Postcard from the Coker Settlement: Book-birthing Celebration

Photos accompanying September 8, 2019, book review by Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express-News

Spencer has done a masterful job of sifting through a mass of cemetery and other records, finding the threads of family stories, which she has woven together with great care. They reflect the triumphs and travails of the early settlers and their descendants in what was without doubt, at first, a very tough territory….

What makes this book of exceptional interest for anyone with a deep love for and interest in Texas history is the way Spencer relates the family sagas of the early settlers within the larger dynamics of settlement and colonization in early Mexican Texas and after the Texas Revolution.

We learn in detail of the great challenges faced by empresarios Stephen F. Austin, Henri Castro, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels and John O. Meusebach. We learn as well of the settlers who were Mormons and their challenges in the face of intense prejudice in much of what was then the United States.

Most of all, we learn of the interrelatedness of all the families who made up the Coker Settlement, who overcame their cultural and national differences to become, in their own way, Texans and, in time, San Antonians. Spencer deserves considerable credit for the extraordinary amount of detail she provides about the lives of so many settlers, whom she lists at the end of each chapter.

Theirs is a very poignant history, for in time the Great Depression and new sanitation regulations did much to decimate the local dairy industry. Land that was once dotted with dairy farms and their hardworking owners was sold and cleared for tract home developments, schools, the new San Antonio International Airport and malls — and the early settlers were forgotten.

Thanks to Spencer, though, their stories are now well recovered and hopefully will live on for generations to come.

Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express-News, September 8, 2019

Thanks to Ed Conroy for making time to review Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement.

Please try to join us for the celebration of the publication from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at The Twig Book Shop at Pearl.

Postcard from the Coker Settlement: Following long gestation, book finally due to arrive

haunting the graveyard

cover designed by Andréa Caillouet; cover photo courtesy of Virginia Heimer Ohlenbusch

Birthing a book can be a long process, but to say the gestation period for Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement has proved elephantine is no exaggeration. A female elephant’s pregnancy only lasts two years. This birth has taken much longer.

But labor has been induced, and the hefty 400-page baby will be delivered at 5 p.m. for a signing/reading celebration at The Twig Book Shop at the Pearl on Tuesday, September 10.

A lady’s handbag was my first introduction to the Coker Settlement more than a decade ago. As I sat on the carpet of a conference room on the 30th floor of a downtown office building surrounded by stacks of ephemera-filled boxes, the purse was the first thing to catch my eye. So I opened it. The pocketbook belonged to Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker (1904-2000).

last farm standing on buttermilk hillMy nosiness was at the invitation of attorney Banks Smith, a trustee of the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund. I continued digging through those boxes for some time, uncovering the couple’s relationships with the dairy farmers clustered around them. That led to the 2010 birth of Haunting the Graveyard’s older sibling – Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voelcker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park.

Many of those who lived around the Coker Settlement, including Minnie and Max, remained neighbors after their deaths. They were buried in intimate groupings under the spreading live oaks of the Coker Cemetery. The trustees of the Coker Cemetery Association approached me to write a prequel/sequel of sorts to Last Farm to chronicle the lives of more of these early residents.

I revisited the cemetery. Inconspicuously tucked away north of Loop 410 and in the shadow of Wurzbach Parkway, it appeared so peaceful. The Coker Cemetery contains the graves of more than 600 people, but I assumed I already was well acquainted with them from my work on the first book. So my answer was yes.

I failed to heed the obvious warning signs – several Texas Ranger and Texas Historical markers indicating this turf is fertile with tales. At first their “voices” were mere whispered tidbits here and there. As I poked through mountains of information and interviewed their descendants, more and more of the occupants of those graves seemed to be shouting at me to include them. I heeded the call of as many as possible while trying to remain sane.

So in the near future, expect an invitation to make their acquaintance.* You will encounter some heart-breaking tragedies, a bit of mayhem and even an unsolved murder as their lives unfold in Haunting the Graveyard. Whether focused on the good or skeletons that popped out of the closet, the stories are shared with love for the entire community of farmers I have come to know over the past decade.

haunting the graveyard photos
lila banks cockrell, phil hardberger, scott j. baird*In addition to availability at The Twig Book Shop at the signing, pre-publication orders are being accepted now at Material Media Press.

August 4, 2019, Update: An interactive companion index of people inhabiting the pages of this book helps readers understand how they relate to the family patriarch, Joseph Coker (1799-1881). The list can be accessed now for those who want to know if any information about their particular relatives can be found inside. To check the list, click here: http://cokercemetery.com/pdfs/coker_settlement_index.pdf.

Here is a shorter glimpse of surnames mentioned:

2018 Roundup: Remember Alamo Plaza

Every six months this blogger reviews what posts people have been reading most during the past year.

San Antonians’ Alamoobsessiveness was ignited by the state’s determination to fence in a designated city park – Alamo Plaza. Related posts dominate this year-end list. A battle lost. Time to move on as the plaza’s fate appears sealed. Hopefully the New Year will bring glad tidings about preserving historic landmarks on the west side of the plaza.

On a more upbeat note, cannot wait for the completion of Margarita Cabrera’s “Arbol de la Vida: Voces de Tierra” on the river near Mission San Francisco de la Espada.

The following list represents the posts you clicked on most, with the numbers in parentheses representing rankings from six months ago:

  1. Alamo CEO applying armtwisting pressure to secure gated plaza, 2018
  2. Forging consensus for the Alamo Comprehensive Plan: Don’t fence us out, 2018 (2)
  3. ‘Tree of Life’ bears bountiful crop of tales from the past, 2018 (4)
  4. King William Home Tour: Historic houses whisper stories of early residents, 2018

    523 King William Street, riverside

  5. The Madarasz murder mystery: Might Helen haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (1)
  6. Please put this song on Tony’s pony, and make it ride away, 2010 (5)
  7. Street art entices venturing under the overpass, 2018 
  8. Marilyn Lanfear buttons up a collection of family stories, 2018
  9. Centenarian Santa still burning bright, 2018 
  10. Postcard from Rome, Italy: A numbers game sparked by the baths, 2018
  11. Postcard from Mexico City: Shimmering with colorful experiences, 2018
  12. Postcard from Genoa, Italy: Hey, don’t knock the peanuts, 2018

Thanks for visiting and your patience with my wanderings via this blog.

Would love to hear from you, so please feel free to “chat back” some. Every post has a comment box at the bottom.

All tuckered out now. Thinking I might need a post-eve-celebration nap.

Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Genoa, Italy

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! (my trusty friend)
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, (good-will draught)
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

“Auld Lang Syne,” Robert Burns, 1788