Cemetery Rules

Just a few tombstones could be seen through the wildflowers at Cameron Pioneer Cemetery.

I visited nine cemeteries earlier this week, or should I say seven, because two were not accessible for two different reasons. Before I go into that, I’m going to highlight a couple of Texas Cemetery Laws. Most of the laws regarding historic cemeteries are in Chapters 711-715 of the Texas Health and Safety Code: Title 13, Part 2, Chapter 22 of the Texas Administrative Code; and sections of the Penal Code. No state agencies enforce cemetery laws; for that one most go to county or municipal law enforcement agencies.

Texas law requires that any person who wishes to visit a cemetery or private burial grounds where there is no public access shall have the right to reasonable ingress and egress over your property to visit the cemetery during reasonable hours. [Texas Health & Safety Code §711.041]. The law also provides a process for negotiating a written agreement between the property owner(s) and those wishing access to a cemetery without public access that would be filed with and enforced by the Texas Funeral Service Commission. [Texas Administrative Code §205.2]. It is a Class C misdemeanor if a person interferes with a “person’s reasonable right to ingress and egress under Section 711.041.”

Section 711.007 involves those cemeteries that are a “nuisance” — those that are not maintained or are neglected. A county district attorney can enjoin the continuance of a cemetery if it is (1) maintained, located, or used in violation of this chapter or Chapter 712; or (2)  neglected so that it is offensive to the inhabitants of the surrounding section.

On my trip this past week, I came across the first situation. The historic cemetery I wanted to visit, Fort Griffin Texas Ranger Cemetery in Bell County, has public access. There was a gate and obvious ingress and egress to the cemetery (which cannot be seen from the main road). However, a chain with two locks was affixed on the gate. Having driven far and long, I was disappointed. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to risk getting shot or thrown in jail for trespassing, and I didn’t really want to contact the local authorities. I figured that putting such a cemetery in my book would be counterproductive if the owners keep the gate locked at all times. I was there around 3:00 pm, a reasonable time for a cemetery visit.

Perhaps the property owners have discovered damage to the cemetery after public visits. I don’t know. Whatever the case, this cemetery and its interesting burials have been nixed from Texas pioneer cemeteries, and perhaps the owners of the property are fine with that.

The second situation was a pioneer cemetery in Cameron, Milam County. It was overgrown with leftover wildflowers and weeds that were waist and chest high. Several cemeteries I’ve visited had wildflowers, but they were at most calf high and looked lovely around the gravestones. I was afraid of snakes and other critters hiding in the overgrowth which covered the entire cemetery in Cameron, so I opted out of going in, although I took some photos from outside the fence. This second situation doesn’t rise to the problem of nuisance or neglect. I think I just visited at the wrong time. Surely someone will clear out the weeds soon. However, with so many cemeteries to cover in Texas, I will not be able to make it back to this cemetery, and so, unless one of my contacts there sends photos, it will likely not be included in the book.

I learned a valuable lesson on this research trip. Call in advance.