Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - Sunday, May 4, 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Weeping Mary home to 29
in Cherokee County, Texas
Polk County Enterprise - May 2008
Few town names in East Texas attract as much curiosity as Weeping Mary, a 140-year-old black community hidden away in the deep woods of western Cherokee County. Located on County Road 2907, off Tex- as Highway 21, five miles west of Alto, Weeping Mary was first settled after the Civil War by freed slaves from neighboring plantations. Its name reportedly came from the 20th chapter of John, where Mary goes to the tomb of Jesus after he was crucified: “...and when she had thus said, she turned herself back and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was not Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou. Whom seekest thou...” After settling in the woods, the first effort of the free slaves of Weeping Mary was to establish a Baptist church, the Church of Weeping Mary, which has expanded over the years.
The next effort of the slaves was to establish a school in 1896, when it had an enrollment of about 40. The school, however, was closed around the time of World War II and, today, the few children of the community are bussed to schools in Alto. In the 1960s, we visited with Newell Ross, 60, a deacon in the church with his brothers, David and Richmond. “A long time ago, our church stood on a hill two or three miles up the Neches River from here. Then the deacons decided to move it down here, between Boles and White Oak creeks. Pretty soon, lots of folks moved around the church. Now, we have about 200 people living here,” said Ross. Life at Weeping Mary hasn’t been complicated by a city government, a business district, fraternal orders or a post office, but it is surrounded by history. It rests on the back side of the Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site, which comprises the southwesternmost ceremonial center of the Caddoan people who flourished on the western edge of the woodlands of eastern North America between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 1550.
The site near Weeping Mary consists of three large earthen mounds as well as a large portion of a prehistoric village. Because of its proximity, the Caddoan people likely lived and wandered over what would become Weeping Mary. Not far away is another historic site, the campsite of Zebulon Pike, who camped here with his men in 1807. Under commission from General James Wilkinson, governor of the Louisiana Territory, the Pike party carried out an expedition to explore the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers and to report on Spanish settlements in the New Mexico area. Heading west from present-day Colorado, where the party saw the mountain later named Pike’s Peak for the expedition’s leader, the explorers were arrested by Spanish authorities.
Under escort back to the United States, the party camped near what would become Weeping Mary on June 14, 1807. The Pike expedition furnished an important account of Spanish Texas and New Mexico. Weeping Mary is also within walking distance of El Camino Real, also known as the King’s Highway and the Old Spanish Trail. In East Texas, the highway (now Texas Highway 21) runs from the Sabine River through Milam, San Augustine, Nacogdoches, and Alto before reaching the Neches River and continuing westward to Crockett and, eventually, San Antonio. Today, Weeping Mary is a cluster of rural homes reached by a rare iron bridge spanning a creek shaded by tall oaks. Nothing much happens here, but residents still remember a flood in 1957 when they had water 18 inches deep in their homes. “Like the Bible’s Mary, we wept, but we’re still here, thank the Lord,” said an elderly woman.
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Asssociaiton. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 38 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bobbowman. com.