Birdston Valley Cemetery
Navarro County, Texas


Birdston Valley Cemetery

Researched by Verna Bonner,
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XXI 1988
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

Hidden among the shadows of yesterday is an old community named Birdston Valley. This particular area of Navarro County, some 4 1/2 miles north of Streetman is located in the Richland Creek bottom lands. It was here during the years of 1880 to 1930 that a predominately Black settlement of farmers existed. Although the old community was never incorporated into a township, the size of the population was sufficient enough to support a cotton gin, a Masonic meeting hall, a church and school. Birdston Valley Cemetery was a direct result of this population inhabitation.

Birdston Valley derived its' name from the old white community which existed during the same period. The community of Birdston was named for Mr. V. I. Bird, who owned and operated a general mercantile store in the vicinity. Birdston Community and Cemetery received a Historical marker in 1972.

Birdston Valley is situated about two miles north of the old Birdston community. In later years, after 1900, the community was also called Hawthorn Valley. Before there was a place called Birdston or Birdston Valley, the white plantation owners with their Black slaves moved into the Richland Creek bottom lands to cultivate and farm the virgin soil. Prominent among those were several families, the Joseph Burlesons and the Ben F. Blackmons.

According to 1862 tax records, Blackmon owned 1,000 acres and 15 Negroes. In 1860, the Navarro County Census records state that Burleson owned 1,880 acres in the area and had 29 Negroes. As the Negroes were listed by first name only in various legal documents, it is an almost impossible task to trace and identify the development of the Black families in those early years.

It is told by descendants of the Joseph Burleson family that when Freedom came to his Negroes Joseph provided land nearby for them on which to try and earn a living for their families.

The new liberties afforded by Freedom were a heavy burden to many of the Black families who settled in Birdston Valley. Primarily uneducated, farming and ranching was all they knew. Tenant farming or share-cropping was the main type of farming practiced by the inhabitants.

A number of the families who resided in Birdston Valley area are recorded in the marriage, tax, deed, title, cattle brands, and estate records of Navarro County. Among these are Mingo and Nancy Burleson and their children, Anderson Eakles, Henry Cooper, Cheney (Burleson) Collins. Many of these old settlers and their families are buried at Birdston Valley Cemetery and the nearby Burleson Slave Cemetery.

In 1981, the Navarro County Genealogical Society surveyed and published a listing of the burials at Birdston Valley Cemetery. At that time, there was a total of 35 recognizable marked graves and 43 recognizable unmarked graves. Further personal interviews and review of the oldest part of the cemetery leads researchers to believe that the cemetery contains at least a total of 300 to 350 graves.

The exact age of the parcel of land for use as a burial place has not been established. However, there is an old grave marker for one of Willis Kelly which gives these statistics: born Nov. 1, 1850 died Sept. 13, 1855. After consulting with an archaeologist, David Jurney of Southern Methodist University, he gives his professional opinion that it is entirely possible for this or other burials to have occurred during the 1850's time periods. It is evident that the 1855 marker for Willis Kelly doesn't date back to 1855 but no other verification of the dates has been possible. It is reasonable to assume that a family member obtained and placed the small marker on the grave after 1855.

From local tradition, it was learned that Birdston Valley Cemetery experienced growth because families were prevented from using the nearby old Burleson Slave Cemetery. The property and travel routes changed hands and this caused access problems. There are a few marked burials dating in the 1870's, none marked in the 1880's, two 1890's to the late 1940's. This was the time period when the community was at its' height of prosperity. There are 47 burials with markers in the time period to present day. The cemetery is still in use and well maintained b a cemetery association which ministers the affairs of the cemetery.

The Birdston Valley Cemetery, Goodwill Baptist Church and the Masonic Lodge are located on 6.627 acres of land in the John Chalmers Survey, Abstract #143. The particular plot of land on which the cemetery, church, lodge and school are located is part of a league of land granted to John Chalmers by the State of Texas in 1846. The land changed hands a number of times from that point until 1877. In December of 1877 a 50 acre tract of land was sold by owners T. M. and Mary Johnson to Henry Roberts. They also sold an adjoining 50 acre tract to Alex Kelly on the same date. These two parcels of land include the 6.627 acres which comprise the grounds on which the Birdston Valley Cemetery, Goodwill Baptist Church, and Birdston Valley Masonic Lodge #266 are located.

Mingo Burleson, a leading pioneer settler, purchased land in the same vicinity in 1873. Other prominent Black families who resided in the area were: Robert Ervey, J. W. Ewing, Sanford Nero, William Jones, Bob Boldon, George Hartzell, Will Presley, John Thomas, Eph Green, Nelson Smith, L. E. McKinnon, Green Kirvin, Will Eakles, Dave Webster, M. P. McIntyre.

The Birdston Valley Cemetery Association was organized in 1963 by Lizzie Walker. She was assisted by Albert Sanders. Mr. Sanders was at that time the Navarro County Agricultural Agent. Prior to this official organization, friends and relatives would gather before June 19 for a "cemetery working" day. Then on June 19, which is Emancipation Day, a crowd would gather to celebrate Freedom and to also honor their dead. Many of those resting in the cemetery are former slaves.

The first official "Memorial Day" held by the Birdston Valley Cemetery Association saw donations of $115.75. This amount enabled the Association to hire a caretaker. Mr. Isaiah Kelly no linger maintained the cemetery. He continues in that position in present day with the assistance of his wife, Mary Frances Robinson. Mary Francis is a direct descendant of Mingo and Nancy Burleson, former slaves of Joseph Burleson.

Present day officers of the cemetery Association are: Frank McMullen, Treasurer; Mary Frances Robinson, Secretary; Bessie Hamlett, President (now deceased); Izora Bolden, Vice-President (inactive due to health).

Compared to those beginning years, donations to the cemetery have increased dramatically. This past year (1985), a total of $303.27 was donated.

Future plans for the Cemetery Association include: (1) securing a historical marker, (2) completing the chain link fence to enclose the entirety of the grounds.

It should be noted for informative purposes that the cemetery is located very close to the new reservoir. Richland-Chambers Reservoirs now being constructed. Although Birdston Valley Cemetery will be only slightly affected, the Association is currently negotiating details to secure protection.

Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox