by Barbara J. Wood
PHILLIP JOHN BURROW
Laying to rest Phillip John Burrow: ‘The grave in the middle of the road’
Gregory Ripps, correspondent for the Wilson County News, writes a great article about Allen Burrow's mission to find his ancestor's remains and relocate them as the result of two coincidences.
For many years, residents of the Fairview area in Wilson County made their way around a grave in the middle of the road on county roads 104 and 105.
Through the years, various stories abounded about the man buried there.
All that will be laid to rest this month, along with the man's remains, thanks to one man's dedication to learning the truth about his ancestor.
The remains in the grave belong to Phillip John Burrow and were there for 149 years. A headstone in the Fairview Cemetery bears his name, but his remains aren't there. They were finally exhumed last September and will be reinterred March 21, 2020 in the cemetery.
The person primarily responsible for giving Burrow a proper reburial is his great-great-great-grandson, Allen Burrow of Burleson. He took on the mission to find his ancestor's remains and relocate them as the result of two coincidences — or were they?
Allen said he was working on his family genealogy in May 2016 when his wife, Cathy, came to his desk.
"Would you look at that?" she said, according to Allen. "Your grandpa's birth and death dates are the same as our son's and grandson's birth dates."
Cathy pointed out that Phillip's birth date was May 15, the same as that of the couple's oldest grandson, and his death date was Oct. 5, the same as the birth date of their son.
"It was that weekend that I made a commitment to find out what actually happened to his grave," Allen said. "It was as though he were calling me to help him in some way."
The general location of Phillip's original grave was not unknown. The burial place was identifiable by a pile of dirt and rocks and marked by a tombstone near county roads 104 and 105. But in 2002, Bruce Whitley, another descendant, contacted Wilson County about moving it to another location, away from vehicle traffic.
Subsequently, a new grave marker was placed in the Fairview Cemetery, but the move was "symbolic," meaning that no remains were actually moved. The original gravesite was smoothed over. Neither the county nor family members involved at the time wanted to bear the costs of finding, exhuming, and reinterring the remains — if they had withstood the ravages of time.
Allen began his quest 14 years later, after receiving assurance from a forensic anthropologist that it was likely that the remains survived.
There followed many discussions with Wilson County officials, Texas Historical Commission department heads, archaeologists, and surveyors. Often, these discussions came to nothing, but contact with Dr. Todd Ahlman of Texas State University in San Marcos proved fruitful.
Ahlman obtained a permit from the Texas Historical Commission to conduct a GPR (ground-penetrating radar) search at the intersection where the grave was reputedly located in June and July 2017. The results were inconclusive, but the permit also allowed an exploratory dig, which was accomplished Oct. 27, 2017.
"During a four-hour-long backhoe dig and shovel digging, Dr. Ahlman found Phillip's skull, marked the location, and covered it up," Allen said. "Due to grading, erosion, and traffic, the grave [depth] was reduced from 72 inches to 45 inches."
Actual excavation of the remains required another permit from Wilson County officials, but they refused to issue Allen one. According to him, they maintained that the county holds an easement over the gravesite, but not the earth where the remains were found.
A new quest was on to determine who holds title to the land and obtain permission from him to dig there.
Allen hired Clark Hood of Landon Energy, who in May 2019 conducted a title search on land at the intersection and determined that Gary Fuentes is the owner.
"He signed the letter," said a relieved Allen. "It was acceptable to the Texas Historical Commission."
The excavation — finally — began last Sept. 23 and was completed Sept. 25.
Phillip John Burrow's remains will finally be properly marked and put to rest in a cemetery.
Allen hopes that other people will derive from his experiences "some sense of what to do or not to do in helping their deceased family member" in a similar situation.
"May he forever rest in peace," Allen said of his ancestor.
Phillip John Burrow, 1784-1870
Settler, farmer, rancher, Texas Ranger, and soldier, Phillip John Burrow lived a full and active life. He was born in North Carolina May 15, 1784, and moved to Tennessee and Missouri before arriving in the Republic of Texas in 1845, according to great-great-great-grandson Allen Burrow.
John Phillip and his first wife, Martha Yandell, who died in 1850, had seven children. He married his second wife, Martha Moore, in 1850, and lived with his family near Weatherford. After the Civil War began, he served as a Minute Man, protecting settlers while regular soldiers were fighting elsewhere.
After the war, Phillip John settled on 160 acres on the Borrego Creek near Fairview, about 8 miles south of Graytown, and later purchased 145.5 acres on Picosa Creek. Since his death Oct. 5, 1870, several interesting stories have circulated about how he died. Allen doesn't give them much credence.
"He was given a respectable burial on the northeast corner of one of his properties," Allen said. "Since 1988 when I first visited the raised mound, I felt it was a standard burial."
One story says Phillip was digging a well at the site and fell in; another says he fell into the well riding his horse. In both stories, it was decided to leave him there.
"Where the well stories came from I have no idea," Allen said. "The only thing I can think of is that [the grave] was raised similar to some old hand-dug wells from the 19th century."
Funeral and reinterment
The reinterment of Phillip John Burrow will take place Saturday, March 21, after a 10 a.m. funeral service in the Floresville United Methodist Church at 1205 B St. in Floresville.
Following the funeral, the focus of the event will move to the Fairview Cemetery at 3227 C.R. 107. Among those participating in the reinterment ceremony are a color guard from the Texas State Guard, members of the Texas Rangers and Former Texas Rangers Association, and the Sons of the Republic of Texas.
COURTESY/ Wilson County News For related information, see the obituary on page 9A of the March 10, 2020 issue.