

Save Austin’s Cemeteries

© 2015, J.R.Galloway. All rights reserved.