Q: I was born in South Texas and have spent every single one of my fifty-seven years in this part of the state, a place I dearly love. When the time eventually comes to pass on to the other side, though, I would like to spend my eternity at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, right in the heart of the Lone Star State. How does one go about making this happen?
Christine Carson, Brownsville
A: Life in Texas is indeed great. This is a sentiment with which most all Texans wholeheartedly agree. And, really, what’s not to love? The Texanist is a little biased, but can you imagine a life spent in, say, Oklahoma? Count yourself lucky to have lived the life you have lived thus far in Texas. And, more specifically, in the beautiful R.G.V. Fortunately, with a mere 57 years under your belt, you’ve got a lot of living left to do, Ms. Carson. A lot of oats yet to sow, if you will. The Texanist has never had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, but he’d bet that you are but a spring chicken still strutting through your salad days. Nonetheless, it’s never a bad idea to get your affairs in order and make arrangements, especially ones of such permanence.
On average, Texans live about 79 years, which, if the Texanist’s math is correct, leaves you with about 22 more years aboveground. That said, there is a Texan, Mr. Richard Overton, of Austin, who has already bested the state average by a whopping 34 years. This spry 112-year-old, the oldest living American male, still enjoys a dozen cigars a day and the occasional nip of whiskey. Here’s hoping that you will live for at least another 66 years and one day beat that record. And that the Texanist will then beat the record previously held by you.
But whether or not you and the Texanist end up living to be supercentenarians, all good things, as the old killjoy proverb goes, must eventually come to an end. In fact, that good thing we’ve identified as life in Texas does come to an end for some 200,000 of our fellow Texans every year. That’s a lot of mortal remains to tend to, but, of course, not all of these formerly fine folks will be laid down for their eternal rest in a Texas boneyard. Some will be cremated and sit on a mantel, some will be spread over some favored spot, and others will be shot into space, which apparently is an option.
For those who choose to go the more traditional route, with a burial, the possibilities are many, as there are approximately 50,000 cemeteries across Texas. The Texanist currently has a spot reserved for himself in one of those 50,000, in his hometown of Temple. It’s a pleasant enough plot, but if the Texanist were to be honest he’d admit that it is lacking in shade trees and is a bit sunbaked and dusty at times. Truthfully, it pales in comparison to the sublime funerary grounds of the Texas State Cemetery. The Texanist must say, he admires your death goals.
Located just a mile east of the State Capitol, the Texas State Cemetery sits on 22 handsome, well-treed, and immaculately manicured acres, just as it has since the first grave was dug there in 1851 for General Edward Burleson, who fought alongside Sam Houston at San Jacinto and served as vice president of the Republic of Texas. Over the years, a cavalcade of distinguished Texans has followed Burleson.
Today, the Texas State Cemetery is the permanent home to some 3,183 deceased dignitaries and spouses, more than two-thirds of them Confederate soldiers and a number of their wives. Stephen F. Austin rests here, as do fifteen Texas Declaration of Independence signatories; fourteen former governors, including both Ma and Pa Ferguson; four former first ladies of Texas; and five former lieutenant governors, including Bob Bullock, who was so distressed by the once-forlorn condition of the cemetery that he took on its sprucing-up as a pet project in the nineties. Additionally, there are a slew of Texas Rangers, including William “Big Foot” Wallace, and a number of Republic of Texas veterans. There are also two veterans of the American Revolution and six Medal of Honor recipients. These represent but the tip of the bigwig iceberg. The Texanist didn’t even mention the unnamed French sailor who was a member of the 1685 La Salle expedition or Joanna Troutman, a Georgian who stitched the famous “Texas and Liberty” flag that flew over Goliad as the national flag of Texas. Or the Texanist’s own father-in-law, L. Dean “The Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas” Cobb, who served in the Texas House of Representatives back in the seventies and now holds court in Section 1 (A); Row: Y of the Patriots’ Hill area in the cemetery’s southwest corner.
The Texanist assumes that you’ve taken note of the notableness of these people. The thing is, the Texas State Cemetery is reserved for just such folk. It’s the purpose of the place. And the rules of entry are tightly controlled by the cemetery’s governing statute, the Texas Government Code, Chapter 2165, Section 256, subsections d and e, which lays out who can be buried there. The Texanist, as he said, doesn’t know you, so let him ask you if you happen, by chance, to be:
1. A former member of the legislature or a member who has died in office?
2. A former elective state official or an elective state official who has died in office?
3. A former state official or a state official who died in office and who was appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate and who served at least ten years in the office to which you were appointed?
4. A person specified by a governor’s proclamation, subject to review and approval by the three-person Texas State Cemetery committee?
5. A person specified by a concurrent resolution adopted by the legislature, subject to review and approval by the committee?
If you responded in the affirmative, well, congratulations, you are in like Flynn—if Flynn, that is, had met the aforementioned criteria and were himself automatically eligible, which, to the best of the Texanist’s knowledge, he was not. If you responded in the negative, well, don’t get your dauber down; there is another way.
Since a 1997 change to the rules, which created a somewhat sizable loophole, the cemetery gates have swung wide for a number of Texans who have not met any of the aforementioned qualifiers. Nowadays, a person the cemetery committee finds to have made a “significant contribution to Texas history and culture in the following fields: air and space, agriculture, art and design, business and labor, city building, education, governmental service, industry, justice, military affairs, law enforcement, oil and gas, performing arts, philanthropy, public administration, ranching, religion, science and medicine, sports, and writing” is also eligible.
This is precisely how Tom Landry made it in, although he is represented by a cenotaph engraved with an image of his trademark fedora and is not actually buried there. It’s also how famed Negro League shortstop Willie “El Diablo” Wells got in, as well as the Texanist’s former colleague Gary Cartwright, and the Texanist’s old friend Larry L. King, and Ann Richards’s late-in-life beau, the famed writer Bud Shrake. It’s also how the likes of Texas Monthly founder Mike Levy, Texas Monthly writer-at-large Stephen Harrigan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, golfer Ben Crenshaw, musician Larry Gatlin, Richard Overton, and a long list of other living legends have been approved.
So if you think your own bona fides rightly put you in such august company, the Texanist suggests you write to Texas State Cemetery; 909 Navasota Street; Austin, Texas 78702-3322 and inquire about an application.
It’s a real honor to spend the afterlife pushing up bluebonnets in the hallowed grounds of the Texas State Cemetery. The Texanist wishes you luck in making it in one day—though he hopes it won’t be for another 22 to 66 years.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.