In the quiet of the morning the wind rustles the leaves of trees that tower overhead. Light filters down, illuminating a bronze marker bearing the last name Smith. Small American flags adorn the grave and four other graves that house the remains of veterans of the Civil War.
Nestled at the back of what is now Rose Lawn Memorial Park in Gresham, Smith Cemetery serves as the final resting place for some of East Texas’ early pioneers including veterans, farmers, a reverend, jailer and county commissioner.
In an attempt to honor these pioneers the Baty family, of Tyler, has made it its mission to restore and preserve this slice of East Texas history.
“These people came from all over to settle this land for us,” Bettye Baty said. “If they weren’t courageous enough to start a new way of life, we wouldn’t be here today.”
“It was a little bit of an adventure trying to find it,” Ms. Baty said. “When we went to where the cemetery was supposed to be we couldn’t find it. It was pretty grown up.”
After asking people along the road about the site, Ms. Baty tracked down the owner of the land who brought her to the cemetery.
In early 2001, spurred by their personal connection to the spot and an instilled value of preservation, the Batys began an intense restoration of the cemetery, which was in disrepair due to ice storms, cattle grazing and decades of neglect.
Because of Ms. Baty’s efforts, the site was designated as a historic cemetery in 2004 by the State of Texas Historical Society. A plaque commemorating this status was erected in 2006 and revealed in a ceremony attended by descendents of those in the cemetery and Mayor Barbara Bass.
“They have done a tremendous job,” Danny Saleh, one of the owners of Rose Lawn Memorial Park said. “This is really a mission for this family. People dedicate themselves to different things and they have made a pact to take care of it.”
Ms. Baty also raised funds to install four bronze markers for the cemetery’s Civil War veterans. The markers were revealed in a ceremony attended by the R. B. Levy Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy from Longview, of which Ms. Baty is a member.
Lee Roy Baty passed away last June. With permission from the owners of Rose Lawn Memorial Park, he was buried in Smith Cemetery with his family, and is now the site’s sixth veteran. Lee Roy Baty served in the Korean War and was instrumental in founding the East Texas Korean War Veterans, Chapter 286, which now bears his name.
“Sometimes we have burials here with veterans and people will call up the Korean veterans and they will come with guns and a bugle and they will go through the salutes and play taps and all of that,” Saleh said. “It’s really pretty impressive and they all remember Lee Roy Baty. He was the guy that started it.”
A wooden fence marks the front of the one acre plot, which has now been cleared of the brush, briars and other obstructive vegetation that once entangled the area. In recognition of Memorial Day, red, white and blue banners hang along the fence and a wreath of red flowers with coordinating ribbon welcomes visitors as they enter.
The Batys have plans to further enhance the cemetery, including turning it into a garden cemetery complete with benches and pathways for visitors to enjoy.
“These people paved the way for us,” Gary Baty said. “I think we’re here and I’m doing this because of the great people they were. I think it’s just handed down in the bloodline.”