It was the kind of February day that sells winter visitors on Dallas, sunny and warm enough to ride my bike eight miles north on White Rock Creek Trail to a private cemetery I’d only just discovered.
With deep roots in Tennessee, I was blithely unaware that I had historic connections to the city I adopted in 1977, until retirement turned me toward genealogy. A decade into my research, I found kinfolk in Dallas County, never imagining they had been waiting for me at the far end of my regular biking route, in Mt. Calvary Cemetery on Valley View Lane.
To gain access to the gated graveyard, I called a local historian who steered me to a Huffhines descendant: in 1868, his ancestor donated two acres for the cemetery at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. (The re-named church moved to Richardson in 1885). He briefly quizzed me about my ancestry before sharing the secret code, warning me not to let the gate swing shut once I got inside. Else, he said, he would have to drive over to free me.
Of the almost 800 graves there, a large number belong to the Huffhines family, but my Pistole ancestors, perhaps by way of church membership, merited space on the grounds. The names engraved on their tombstones meant nothing to me on that first visit in February 2016, but subsequently, I’ve made an effort to acquaint myself with some of them…and to tell their stories.
The large Pistole clan, sired by William R. Pistole, formed in Smith County, Tennessee, and migrated around 1850 to Simpson County, Kentucky. From there, younger Pistoles took off for Grayson, Baylor, and Collin counties in North Texas; Dallas County drew at least nine Pistoles, the ones I found resting eternally at Mt. Calvary.
Tom Pistole, for example, arrived about 1900 and accepted work in a Dallas parking garage; ironically, he was run over by a car, his body found “horribly mangled” on Cedar Springs Road in 1935. He is buried next to his three siblings. Nearby is their uncle, Henry Thomas Pistole, whose marker speaks to the sadness attached to his early loss in 1886, at age 43.
His brother, Joseph Madison Pistole, a life-long farmer then in his 50's, left Kentucky sometime before 1910, settling in what is now the Carrollton/Addison area of Dallas County. He died at 74 from tuberculosis. Lying with him at Mt. Calvary is his wife of 48 years, Earie M. Pistole.
I stood a long time in front of their shared marker at Mt. Calvary considering that first name. Assuming it was pronounced “eerie,” it was an oddly appropriate place to encounter it for the first time. And it was enough to make me want to know more about her life.
Her full name was Earie Melvinia King, I later learned, and the first two names so confounded census takers that they’re spelled differently in every census between 1850 and 1930. She grew up on a farm near Franklin, Kentucky, one of 11 children born to Henderson King and Eliza Ashford, the fanciful mother who dubbed one daughter Cinderella (or Cindarilla) and a son Elvis; he preceded the other King named Elvis by almost 80 years.
Melvinia, as I imagine she preferred being called, showed moderation in naming her own five children: James Madison, Henderson King (after her father), Marietta, George, and Nora. All but Marietta grew to adulthood and were living in north Texas by 1910, possibly lured here by the cotton industry.
In July 1926, Melvinia had been a widow for six years when the three Pistole sons and their wives gathered to celebrate her 80th birthday at a dinner hosted by daughter Nora Pistole Jacobs in her Addison home. Also in attendance were Melvinia’s 87-year-old sister-in-law Loucetta Pistole Lanier, nephew Henry Pistole of Dallas, and Mrs. R.H. Pistole of Richardson, whose connection is unknown to me.
The Carrollton Chronicle reported the event, a party packed with Pistoles. Sadly, there were no Kings present. Of Melvinia’s three remaining siblings, two were months from their deaths, one in Kentucky, the other in Houston. Cinderella, the longest lived of the King siblings, had moved near Wichita Falls, but didn’t make the trip to Addison.
Were all the missing Kings on Melvinia’s mind that day? Birthdays can trigger time travel at any age, but especially as the years mount. On her 80th birthday, did Melvinia remember grandparents gathering, young parents lighting birthday candles, older siblings helping to blow them out? Was there one especially memorable birthday?
Did she think about July 25, 1864, the day she turned 18?
That was the July her handsome older brother, Dempsey, a private in Company D of the 2nd Tennessee Confederate Cavalry, suffered a loss in the Battle of Tupelo before rallying for a raid in Athens, Alabama. He didn’t know that his little sister, Bernettia, had died days before her 5th birthday, until receiving a letter from their brother, Joe, a private in the 22nd Tennessee Cavalry.
Then 25, Joe had been captured near Louisville, Kentucky, and sent to Camp Douglas (Illinois), one of the largest prisoner-of-war camps for Confederate soldiers. There, on July 24, 1864, he wrote to Dempsey and directed it to his brother via “flag of truce,” a sort of traveling post office for soldiers in the field.
…I am in good health hoping these few lines find you enjoying the same. Dempsey, it appears we are seperated untill peace is made but I hope not…I recieve a letter from home every week…Sister Bernettia is dead she died last March the rest is all well…Give my love to all the boys and tell them that I am as true as ever wore gray…you must be shure to wright. I remain your loving brother, Joseph King.
Dempsey was captured in December 1864 and sent to Alton (Illinois) Military Prison, where he was released four months later, having taken the oath of allegiance to the United States. He returned to his old Kentucky home; Joe was free in time to marry Nancy Hobdy on February 22, 1866.
It’s hard to imagine a more significant year in the life of the King family: a child’s death, a country at war, two brothers on the battlefield taken as prisoners of war. At 18, Melvinia absorbed these events — she didn’t make history, but she lived it — and in the years that followed, she married a man named Pistole, created babies and, in the sixth decade of her life, she moved to Texas.
I met Melvinia in a gated cemetery in Dallas, Texas, in the winter of 2016. She was just another name (albeit an odd one) carved on hundreds of blocks of stone. But, as is always true after spending time getting to know folks in graveyards, her name came to life.
The iron bars around Mt. Calvary Cemetery hold more than dead bodies; they hold hundreds of stories. I like to think that’s why there’s a secret code to get inside.
Notes: I’ve written five other stories on Medium about the Pistoles in North Texas. (To read them, click on the underlined name). The one called Parasetta Pistole is the most thorough history of the family’s migration from Virginia to Tennessee to Kentucky to Texas. Horribly Mangled uncovers the story of Tom Pistole’s death on Cedar Springs Road; Henry Thomas Pistole is about the Dallas veterinarian and inventor who married into the historic Floyd family. (He is not the Henry Thomas buried at Mt. Calvary). Melvinia’s son George plays a part in Shoots Father to Save Her Babe. The Schoolmarm focuses on the wife of Dr. Samuel Pistole, half-brother of Tom Pistole, and May Pistole looks at the Pistole family in McKinney, Texas.
Photographs of the King family are courtesy of kingerkim on ancestry.com.