BY GREG PEAK
LIVINGSTON – Despite cold, windy weather, area residents turned out force Saturday to pay tribute to local residents who helped create the Republic of Texas in 1836.
While Monday, March 2, was officially Texas Independence Day – the day Texas formally severed ties with Mexico – the Polk County Historical Commission (PCHC) held their formal observance Saturday.
Originally slated to be held at the Old City Cemetery, the weather forced PCHC leaders to move the ceremonies into the Central Baptist Church. The move was not far because the church is located immediately north of the cemetery across East Polk Street.
The local observance paid tribute to people who had settled in the Polk County area before, during and immediately after the Texas Revolution with the principal focus on two men -- Moses L. Choate, who came to this area in 1835 and founded the community of Springfield, and Thaxton L. Epperson, who served during the Texas Revolution, the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.
Both men are buried in the Old City Cemetery and special wreaths were placed by their graves as part of Saturday's ceremonies.
During the program, history teacher Greg Helm portrayed Choate and outlined the man's history to the audience.
Born in 1794, Choate came to what would become Polk County in 1835 when he obtained a grant from the Mexican government for a league of land – or 4,428 acres. Together with his sister and brother-in-law, Elizabeth of John James, Choate built his home here and created the Springfield community.
In 1840, his four-year-old son, Josephus, died and Choate buried him on a hill overlooking his home. That hill would become the Old City Cemetery. Six years later, another son, Rodolphus, died at the age of six and was buried next to his brother.
A third son, Rufus, grew to adulthood but died at the age of 21 in 1863 at the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga as a member of Company B, First Texas Infantry, Hood's Brigade. Although he was buried in Georgia, a Confederate memorial marker was placed in the Old City Cemetery near that of Josephus and Rodolphus.
In 1846, shortly after the Republic of Texas was annexed into the U.S., the first state legislature created Polk County and a number of local communities sought to become the seat of the government. If officials would pick Springfield, Choate offered the new county 100 acres of land. The land could then be subdivided into city lots and sold by the county to raise funds.
The offer was accepted and the name of the new county seat was changed to Livingston, in honor of the city of Choate's birth, Livingston, Tenn.
Also recognized during Saturday's ceremony was Epperson and one of his direct descendants, Mary Goodwin, was on hand to outline his history. Goodwin currently serves as the District IV Representative of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
Born in Kentucky in 1816, at the age of 16 Epperson served as a military courier in Illinois during the Black Hawk War. He moved to Texas with his older sister and her husband in 1835 and became one of the first 17 men to purchase a lot in the Swartwout community on the Trinity River southwest of present-day Livingston. After coming to the area, he met and was befriended by Sam Houston who commissioned him as a captain in the Texas militia during the Texas Revolution.
After the Republic of Texas was annexed and a war with Mexico erupted, Epperson joined the Second Texas Mounted Volunteers as a lieutenant and was wounded in 1846 when U.S. forces stormed the city of Monterrey in Mexico.
In 1863, Epperson – now in his late 40s – again went to war when he joined the Confederate States Army as a private and was stationed at Sabine Pass.
Before his death in 1904, he served as a Polk County commissioner for six years, as a constable for four years and as a deputy sheriff for another two.
During the program, PCHC Chairman Patricia Snook noted the Old City Cemetery was the final resting place for 42 Republic of Texas citizens, four veterans of the Mexican-American War and 46 men who served during the Civil War.
"There are 245 known burials in the cemetery," she said. "Unfortunately, many graves have been lost to the years and today there are only 167 visible tombstones."
Snook also publicly thanked the City of Livingston for its efforts to clean up the cemetery grounds, removing dead trees and underbrush and installing a handicapped accessible entry off Polk Street. She also acknowledged the work of PCHC members, the Livingston Lions Club and other volunteers who have been working to clean the old tombstones. Corky Cochran of Cochran Funeral Home also was cited for helping straighten the tombstones.
In another moving part of the ceremony, the names of the Republic of Texas citizens and the Mexican and Civil War veterans who are buried in the cemetery were read aloud by Cochran, who also serves as the chief of the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department. As each name was read, a fire bell was rung in tribute.
At the start of the program, Whitney Sage Williams and Stephanie Williams of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas presented the invocation by both singing and performing in Indian sign language the Lord's Prayer.
Boy Scout Pack 97 presented the Texas colors and an honor guard from the Livingston High School Junior Reserve Office Corps (JROTC) presented the U.S. colors.