It’s hard to imagine a small boy having such a grand moniker, but Ephraim Geoffrey Peyton (1802–1876) lived up to its promise. Born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, he married Artemisia “Ina” Patton, moved to Mississippi and switched from teaching school to practicing law. He spent his last years behind the bench, ultimately serving as chief justice of the Mississippi supreme court.
Judge Peyton admired his name enough to pass it along to one of his many children. The second Ephraim Geoffrey Peyton (1846–1889) fought for the Confederacy before settling into judicial robes of his own. The third Ephraim Geoffrey Peyton (1876–1950) inherited his father’s military bent: The brigadier general retired with a chest full of medals and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Although the name “Ephraim Peyton” appears twice on a large stone in section five of Dallas’s historic Oakland Cemetery, it’s likely neither the patriarch nor his namesake son (nor his grandson, for that matter) ever saw Texas. They are memorialized on a cenotaph — a monument to those buried elsewhere — to provide context for the members of the Peyton family who not only came to Texas, but lived in Dallas.
It reads: In memory of Ephraim and Artemisia Peyton and family of Copiah Co., Miss, five of whom died in infancy and nine lived to be grown namely Martin, Emily, Laura, Artemisia, Octavia, Ephraim, Burroughs, Robert and Philip. Four sleep in Texas. All are waiting upon the sure and precious promise of God. A.D. 1921.
The cenotaph was erected on a lot purchased by Philip Peyton, one of the four said to “sleep in Texas.” In 1880, all four siblings resided above ground in Dallas. The oldest was Artemisia (b. 1842), her mother’s namesake. She married an Irish immigrant named Patrick Madden, a carpenter and cistern builder, who was on the city’s tax rolls as early as 1878.
The Maddens lived in a residence behind his shop on Pacific Avenue in 1880. It’s unclear what Artemisia’s future held beyond that point.
Better documented are the other three Dallas siblings: The oldest was Octavia Peyton (b. 1844). In 1880, she was keeping house for her two brothers: William Burroughs Peyton (b. 1847) and Philip T. Peyton (b. 1851), a pair of bachelor lawyers who remained inseparable throughout their lives.
Octavia Peyton married Kentucky-born Pennell Samuel Pittman in 1889, about seven months after Pennell’s first wife, Cannie Northcutt, died at 34, leaving behind six children. Cannie may have named their girls — Daisy and Minnie— but it’s likely schoolteacher Pennell chose the names of at least two of his sons — Virgil Greek and Homer.
The 44-year-old Octavia, a music teacher for whom this was a first marriage, took on the duties of wife and stepmother to Pennell and Cannie’s children: The oldest child was 16; the youngest, a year old.
By 1910, Octavia and Pennell were empty nesters in their 60’s, living in the the city’s southern sector. At about that time, Octavia suffered a stroke. In February 1915, Pennell described his wife’s condition in a letter to his sister in Cave City, Kentucky:
(The stroke) results in paralysis of both limbs on her right side. She can walk a little, but almost drags her right foot, and she is unable to use her right hand to much advantage. She can write a little yet, but not nearly so well as she could before she was paralyzed. It also affected her tongue so she cannot talk plain. She had to quit teaching music. She cooks for me and herself but no more. Her hearing was badly impaired for a time, but I took her to an ear specialist who restored it, and she now hears as well as ever.
Octavia, 71, died from pneumonia a week before Christmas in 1915. She was buried in Oakland Cemetery. Pennell, who moved to the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area to live with his son, Virgil, survived Octavia by eight years; he was buried in Washington D.C.
With Octavia’s death, the only remaining Peyton siblings in Dallas were Philip and Burroughs. In the 1880 census, the two identified themselves as lawyers, but pleading ill health, the brothers retired and invested in land just outside the city, identifying themselves in later censuses as “landowners,” “farmers” or “gardeners.”
According to a 1924 Dallas Morning News article, they survived on the proceeds of their rental property. And, as the last of the Dallas Peytons, they nurtured a familial relationship with Octavia’s stepson, Homer Pittman and his wife, Beryl, whom they came to rely upon as they aged. The news article reports that they were regular guests for Sunday dinner until old age kept them at home at 2030 Casey Street.
Rumors that the Peyton brothers kept a large amount of cash in their home concerned Homer, a longtime pressman for the Dallas Times Herald. Their step-nephew was said to have invited the old gents to live with him and Beryl, but they refused, even after Philip shot a would-be burglar, who was subsequently captured and sentenced to the penitentiary, according to the Dallas Morning News.
In late January of 1924, Philip Peyton developed hypostatic congestion of the lungs, a condition linked to those who, because of illness, lie in the same position for long periods of time. He died at 11 a.m. Saturday, February 2; he was 72 years old. His funeral service was held at Weiland’s Chapel, and burial was in Oakland Cemetery.
Conspicuously absent from the funeral was brother Burroughs, who was too ill to attend. At 4 p.m. Tuesday, February 5, three days after his brother’s demise, Burroughs succumbed to lobar pneumonia, with senility as a contributing factor. He was 76 years old.
The newspaper account of the brothers’ deaths suggests that grief over Philip’s loss hastened Burroughs’ demise. The reporter wrote:
Side by side at Oakland Cemetery will be the graves of the brothers whose lives were spent in inseparable friendship and brotherliness and there they will remain, side by side.
NOTE: The Peyton cenotaph is located in section 5, subsection 39, part of lot S1/4. Octavia Peyton Pittman is buried in grave #1, Philip Peyton is in grave #2, and Burroughs is in grave #3. There are no individual markers for the siblings.