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Group unveils markers for 2 gravesites

By Kristopher Banks
Baytown Sun
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Published May 23, 2005

ANAHUAC — For decades, those wishing to visit the gravesites of historic Chambers County figures Robert and Florence Mae Swinney could not. On Sunday, however, they could not only see the sites, but also meet them in person — thanks to some actors.

The Chambers County Historical Commission unveiled new monuments at the recently discovered gravesites of the Swinneys at the Anahuac Cemetery and also held the first of what they say will be several historical re-enactments.

Bob Wheat, chairman of the commission, played Robert Swinney. Swinney was the former county treasurer, justice of the peace, Anahuac postmaster and deputy sheriff who died in 1931. Karla Dean played his wife, who died in 1929. Both

were dressed in period costumes.

Commission vice chairman Bob Scherer, who also is county district clerk, said some members of the commission began studying the Swinneys but could not find their gravesites. The markers could have been made of wood and rotted, among other possibilities, Jackson said.

Members located a map of the cemetery and found the unmarked site. They determined there were bodies buried there, and the commission bought headstones for the Swinneys.

Jackson told the story of a woman who married the love of her life, but felt isolated on the South Chambers County ranch until they moved to Anahuac, where they prospered both financially and socially.

Wheat told the story of a man who got involved in politics and then business. Swinney not only held a few elected offices in the early 20th century, but he also was a major shareholder in The Progress, a city newspaper still in operation, and Chambers County State Bank.

Swinney’s story segued into a big project on the horizon of the historical commission: locating the body of Sheriff John Frost.

Wheat told in gruesome detail about how Swinney was one of the last people to see Frost, the only sheriff in county history to die in the line of duty. Frost stayed with the Swinneys in 1900 the night before he attempted to evict three squatters at the Smith Point estate of Col. W.L. Moody.

Swinney, a deputy sheriff, offered to help, but Frost refused, saying he wanted to end rumors that he was afraid of the squatters.

“Little did I know he was headed to his doom,” said Wheat as Swinney.

Residents found his horse with a bloodied saddle the next day.

The squatters admitted to the murder, but told conflicting stories on the location of the body. The body was not found before the trial, and the case was thrown out.

Later, a body was found in the mud on the coast of East Bay. The sheriff had a distinguishing feature: he was missing fingers on one hand. That hand on the body, however, was hacked off, Wheat said.

Scherer said the commission hopes to find the body and identify it conclusively. They believe it might be in the pauper’s section of a cemetery in Wallisville. They might be able to use modern technology, such as DNA evidence, to identify the body.

“Someday, we hope the body will come forward and be given a Christian burial,” Wheat said.

Scherer said the commission hopes to hold more of the re-enactments at various cemeteries in Chambers County.

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