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:

How’s the GLO managing Alamo Plaza? Welcome to the faux Alamo.

Oft-criticized for its failure to curb commercialism on Alamo Plaza, the City of San Antonio turned management of the historic city park over to the Texas General Land Office.

Millions of people presumably have passed through there since then, and the first thing most see is a caboose-red, shiny metal, faux Alamo Welcome Center. There in the middle of the plaza where there used to be a small table stand with an umbrella shading a vendor of icy cold raspas. It was 99 degrees when I was there, and I definitely would have found a snow cone more welcoming.

Anyway, visitors first glimpse of the distinctive Alamo-shaped parapet is on this booth. Why? Well, that’s obvious. It’s shiny red, and the Alamo with its ancient limestone walls pales by comparison. The Alamo might be free, but the Alamo prefers you to pay for headsets or tours. It requires the bold red to make sure you do not miss the opportunity.

protester with pitifully inadequate #NoFauxAlamo sign

Oh, there’s the real Alamo, along with protester with pitifully inadequate #NoFauxAlamo sign.

While the General Land Office deems the stately Cenotaph nearby as inappropriate for the battlefield site, the powers that be evidently consider this carnivalesque booth a perfect fit.

In case you somehow manage to miss the warm welcome this booth extends to you, there are other signs strategically placed around the plaza.

And there is the opportunity to purchase a photo taken right up close by the Alamo door.

But the appropriateness of the tenant mix and their appearance on the west side of Alamo Plaza was top among the complaints aired by many, and supposedly the state solved that with the General Land Office’s purchase of a row of historical buildings there. A new Alamo Museum is envisioned for the area.

In the meantime, millions of visitors pass by. Strangely, among the most flagrant violators of the sign ordinance governing the Alamo Plaza Historic District (view signage codes here) is the Official San Antonio Visitor Center, with flamboyant advertisements completely covering one its windows. And the Del Sol Color Change shop located next door to the Official The Alamo Store. The GLO evidently is not able to request its tenants abide by tasteful signage regulations.

But, hey, one can never have too many signs addressing Alamo Plaza. So both the San Antonio Visitor Information Center and the Official The Alamo Store plop illegal signage boards right in the middle of the sidewalk.

As a final pictorial update to how the Texas General Land Office is managing one of San Antonio’s most treasured plazas, there is this mysterious Christo-like treatment between the Alamo Chapel and the Menger. I peeked in and could determine no function, but it does arouse one’s curiosity.

Welcome to the improved (?) version of Alamo Plaza.

June 27, 2019, Update: A portion of this post was published in The Rivard Report.