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Some History of Dido Cemetery

by
Frances Beeson Smith (ca 1970)

 

Dido was the name of an early day village and community in northwestern Tarrant County, situated on a high hill overlooking the valley of the West Fork of the Trinity River, now occupied by Eagle Mountain Lake. The little town was given the name Dido sometime between 1850 and 1855 by an itinerant Latin and Greek scholar and Penmanship teacher, honoring Dido, the famed mythological Queen of Carthage. The little village vanished with the building of the Rock Island Railroad in 1892-1893, when most of the store buildings were moved to the new railroad town of Newark. From the beginning of the village Dido, the nearby cemetery which served the village and a wide surrounding area has been known as Dido Cemetery.

The first authenticated record of residents of the Dido community is that of the Dave Thurmond family who arrived from Virginia in the summer of 1848. They traveled in two or more covered wagons and settled in the rich Trinity River bottom land, just west of the present site of the cemetery. This family took up 640 acres of state land in 1856. This same family owned the land until 1918. Seven generations of Thurmonds have attended the Dido Cemetery annual meetings. 

The Dido Cemetery is located on Farm Road 1220 about four miles south of Newark, and sixteen miles northwest of Fort Worth. Old trails and stage lines crossed where the early village of Dido was located. A stagecoach carrying mail came from Birdville through Dido and Ashland on it’s way to Aurora. Peden Road crossed the Trinity bringing travelers from Azle, Peden and Reno to the west. From the east came the road (present farm road 4038) which brought people from Haslet, Avondale and Saginaw communities as well as Fort Worth. 

Three soldiers, two brothers named Nix and a Negro companion, returning from the Civil War in 1865, took refuge at the Thurmond home. All three were very ill and unable to travel further. The received solicitous care from the Thurmond family, but in spite of this, all three soon died. They were buried in a corn field on or near the present burial ground. A few others graves were already there, but were marked only by sandstones scattered among the corn rolls to be hidden from curious Indians. 

The first marked grave at Dido Cemetery is that of Amanda Thurmond, infant daughter of J.A. (Jimmy) Thurmond, dated April 19, 1878 - Oct. 29, 1879. She was the twin sister of Mary Thurmond Hill, April 19, 1878 - Dec. 18, 1942. Mary was the wife of Allen Hill of Newark. The earliest birth date recorded on a headstone at Dido is that of Elizabeth Napier Thurmond, born in 1808 and died in 1899. She was the wife of Dave Thurmond and grandmother of the above mentioned twins. 

The land for the cemetery was donated by Dempsey S. Holt and Dr. Isaac Lycurgus Van Zant. As we have seen, the land had been used as a burial site since the arrival of the earliest settlers in the area. According to Tarrant County records, Dempsey S. Holt and his wife Florence deeded three acres of land “to be used for the purposes of a cemetery and for church purposes, without regard to denomination, and for the purposes of a school, to be public or private school as shall be determined by the trustees from time to time”.  This deed was dated July 23, 1887, the land being conveyed to the trusteeship of Tarrant County Judge Sam Furman. An additional part of an acre was likewise deeded by Dr. Isaac L. Van Zandt for the same purposes as mentioned by Dempsey S. Holt, but conveyed to Tarrant County Judge George W. Armstrong as trustee. The deed bears the date of Dec. 28, 1894.

Little is known of Dempsey S. Holt. He was the son of W.W. Holt and was one of nine children. The family moved from Upshur County, Texas to White Settlement in Tarrant County where they acquired a large track of land. Mr. Dempsey S. Holt no doubt bought his farm in Dido in the late 1870’s or early 1880’s. Two of his sisters were Mrs. Ella Young and Miss Sadie Holt, who taught at Dido School in 1885. She was also one of Fort Worth’s earliest school teachers. Mr. King Wright bought the Dempsey Holt farm in 1889, and Mr Holt subsequently moved his family to Dallas. His death date and burial place are unknown. 

Dr. Isaac Lycurgus Van Zandt was the son of Isaac Van Zandt who represented the Republic of Texas in Washington from 1842-1848, and helped bring about the annexation of Texas to the United States. Dr. Van Zandt was born near Marshall, Texas in 1840. He died in Fort Worth, Texas in 1935 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. 

Dr. Van Zandt served in the confederate Army and was captured at Fort Donelson in 1862. He was soon exchanged and served in the hospital corps until the end of the Civil War. He was a medical doctor, having graduated from Tulane University. He came to Fort Worth in 1868 after having practiced medicine in Dallas for a year. His first home in Fort Worth was at 612 Throckmorton St., the present site of First Christian Church.

About 1875 Dr. Van Zandt purchased a farm immediately south of and adjourning the old burial ground at Dido. He was the only practicing physician in the vicinity of Dido for some twenty years before returning to Fort Worth to live, but retaining his farm at Dido. He brought the first microscope to Fort Worth. He was one of the organizers of the Texas Medical Association and was the first president of the Tarrant County Medical Society, organized in 1903.

The persons buried in the Dido Cemetery are mainly the descendants of the early families in the area. Families moving into the area since the pioneer period have found a beautiful and peaceful place for the resting places of their loved ones and their descendants. The area has been settled in the main by Anglo-Saxon Americans and it is their burial ground. People from all faiths have been buried as no one has been excluded. Soldiers from all the wars beginning with the Civil War have been buried at Dido.

The list of names from the headstones compiled for the Dido History Book, 1972, including the 1958 DAR list shows about 650 marked graves. Since 1972 there have been approximately 100 burials. There is every reason to believe that there are at least another 150 lost or unmarked graves, many dating back to the earliest burials, making a possible total of 950 to 1000 graves.

In 1874 Erasmus G. Thurmond served as postmaster at Dido, as revealed by the National Archives in Washington.

In 1875 Dido was described as being well established, with a voting population of 55 and a one teacher school of 43 students. In a foregoing paragraph we stated that Miss Sadie Holt taught a subscription school at Dido in 1885. Montgomery Harman taught in a one room county school on the cemetery grounds in 1887-1888. The school house was also used for a community Sunday School, for Bible classes, hymn singing, and occasional preaching. In later years the Methodist and Baptist alternated in using the building for services. A large two room County school replaced the old building about 1914. The Methodist and Baptist continued to share the new building until after the school was consolidated with the Eagle Mountain School in 1947. Both religious groups eventually built their own church buildings in the vicinity and the county school building was torn down. What had been the school play ground became a part of the burial ground and the cemetery parking area. The association between the cemetery, school and churches had complied with the restrictions in the Holt and Van Zandt deeds until the school building was abandoned and the church groups moved away as community growth had required.

In the early days families cared for their own grave sites themselves, but set aside a Saturday in the spring for a general cleanup and beautification of the cemetery. This was referred to as “Graveyard Workin’”. Every family brought tools and all pitched in and helped each other. They brought basket lunches which they spread under the ancient oaks. It was a day of pleasure in meeting friends and neighbors and working together in that great spirit of neighborliness, sharing and helpfulness of the early pioneers. During the Depression Years, a caretaker was employed to “keep the cemetery”. These men worked for whatever small amounts could be collected at the annual homecoming, which was set for the last Sunday in April. In 1945 the sum of $156.00 was collected to pay the caretaker. After taht time, as economic conditions improved, the cemetery work became to be operated as a matter of public interest and in a more businesslike manner. 

The present Dido Cemetery Association was not legally organized until 1946 when the Texas State Charter was obtained “to establish, maintain, manage and improve a public cemetery, including the selling of lots or parts of lots for burial purposes”. The first directors were Howard Thompson, C.P. Shirley, A.L. Ansley, Ben Jackson and Claud Bishop. In 1971 the Board of Directors under the chairmanship of C.N. Harvey obtained a deed of all the land described in the original Holt and Van Zandt deeds, conveying said property from Tarrant County Judge Howard Green to the Dido Cemetery Association. 

The Dido Cemetery is still serving the descendants of the pioneer settlers and many others who have moved into the area. The Cemetery Association has an active forward looking leadership. Deeply dedicated to the care, improvement and future of the cemetery. There is a membership list of about 500 people representing nearly every state in the Union, and one very interested contributor who lives in Tripoli, Libya.

Pioneer settlers together with those who are laid to rest at Dido were men and women who were a part of that great westward movement that began in the fifteenth century and culminated in the building of a new nation. The movement was in part a search for gold, precious stones, land or opportunity. The movement was also more, something greater. It was the dream of freedom, a dream of accomplishment, of overcoming impossible obstacles, of overcoming weakness in self, and thereby gaining self-knowledge and faith in one’s own abilities. This dream made these people strong and fearless in the face of danger, all kinds of hardships and bitter toil. It was a dream of peace and with most, a search for a place to worship their God freely, for they had a deep and abiding recognition that the Almighty went with them, and without Him their searches, their dreams, their labors were in vain and their strength weak.

It is right and necessary that in this time of confusion, weakness, fear for the future and little faith that we look back and gain strength for ourselves from the dreams of our forebears --- and memorialize their dreams, strengths and faith by erecting a Texas Historical Marker.