Tilden: Boot Hill Cemetery, Old Rock Store, Old Stone Jail, Joe's Food Market, McMullen County Courthouse, Verastiqui House, Old Rock Service Station, Tilden Baptist Church, St. Joseph's Catholic Church

History from Henry Martin-McMullen County History

The history of Texas' No. 1 Boothill Cemetery is an integral part of Tilden, McMullen County. The cemetery grew and developed with the growth and expansion of the original town of Dogtown which had its origin in the early 1850's, only to change its name first to Colfax and then in 1876 to Tilden.

For twenty years the cemetery flourished as traffic increased along the caravan and stage route from San Antonio to Dogtown to Fort Ewell to Laredo and Mexico. Especially was this true when the stagecoach was added as a special feature. Dogtown, strategically located on this caravan route attracted many characters of questionable and undesireable reputations as well as men with families of upright and stable char-acteristics.

Possibly it was in the 1860's, both during and after the civil war, when saloons were added to the business district of Dogtown, that Boothill earnhed its well deserved name. According to early reports written and handed down of this year, gambling and drunkenness pre- vailed weekly when strife meant knife and knife meant gunfire and gunfire meant rest on Boothill. 

Unlike other Boothill towns in the great Southwest, Dogtown had no boom period, no gold rush, no silver or copper mines, and no city Mar-shals. Its cattle contingents had not begun the drives up the Chisholm trail which had its beginning in this section of Texas, as in later years. Dogtown's strategic location just off the main line of the Old Laredo road surveyed by the Spaniards in 1807 became a haven for those seeking security from the law in other communities or from Confederate conscription. But those who came for these reasons were just as quick on the trigger as those who visited, in other years, towns like Tomb- stone and Dodge City.  

The outlaws camped in the country-side wilderness hoping the trouble from which they fled would subside back home. There were no Big Nose Katies, no Calamity Janes, no Midnight Roses to lure these lonely hard bitten desperadoes from what cash they carried when they arrived in Dogtown. But when their uncontrolled desires or unappeased conscience showed up with an occassional visit to the saloon, a poker game, hard liquor, a quick draw, gunfire, and Boothill grew up with a population explosion in reverse. The local residents were never molested.

So much of the early history of Tilden is interred in Boothill, it brings up the question, who are the dead who rest in Boothill Cemetery? Both the honored and the dishonored, known but to God. For twenty years or more Lot No. 7 and 8, Block No. 12 in Tilden and much of the adjacent land served as a convenient place for quick interment of the dead, regardless of how they died, whether from Indian forays on the town and country, accident, cholera, lead poison or natural causes. Some may be unknown soldiers, veterans of the War or of 1812, the Texas War for Independence, the war with Mexico, or the war between the States with no tomb to mark their last resting place.

How many are buried here is just as uncertain as is their identity. Too many graves have been lost beneath the drifting sands and too many years have elapsed now to check back for an accurate account. The old pioneers who might have been able to shed more light on the history of the cemetery are likewise gone forever. Boothill was abandoned sometime in the year 1877 in favor of the present Hilltop Cemetery. So as a memorial, a verse from the poem on the burial of Sir Thomas Moore may do for an epitaph since more than half of the dead died from gun battles in and around old Dogtown: thus I quote

"Slowly and sadly we laid him down On the Field of his fame, fresh and gory, We carved not a line, we raised not a stone, But left him alone with his glory (and his boots)".


Circa 1964

Boot Hill Cemetery-Oldest Boothill Cemetery in Texas and the Southwest.

According to tradition, the first person buried on Boothill in Dogtown committed suicide. There are four cholera victims interred there also. These occurred in 1869 when the great cholera epidemic devastated the cities of the old South reaching far into Texas and San Antonio which was the 
distributing center of this Great Section of Texas.

There are many stories about those who sleep, lonely and forgotten, in this old Boothill cenetery. To sift these stories of the unknown dead from the drifting sands, has been an almost insurmountable task. Here following in sequence are just a few:

Picturesque characters were always passing through Dogtown or Tilden on the stage coach from San Antonio to Laredo. Of course, most of them walked around the village while necessary changes were being made with the horses. On one occasion a man wearing a stovepipe hat was going the rounds in the business district when he was observed by several of the hometown loafers, one of whom was Clabe Young, a gunman in his own right, expert and accurate, but prone to make mistakes. Seeing the stranger at a distance, he told his companions, "I am going to put a hole through that man's hat. Watch me." He fired, his aim was low and the man was instantly killed. Boothill found another victim seeking rest, peace and tranquility at his journey's end.

Standing in front of the Rockstore and practicing shooting at the big old mesquite trees that grew in the sandy terrain then in the vicinity of the present courthouse plaza was a favorite past-time of the early visitors to Dogtown. There was an old mesquite tree that grew in the middle of the street just to the right of the Rockstore some 75 or 100 feet away. The friendly shadows of this old tree was the scene of an assassination back in the late 1860's. A man standing just inside of the Rockstore and behind the left front door gunned down a personal enemy standing beneath this old tree and Boothill got another tenant. 


About this story: I do not know the names of the participants but I do know the story is true. So we will call one of the men Jim and the other John. They were known in Dogtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. They were accepted socially in a way and Jim in particular was better known for his horsemanship. Also, he had agreed or contracted to break or gentle a beautiful horse belonging to Miss May Beall.

Somewhere down the line trouble developed between Jim and John. At a dance on the San Miguel one night John's interest in dancing with the young ladies seemed to needle Jim to the point to where hostilities broke wide open. Jim called John outside and told him to cut out the dancing or he would kill him and he further ordered him to leave and to leave right now. John was, however, pretty level headed [not in the] habit of being run off from any place, and he was not about to leave now. This remark and refusal caught Jim off balance. In the presence of others Jim said, "Very well, when we neet again, or the next time we meet, I am going to kill you."That was no idle threat. Jim meant what he said and John knew it. If and when they met again, one or the other, would take the "Boothill Road".  

A number of days passed, possibly a number of weeks, or maybe a month or so, but the day of execution was on the way, and just where the two would meet, and which one would be permanently interred in Boothill was the subject of much speculation. Dogtown had witnessed many tragic moments and now another one was sure and certain.

On the day of the execution, John had gone to the Rockstore. He always carried a gun. A number of men were in the store as usual in a frontier town. You can imagine the conversation: "You reckon it will ever rain again? Cattle are sure getting poor. Grass is scarce and fever ticks are bad." "Yeah, well the frogs were chanting last night, and the old terrapins are moving about, pretty good sign. Dew was heavy last night and the sun went down behind a cloud." One of the men walked to the front door and spat out a cud of tobacco, and in so doing, looked down the street. "Say" , said he, "I see Jim coming down the street. He is riding that beautiful horse belonging to Miss May Beall. Sho' is a pretty horse." John heard him and rushed to the front near the entrance of the store and stood behind the counter where he could see the approaching enemy.

Jim drew rein just outside the entrance and saw John waiting. Reaching for his pistol, he pulled on the reins again and the horse reared. John shot and the horse fell dead pinning Jim beneath. Jim tried to contact his pistol but his hour of execution had arrived.

The next day the newly dug grave on Boothill was ready. Men, mostly men, were there for the simple service of interment and among these was John, the man who sponsored the same. A lot of strange things happened in the old days at Dogtovm. Said the Sponsor, "I had nothing against this dead man. I shot to live, and if I had not shot when I did, I would now have his place at this funeral. I will help you bury him."

And he did.


In the quiet solitude of a late summer night in the year 1870,  a tragic murder that had far reaching repercussions left old Dogtown all  "shook up", and brought mixed emotions and conflicting sentiments to the peace loving citizens of the frontier village. A young man by the name of John Smithwick found the end of his road leading to Boot hill Cemetery.

This young man was, as I understand, "in bad" with the law and knew probably too much on some other parties who brought about his liquidation. After his arrest, he was brought to Dogtown and was being guarded in a tent somewhere in the neighborhood of the present Humble Station awaiting transportation and further instructions from the sheriff's department in Oakville. McMullen County at that time was still attached to Live Oak County for judicial purposes. The guard on duty was a young man who in recent months arrived in Dogtown from the coast country.

A casual acquaintance about whom the guard knew very little of his reputation, came by the tent that night for a few words. After considerable time had passed, the visitor seemed to have gained the confidence of the young guard who asked the visitor if he would stand guard duty while he went to the home of his cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Martin, for a "coffee break". Daylight at that time was hours away and the Martins only lived a block or so away. The coffee, hot and steaming, was forthcoming in a jiffy and the young guard proceeded to drink his fill.

But if the coffee break was the opportune moment the young guard wanted, the opportunity to guard the prisoner was just what the casual visitor to the tent wanted. The coffee break for the young guard broke wide open when gunfire was heard in the direction of the tent where the prisoner was being guarded. The young man, sensing danger to the prisoner, raced out of the home toward the tent saying as he left, "I should not have left Smithwick with that man." Mrs. Martin followed part of the way when she heard the gunman tell the guard when they met, "I just killed Smithwick, l had to do it." Then the gunman disappeared in the night. Tension and consternation rose high in Dogtovm next day as circumstantial evidence pointed an accusing finger at the young guard. 

The killer, the casual visitor to the tent, prior to the coffee break, steadfastly denied his guilt placing the blame on the guard. The killer even denied he visited the tent that night.

Now it so happened that the gunman had rooms for himself and his wife in the same Martin home which was situated on the banks of the Frio River just west of the present Courthouse. Late in the night of the killing of Smithwick, the killer came to his room and began telling to his wife in tones much louder than he suspected, and Mrs . Martin, who was unable to sleep following the excitement of the killing, heard him say to his wife that it was he who killed Smitchwick.

In the 14th District Police Court that followed soon after the Smithwick killing, the Grand Jury of Live Oak County indicted thirteen of the prominent citizens of Dogtown for the slaying and placed them under bonds ranging from One Thousand to Ten Thousand Dollars. The Grand Jury seemed as badly confused as was the sentiment that pervaded Dogtown. The real killer was also indicted but according to the records was never placed under bond. However the Grand Jury, to the contrary, the family of the slain man was not confused nor was it misled by court action. In February, next year, all indictments against the killer was quashed. He was dead. In a little gambling house in Oakville, a poker game was in progress one night soon after the killing in Dogtown. Among those present and not playing , was a Mexican who lived in Tilden many years, Joe Cantu. The killer of Smithwick was sitting at the table with his poker chips when a man slightly extended his hand through a partly open door and shot the killer in the back of the head, killing him instantly.

This killing should have terminated the John Smithwick story. But the indictments of the other citizens of Dogtown had to be cleared from the court records of Live Oak County. In the trial that followed, Mrs . Martin went on the stand and told her story in a quiet but understandingly way. Her testimony, earnestly yet humbly told, was convincing. The case was closed.






Perhaps the most famous of the notorious outlaws interred in Boothill cemetery is Dick Gossett. Brother Malachi and their companion, Tom Green, missed the honor. They were of the Dr. Jeckyl and Mr . Hyde type . With the inhabitants of Dogtown, they were friendly, congenial and sociable. They seemed to avoid all trouble in the neighborhood, but if they met up with a Mexican or Mexicans along the stagecoach route between Pleasanton and Dogtown or Dogtown and Fort Ewell, it was too bad for the Mexicans if they were riding a good horse or a good saddle that was worth in the taking. These items were appropriated at once and the owners summarily shot if resistance was offered.

They made periodical visits to the gambling hall at Fort Ewell. Malachi was perhaps the more picturesque of the three and perhaps the most vicious. He was both a flambouyant and sinister blonde. Fair indeed, he was, so fair the the deep sun tan gave him the appearance of a pallid jaundiced creature freckled with blotches, pale blue eyes. His bushy red hair grew long and unkept, while he sported a flaming red-handled mustache that shaded a fine set of smooth white teeth. Out of his untrimmed ears the hair grew very much on the order of the flying red horse signs along our highways, and from his nostrils the stiff wiry bronzed hairs grew downward and backward like the violent and venimous fangs of an embattled rattlesnake. Malachi was tough. He was the instigator of their forays along the Laredo road but he was not the fastest on the draw nor the deadliest killer.

The brother Dick was very much the opposite, a man of intelligence and charm, handsome and versatile. He came to Dogtown with a party of deserters from the Confederate army in 1864. Malachi followed later. The rest of the party of deserters who came with him returned shortly thereafter, but Dick remained. He proved himself a hero in several daring exploits against the Indians and the Mexican hide-skinners and naturally gained the confidence of the local residents. It is said in talking with him, you could never realize he was a killer of not less than 25 human beings. He was courageous in spite of his murderous complex.

By the mid-sixties Dogtown had attained the status of a permanent village. Besides a store, a saloon was always crowded. So many different characters had followed the road to this wilderness, the saloon was the popular way station for drinking, gambling, and roadism, unrestrained, unrestricted, and uninhibited. Shoot-em up was a popular pasttime and that not only meant the big old mesquite trees growing nearby but many of the drunken, brawling characters themselves who found their last resting place in Boothill cemetery conveniently established nearby.

But with Dogtown as their focal point for their gambling enterprise, the Gossett brothers and Tom Green traveled back and forth to Fort Ewell to gamble and fight if necessary with any man or Mexican travelling that way or who might be loafing around old man "Pegleg" Stewart's combination trading post and saloon. They looked the part of the prevailing outlaw and the gambling profession they followed. Like some of the racketeers of the 1930 era, they hit the jackpot for a long while and then the day of judgment came.

In December, 1868, the Gossett brothers and Tom Green were headed east whence they came for Christmas. After crossing the San Miguel Creek north of Dogtown, they overtook three Mexican peddlers who had just stocked up with plenty of sombreros, clothing, saddle blankets, shoes and what have you. Well, those peddlers were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Dick and Tom and Malachi dispatched them in their customary fashion, helped themselves and continued their journey. The local frontiersmen buried these Mexicans, but later their relatives came back for their bodies.

In February, 1869, these outlaws returned to Dogtown just about the time news arrived by stage that there was some choice gambling to be had in Fort Ewell and the trio which included Tom, Dick and Malachi prepared to go down for a fling. Knowing that sooner or later the Mexican element would gang up on them, friends advised against the trip but to no avail. They went, they gambled, and they shot to kill.

Then followed a gun battle that made the old OK Corral fight in Tombstone, Arizona, in later years, look like comic opera. At least five Mexicans were killed and an undeterminate number wounded, but Dick Gossett was perhaps the first casualty. He met his death wound when he undertook the first kill. In reaching for his pistol, Dick's draw was obstructed by something in the scabbard or holster, and the Mexican got the first shot and started to run. Dick was too quick on the draw and even then shot him dead. Malachi and Tom kept the fireworks going. The situation in the aftermath of the battle for Malachi and Tom grew critical and desperate. They knew they had to leave at once, but how were they to bring along Dick, who was fast suc-cumbing to his wound. Dick knew he was definitely a problem now and begged his brother and Tom to leave him there to die. Nothing he claimed could help him now. Evacuation was imperative for the Mexicans would return in the shadows of darkness and slay them all.

But Malachi Gossett and Tom Green were not about to leave the dying brother to save their own lives. So they fashioned a blanket into an improvised stretcher, suspended between two horses, and proceeded across the prairies and brush country toward Dogtown forty miles away. A more strange looking caravan never moved across those interminable prairies. Slowly and painstakingly they rode along with death stalking them at every step. The weather was warm, too warm for February, and as the sun rose higher in the flaming skies, tell-tale clouds peeping over the far northern horizon told them there was more trouble ahead. The outlaws knew that if they could arrive in Dogtown before the blustery norther blew in, Dick might have a chance to survive. If it was too hot now, it would be too cold on the morrow. Too little and too late was the drinking water situation they now faced with the desperately wounded man. They had hoped to find some fresh water at Green branch, but they had forgotten on their way down to Fort Ewell to look for any and there was none at the crossing or thereabouts.

Their next chance would be little lakes in the Mule Creek valley, but they passed there in the night and neither observed nor cared at the time they were so anxious to arrive at Fort Ewell. When they reached Mule Creek with their quarry, the little lakes were dried up and caked over. The situation was truly desperate. The horses were tired and weary, water was gone, and Dick Gossett was fast going the way of all mankind and the way most outlaws are destined to go. He never lived to see Dogtown again. He was buried with little ceremony in the outlaw corner of Boothill. His  boots were part of his shroud.

Malachi Gossett and Tom Green were much concerned with the passing of brother Dick. They rather believed something would be done to them sooner or later, but they did not fear any immediate reprisals. As long as they kept away from "Pegleg" Stewart's place at Fort Ewell, there would be no immediate reprisals they reasoned. After the fuss and turmoil of the late gun battle, the smoke would clear up, and they would proceed further with their gambling enterprise. They still held the friendship of the local citizens of Dogtown. The big hearted frontiersmen permitted them to come to their homes. After all, as far as they knew, they had only killed Indians and Mexicans, and the memories of the late war of the Texas Revolution, the Alamo and Goliad, were still fresh in the minds of these hospitable folk.

But Malachi and Tom were wrong in their reckoning. The main body of the Mexicans shot up in the battle of Fort Ewell rode on to Laredo and there engaged the attention  of one Captain Benevides. An Ex-Confederate he was, but just what part he played in the post-war law enforcement in the Brush Country, I do not know. But shortly thereafter he appeared in Dogtown with a posse of some 200 Mexicans. Malachi and Tom had stopped by the home of Billy Franklin that day for coffee. I have heard a number of versions of this event, but I like the one I am quoting best. Immediately the outlaws barricaded themselves in the home with Mrs Franklin, her 8 year old daughter, Clarissa Evans, a child by a previous marriage, and the wife of a neighbor. Captain Benevides took Billy Franklin and his brother, Jinsey, and tied them to a mesquite tree just outside the yard. Part of the posse advanced further into the town and took Rufus Holland and James Lowe, the elder unto custody, but did not tie them up. 

Back at the Franklin home, Malachi Gossett and Tom Green were finally bayed by the men they despised and hated so much. Captain Benevides was firm in his demand. He merely stated his business that morning was to get the outlaws and not to harm anyone else. Malachi Gossett wanted to shoot it out vvith the posse. He begged the women to agree to load his guns for him and he would do  the rest. But the captives outside reasoned otherwise. Billy Franklin knew his wife and daughter and the neighbor's wife would be slain.

The Captain was adamant in his demands and his ultimatum to the outlaws was unconditional surrender or he would apply the torch to the house and that would include the innocent ladies and the little girl. However, he gave the usual promises to give them a fair trial if they surrendered and forgot them just as quickly. The two Franklins were released from their tie-up. The Mexicans moved southward with Gossett and Green. They did not tarry long. About two miles out of Dogtown, the captives were given an opportunity to flee. It has been told that Malachi Gossett, courageous in death cursed his captors and told them to shoot him between the eyes, "I fall with my face to my enemy", were his last words. Green started to run. Both were summarily executed and administered the same justice they had meted out to so many Mexicans. Several days later the neighbors banded together and followed the trail of the posse and found the two bandits with their bodies riddled with bullets. They buried them there on the banks of a smallcreek, and thus they were denied the honor of interment on Boothill.

Nearly a century has passed since those eventful years. Years come and go and the seasons change. But when the frugal moon casts only a wan light over the brooding darkness in the Frio Valley below, a ghostly apparation arises from the shifting sands of Boothill and sits forlorn and alone among the rock sepulchers. Always waiting, always watching, always gazing at the friendly stars that once guided the nocturnal journeys to Fort Ewell and back again to Dogtown, and perhaps always wondering why Brother Malachi and Tom Green never returned. Waiting, waiting, until the pre dawn trade-winds stir the shifting sands and the ghostly specter returns to the dust as it were, unwept, unhonored, and condemned.

Such is the Saga of the Three G's. 


                      THE SAMUEL WILLIAM McCREERY STORY 

In the Nueces watershed, the spacious prairies, alternately lush and green, brown and sere, according to the rainfall, shared equally the fertile lands with the chaparal thickets of the Brush Country. Here the pioneer found every characteristic or element of peace and contentment, of security and happiness. But that was in the middle years of the 1870's when the wide open spaces were unfenced. As soon as the ranges for sheep expanded, cattlemen grew hostile toward the sheepmen and little undeclared wars broke out in thls frontier country.

A sheepman from Corpus Christi, Samuel William McCreery by name, settled in the Mule Creek valley near its confluence with the Nueces River and so the wool industry came to compete with tte cattle industry for possession of the prairies and the thickets. Neighborly hospitality and peaceful co·existence cannot exist when sheepmen and cattlemen grow hostile over the unfenced ranges. So, in mid-summer 1877, death rode the tradewinds from over the Gulf and pointed the finger of death at McCreery and Boothill claimed its last victim, held its last funeral and closed the last chapter of an exceptional and tragic era in the Brush Country.

Some 80 or more years later, the Cenizo Garden Club of Tilden, McMullen County, Texas, considering the results of negligence and indifference on the part of the preceding generations in regard to Boothill sought not only to bring a measure of' respectability and pride to these who have slumbered there for so long a time, but to try and uncover the stories of its victims it has held and nurtured over  so many decades.

That McCreery was well to do financially is evidenced from a surveyer appraisal of his estate: 3020 head of sheep valued at $3020, one gray horse and one brown horse both valued at $25, one light wagon, wagon sheet and bows $35, pistol and scabbard $12, lamp, grubbing hoe, 2 axes, one saddle & bridle, and one balance $84, 500 lbs of wool at 15¢ per pound $675, 24 bricks valued at $72.

McCreery was killed in his camp Aug. 19, 1877. Perhaps he had been dead two weeks when his body was discovered. But the story of his death and burial lingered through the efforts of a friend, one of the sturdiest pioneers of the Frio Valley frontier, Green Alford. Since the body of the deceased was not found for a week or more after he was killed, it had deteriorated s0 badly in the hot August weather, that when Green Alford went out there as an im- pr0vised undertaker for the b0dy, it exploded from foul gases. Alford became infected to the extent that only his tremendous vitality and powers of resistance brought about his survival. As a little boy, I remember Mr. Alford, who died shortly after the turn of the century at the age of 90 years.

As a postscript, it might be said here that a sister of Samuel William McCreery wrote the Administrator appointed by the District Court of McMullen County to know if the deceased was wearing a ring when his body was discovered. The ring, she said, was a family heirloom and had been in the family possession lOO years.

In the year 1874, a young man by the name of Glenn Greer, with a flair for adventure, came to Dogtown. The primitive wilderness, wild and expansive, appealed to his young heart. He came from a "f araway" place and from all indications, he came from a good home with culture and refinement seldom noted in this remote village. He loved horses and found quite a bit cf adventure in helping cattlemen round-up mavericks for branding. But in December, that year, he attempted to ride a half-tamed horse which was too wild and irascible for taming. The horse unseated him in a wild pitching spree, and the young man was killed. He was buried in Boothill. His people were notified by letter, and they sent a marble slab and an iron railing for his grave. The good people of Dogtown erected the same over his grave and now, 90 years later, the grave with its marble slab and iron railing around the rock sepulture still stands unmolested as guardian over the memories of a once happy young man. 
There are many stories of men interred in Texas No. 1 Boothill Cemetery; these are just a few. 

Attribute: McMullen County Historical Commission South Texas Ranch and Heritage Center website.

Martin, Henry. "Boothill Stories". Originally compiled for Cenizo Garden Club of McMullen County-Printed with special permission to McMullen County Historical Survey Committee from author. Date unknown. 



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