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What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards

Our beautiful visit with a long-time-ago friend brought charming remembrances, intriguing history and a fascinating new book.

Dodie and I recently had lunch with Cynthia Leal Massey to catch up and discuss her new book, What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards, being released today (August 1, 2021).

Our lunch was at the regionally renown El Chapparal Mexican Restaurant within the nearby hills of Helotes. A growing town in the northwest San Antonio metropolitan area, the city is known for Floore Country Store (Willie, Waylon and other legends have–and continue to perform–at this famous Hill Country dance hall.

Many of our trips into the Alamo City include a stop off at Old Town Helotes (antiques, quaint shops and plenty of charm are worthy) so Dodie can buy a bag of her favorite, Helotes Blend at the Texas Grounds Coffee shop.

Cindy is a popular figure in the area, a local historian, journalist and 14-year city council member. Her research has prompted the official designation of U.S. Historical Marker status at sites and buildings in the area.

This lunch was special for us, not only due to Cindy being a sponsor of CleverJourneys, but because she and Dodie had not seen each other in over 40 years.

Cindy and Dodie were in Student Council together back in their senior class days at McCollum High School in south San Antonio. Cindy and I also worked on the Chanter, our school’s newspaper staff (I was in the class ahead of them).

Dodie on the left. Cynthia on the right. 1973

We agreed the three of us shared commonality traits of being studious, spirited, dependable and “absolutely brilliant.” LOL.

None of us really hung around in a particular clique. “We were all over the place,” noted Dodie. “Sports, clubs, assorted activities and involvement.”

I recall Cindy being contemplative, industrious and thoughtful. She remembered me always “having a camera in your hand everywhere you went.”

Fortunately, Dodie knows that even though I may not be typing, “he’s always writing in his head. Always.”

“As the old saying goes,” Cindy laughed. “Writers write.”

It was enjoyable being around a fellow writer for a couple of hours.

I sensed the familiar enthusiasm and excitement as Cindy told us about her current novel in progress. It’s based on a true story, tentatively titled “Fowl Water,” a literary mystery about the 1958  murder of a South Texas turkey breeder.

My father, a homicide detective for the San Antonio Police Department, considered the events surrounding the crime quite legendary.

I’m looking forward to reading it as I’m more than halfway into her fascinating “Death of a Texas Ranger” chronicle of murder and vegence in the Texas frontier. It’s especially intriguing because we live in the area where much of the events occurred.

So what is Cindy’s new book about? Here is Amazon’s description:

Unearth the Mysteries of Those Who Lie Beneath the Oldest Graveyards in the Lone Star State

Texas, the second largest state, both in land mass and population, has more than 50,000 cemeteries, graveyards, and burial grounds. As the final resting places of those whose earthly journey has ended, they are also repositories of valuable cultural history.

The pioneer cemeteries—those from the 19th century—provide a wealth of information on the people who settled Texas during its years as a Republic (1836-1845), and after it became the 28th state in 1845.

In What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards, author Cynthia Leal Massey exhumes the stories of these pioneers, revealing the intriguing truth behind the earliest graveyards in the Lone Star State, including some of its most ancient.

This guide also provides descriptions of headstone features and symbols, and demystifies the burial traditions of early Texas pioneers and settlers.

About the Author

Cynthia Leal Massey combines her background in journalism and love of history to write award-winning historical fiction and nonfiction.

A former corporate editor, college instructor, and magazine editor, she has published hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles and several books.

She is a recipient of a Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award for Western Nonfiction and a San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award for her book “Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier.”

She was a winner of the Lone Star Award for Magazine Journalism given by the Houston Press Club for “Is UT Holding Our History Hostage?” published in Scene in SA magazine. One judge wrote: “In her exhaustive look at the unique battle over the Bexar Archives, writer Cynthia Leal Massey manages to make history come alive, filled with dark plots and do-gooders of yesteryear, and allusions to cattle rustling and murder and more.”

The article was also a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters O. Henry Award for Best Work of Magazine Journalism.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry called her novel, ” The Caballeros of Ruby, Texas,” a vivid picture of the Rio Grande Valley as it was fifty years ago [and] a very good read.”

Born and raised on the south side of San Antonio, Texas, Massey has resided in Helotes, twenty miles northwest of the Alamo City, since 1994. A full-time writer, she is a past president of Women Writing the West.

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CLICK HERE for Cynthia Leal Massey’s new book, “What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards”

4 replies »

  1. This is so cool, Jack. I didn’t know Cynthia well in high school, but what a fascinating career she’s had. I’m going to look for her books. Thanks! JK

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I will check this book out. Texas history calls again. I remember the exact year and almost the day that I became a Texas history nerd. Second grade at George C. Clark Elementary, Fort Worth Texas 1957. I checked out the book “Texas History Movies.” It was more the comic book style than the information that drew me in. I kept that book the entire year, and now own a copy signed by the author.

    Liked by 1 person

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