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  • Lamar James

The Old Gussettville Cemetery

The Old Gussettville Cemetery, also known in modern times as the Guy James Cemetery, is situated on land first owned by Patrick McGloin, an Irish colonist who was recruited to San Patricio by empresarios John McMullen and James McGloin following their colonization agreement with the government of Mexico in 1828. On December 3, 1831, Patrick McGloin received a grant of one league (4,428 acres) and one labor (177 acres) of land from the State of Coahuila and Texas, encompassing what would later become known as Gussettville.

During the revolution, most of the Irish colonists fled the area, primarily to either Victoria or San Antonio. Patrick and his wife Margaret apparently moved to Victoria, as he died there in 1846. Their only son, John McGloin, was killed at the Goliad massacre in 1836. According to Patrick’s will, at the time of his death he owned at total of 7501 acres of land, consisting of the following: his original grant of 4605 acres, less 500 acres that he sold prior to his death; 1476 acres (⅓ of a league) on the Atascosa river originally granted to his son John in 1835 and inherited by Patrick following John’s death; and 1920 acres of “Bounty and Donation Land” located on Corpus Christi Bay. “Bounty” grants were promised to soldiers by the Republic of Texas in advance of their service, while “Donation” grants were awarded after service had been rendered. Patrick’s will does not specify but the Corpus Christi Bay tract was presumably also inherited from the estate of his son John following his death at Goliad.

Patrick’s will left undivided one-half interests in both his “Headright League” (the Gussettville tract) and the Corpus Christi Bay tract to his widow Margaret and his sister Mary McGloin Fox (ca. 1775 - 1853) of County Leitrim, Ireland. Thus, each of them were to receive 2052.5 acres at Gussettville and 960 acres on Corpus Christi Bay. In addition, the Atascosa river tract that he inherited from his son John was bequeathed as follows: 836 acres to his sister Mary Fox and the remaining 640 acres to his sister Margaret McGloin. In sum, Mary Fox or her descendants were to receive a total of 3848.5 acres.

News of this inheritance would have reached Mary Fox and her family during the depths of the Irish potato famine. Like most Irish tenant farmers of that era, they were likely struggling to survive on no more than a few hectares of rented land. Mary, her husband John, and their eight adult children, most of whom had families of their own, all immigrated to Texas between 1847 and 1854 to claim their inheritance (details of their family histories in Ireland and their immigration will be the subject of a later post).

The final settlement of Patrick McGloin’s estate took more than ten years to complete, with many factors contributing to the lengthy delay. Patrick’s ownership of this land spanned a brief but tumultuous era in Texas history, having been granted to him by Mexico in 1831, it was part of the Republic of Texas from 1836-1845, and then the state of Texas following its annexation by the United States in 1845. By the time of his death in 1846, attorneys from eastern states had flocked to Texas to serve and profit from the anticipated waves of new settlers.

Disagreements between Patrick’s widow Margaret and his sister Mary and their family members, possibly instigated by attorneys for each side, led to large portions of his estate being auctioned off on the steps of the San Patricio county courthouse, some for as little as 50 cents per acre, to pay legal fees. Much of this land was purchased by the attorneys themselves and later resold to other Irish immigrants. During these tragic years, Patrick’s widow Margaret and his sister Mary Fox died in 1853. Mary’s sons Michael and John had predeceased her earlier in 1853, followed shortly by the deaths of her husband John and son Darby in 1854. These events led to a contentious series of court-appointed executors of the Estate of Patrick McGloin. Mary’s bachelor son Darby Fox (1809-1854) was appointed executor on February 27th, 1854; he was murdered by an unknown assailant a few weeks later on April 18th, after which his sister Bridget “Biddy” Fox McMurray was appointed as the final executrix. Darby’s very detailed will, written as a relatively young man of 45, suggests that he suspected his life was in danger.

The trials and tribulations faced by John and Mary Fox and their family will be covered in more detail in a later story. Suffice it to say that the only land that Mary’s family acquired between 1847 and 1856 was a 600 acre tract that was purchased by her sons Michael, Darby, and Patrick on the steps of the courthouse in February of 1850. This and adjacent tracts encompassed an area that was briefly known as Fox Nation before being renamed Gussettville in honor of Norwick Gussett, owner of the first general store on the site. Gusset had purchased adjacent land from the estate of Patrick McGloin in 1856.

The area known as Fox Nation had served as a stagecoach stop on the road between Corpus Christi and San Antonio as early as 1846. Following revolution, war, and annexation some measure of stability gradually returned to the area and a steady flow of Irish immigrants moved from safer havens in San Patricio and Corpus Christi to permanently settle on lands in the area.

Gussett built a general store and operated a re-mount station that was situated less than a quarter mile north of the eventual Old Gussettville Cemetery. The cemetery lies on the east side of present-day FM 799, about one-quarter mile north of the existing Gussettville Church and cemetery, which it predated. The cemetery is situated on one of three two-hundred acre tracts of land purchased by three sons of Mary Fox in 1850 from the Estate of Patrick McGloin, referenced above. The land surrounding the cemetery was subsequently purchased by Bridget O’Brien McGloin (1839-1930) from a nephew of Michael Fox in 1867, passed to her grandson Guy James after her death, then to his son James F. James, and now owned by his sons James F. and William P. James.

Selection of this cemetery site was made necessary by the death of John Fox, (1756-1854) husband of Mary and patriarch of the Fox family, who was born in County Leitrim Ireland circa 1756. It is easily imagined that the ancient live oak tree, still standing within the cemetery after so many years, could have been the deciding factor in selecting this site because of the shaded and peaceful environment it provided in a land sometimes harsh and unforgiving.

It should be noted here that John’s headstone lists his year of death as 1851. However, John is one of four Fox family members listed on the same crude headstone, inscribed as follows: “Mary J., Died Apr. 19, 1860, aged 3 yrs, 10 mo., 22 Ds.; Pat H., Died Oct. 25, 1860, aged 1 yr.; John, Died Feb. 4, 1851, Aged 95 Yrs.; Darby, Died Apr. 18, 1854, Aged 45 Yrs.” The two Fox children listed were those of Patrick, son of John and Mary, and his wife Ann Gallagher Fox. Darby of course was the bachelor son of John and Mary whose 1854 murder is described above.

This headstone would have been constructed sometime after Pat H. Fox died in October of 1860, and possibly years later. While it clearly states the year of John’s death as 1851 this is incorrect, as the last will of Mary Fox, written in October of 1853, indicates that John was still living at that time, leaving the exact date of John’s death a mystery. It is believed that Mary Fox was buried in the Old San Patricio cemetery, but her grave is not marked.

Only one other burial is documented in the decade of the 1850’s, that being Clara Matilda Gussett (1852-1854), daughter of Norwick Gussett. During the decade of the 1860’s six documented burials occurred, three of which did not carry the Fox surname. They are Harriet Elizabeth Gussett (1834-1863), wife of Norwick Gussett, who was laid to rest in March of 1863. Shortly thereafter Gussett relocated to Corpus Christi, remarried, and became a very prominent businessman in the area. His Gussettville store and property was sold to Simeon Wise Lewis, his friend and compatriot who had also come to this area after having served in the Mexican War under the command of General Zachary Taylor.

The next recorded burial was that of William J. (Billy) McMurray (1796-1869), who was survived by his wife Bridget (Biddy) Fox McMurray (1813-1894), and five children. Biddy Fox is buried at the new Gussettville cemetery and many of her descendants still reside in Live Oak County. The remaining burial was that of young Edward Pugh (1862-1864), son of Patrick Pugh and Lucretia Powell Pugh, whose burials both occurred in the new Gussettville cemetery.

The three documented Fox family burials in the 1860s are the two children of Patrick Howard Fox, Sr., (1819-1869) and Ann Gallagher Fox (1825-1904) cited above, followed by that of Patrick H. Fox, Sr. himself, who was tragically stabbed to death on February 15th, 1869 by his nephew Tom Dolan during an altercation over the price of a steer. It is not known what, if any, role alcohol might have played in this tragedy.

The final documented burial of Irish immigrant ancestry occurred in July of 1871, when Elizabeth ‘Eliza” Timon O’Hara Odem Goodwin (1825-1871), a niece of the Empressario James McGloin, was laid to rest. Unfortunately, her three husbands each died at an early age leaving her to raise five children; namely Edward O’Hara and Cecilia Ellen O’Hara Dolan (1850-1925), from her marriage to Michael O’Hara (1820-1854); David Charles Odem, Jr. (1857-1925) and John E. Odem (1859-?) from her marriage to David Charles Odem, Sr. (1815-1860), and James Francis Goodwin (1862-1918), of her marriage to Matthew Goodwin (1831-1864), who never returned from his service in the Civil War. After 1871 all known burials of the Irish and their descendants took place at the new Gussettville cemetery.

The first recorded burial in the new Gussettville Cemetery (that of Ellen Fox Dolan) occurred in March of 1870 after the land for this cemetery and eventual church site was donated to the Bishop of Galveston in June of 1869, prior to the death of Eliza Goodwin in 1871. A 600 acre tract encompassing the present-day Gussettville cemetery and church was originally purchased from the Estate of Patrick McGloin by Andrew Timon, Eliza’s brother, in 1850. Following Andrew’s untimely death in 1854, his widow Ann remarried Thomas Shannon, a clerk in Gussett’s store, in 1856. Apparently, their home, situated on the present-day site of the Gussettville church, had become a gathering place for Mass when a traveling priest was in the area. Their move to Corpus Christi in 1869 prompted the gift of 2 acres and their home “known as the Catholic church of Gussettville'' as a church and cemetery.

Thus, the burial of Eliza Goodwin in the old cemetery in July of 1871 is puzzling. Her plot, surrounded by a wrought iron enclosure, is larger than needed for one grave. Her first husband, Michael O’Hara, along with Eliza’s brother Andrew Timon, tragically drowned in the Nueces river in July of 1854. Eliza’s third husband Matthew never returned from the Civil War; it is not known where either of her first two husbands are buried. However, given the number of other burials in the old cemetery in the 1850s, it is possible that Eliza was buried next to the unmarked grave of her first husband Michael O’Hara, thus explaining her burial in the old cemetery after the new cemetery had been established.

Although the first to be buried in the Old Gussettville Cemetery were Irish immigrants, a little known or long forgotten fact is that there were more than likely as many burials of Americans of Mexican heritage. I can recall visiting the cemetery as a young child many times and remember the existence of many graves not then nor now marked by permanent headstones. Most of these graves are no longer visible. As a young child in the 1940s I witnessed funeral processions making their way by the ranch house of my grandfather, Guy James, and through his field to the cemetery, as no access to the cemetery existed from the public road.

Although it is possible that some Mexican people were interred prior to 1928, the first recorded burial is that of Avran Ybarra, who was born in Mexico on March 6, 1846, and died at Gussettville on April 18, 1928. Federal census records indicate that he came to Texas in 1870, became a naturalized citizen in 1894, married Leocadia Reyna Ybarra and raised six children. He first sharecropped as a farmer for Tom Gallagher and eventually purchased land of his own.

Two other marked graves are those of Refugia Juarez Cuevas, no birth or death date, and Mariano Bernal (shown as Vernal on the headstone), also a farmer, who was born in 1884 and died in 1938. The surnames of many current Live Oak County residents appear in early census records from the Gussettville and Mikeska area. Family names of Bernal, Briseno, Chavarria, Cuevas, Gutierrez, Juarez, Morin, Reyes, Perez, Zuniga, and others exist in the early census records and it is quite possible that some of their ancestor’s rest in unmarked graves in this cemetery. It was likely the fact that my grandfather allowed burials in the old cemetery during his tenure as owner of this tract that led to the site being referred to as the “Guy James Cemetery”.

There is no question that there existed a bond of friendship created early on between the first Irish settlers and those of Mexican heritage, likely aided by their shared Catholic faith, who no doubt schooled the Irish in their culture, way of life, and means of survival in a difficult environment. Almost all people of both cultures had left their native countries due to social, economic or religious persecution. Their faith sustained them in harsh times and we are all beneficiaries of the hardships and unspeakable tragedies that they endured.

In early 2023, the Old Gussettville Cemetery received formal designation as a “Historic Texas Cemetery” by the Texas Historical Commission. In March of 2023 the Gussettville Cemetery Association amended its constitution to formally include maintenance of the Old Gussettville Cemetery in its responsibilities. Members of the association maintained the old cemetery for many years before these efforts were abandoned sometime in the 1980s, after which it was quickly overgrown by brush. Efforts are underway to clear and re-fence the cemetery and to apply for a historical marker for this site, once the center of the bustling pioneer settlement known as Gussettville.

Many thanks to writer and contributor, Lamar James. If you would like to contribute your own historical facts or stories, please visit the 'Submit a Story' section.

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Leighton Hathaway
Leighton Hathaway

Thank you, Papa, for your contribution! We appreciate the many details and stories you have to share with our membership. Many people do not have the privilege of knowing their family history and what you provide is invaluable!

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