Exploring Willow Wild Cemetery in Bonham, Texas

By Margo McCutcheon, Site Educator, Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site

As part of this year’s Cemetery Walking Tour with the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, we are examining the family and associates of Sam Rayburn who are buried in sections A–G of Willow Wild Cemetery in Bonham. It is likely that many of the town’s prominent families are buried in this cemetery, meaning Rayburn probably had close ties with many more people than this tour will cover.

However, the people you will visit on this tour directly worked for Rayburn or were important members of the political machine of his district. These people are likely mentioned in at least one biography about Rayburn. Whether or not he knew them personally, Sam Rayburn had his staff check newspapers and other sources to discover births and deaths in his district.

So, Rayburn probably sent condolences to the families of those buried in this and other cemeteries across what was his district. This walking tour not only highlights the Rayburn family and their associates, but also helps to visualize the many lives they reached.

Willow Wild became a cemetery in 1878, after land surveyor and land owner John P. Simpson deeded the land to the Constantine and Odd Fellows Lodges for use as a cemetery. Simpson named the cemetery for the weeping willows growing along the road. The Willow Wild Cemetery Association Inc. owns this cemetery. Alice N. Cox was the first person buried at Willow Wild Cemetery – she was three years old, and is buried in section A12. Rosenbaum Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery, was located next to Willow Wild but eventually became part of the Willow Wild Cemetery. This cemetery covers about 90 acres and contains about 10,000 graves.

If you decide to visit Willow Wild Cemetery yourself, please be respectful of the cemetery and the graves within. Contact information for the cemetery can be found at https://www.willowwild.org/.

For more information about Fannin County cemeteries, visit the Fannin County GenWeb page at https://www.txfannin.org/index.

Biographies of the Deceased


Couch, Otis Laffette

Born: February 16, 1873, in Marshfield, Missouri

Died: December 31, 1949, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A1, 4 NE

Otis L. Couch was born to Oral G. and Nanie Wilson Couch in Marshfield, Missouri, on February 16, 1873. During his early life, he worked as a constable, teacher, and principal of various schools in Texas and Oklahoma. Couch attended Rayburn’s alma mater, East Texas Normal School (now Texas A&M University-Commerce), around 1910 and earned two degrees by 1912. Couch passed the bar exam in 1913. During Rayburn’s 1912 congressional race, Couch loaned him $700 to buy a Model T Ford for campaigning. From 1915-1916, Couch worked as Rayburn’s secretary in Washington, D.C., and knew the Rayburn family well—he complimented Martha Rayburn, Sam’s mother, on the pig’s feet she prepared. Once he returned to Bonham in 1916, Couch practiced law. He married Edwardine Crenshaw (1894-1972) in 1921, and they practiced law together in Bonham. Around 1924, Couch served two terms as the county attorney. He suspended his attorney work to serve as the county judge from 1939-1944, then resigned and continued to work as an attorney with his wife. The inscription on he and his wife’s shared headstone states, “Partners in law, partners in life.”

Rayburn, Abner Love

Born: January 22, 1891, in Flag Springs/Windom, Texas

Died: July 22, 1914, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 2 NE

Abner Love Rayburn was born to William Marion and Martha “Matt” Clementine (Waller) Rayburn on January 22, 1891, likely in the Flag Springs community near Windom where the family first lived when they moved to Texas in 1887. Abner was the youngest member of the family and the only Rayburn born in Texas. He was also his big brother, Sam’s, favorite sibling. Abner was outgoing, friendly, tall, thin, and balanced a sensitive expression with a forceful personality. Abner served as a house page in the Texas House of Representatives in 1912 while Sam served as the Speaker of the House there. Sam planned on having Abner follow him into politics, beginning with having Abner work as Sam’s personal secretary once Sam was elected to national office and allowing Abner to attend law school in the area while he worked. While Sam served his first term at the U.S. House of Representatives, however, Abner worked with his brother-in-law William Albert “W.A.” Thomas at Thomas Realty Co. in Dallas. During the summer of 1914, Abner contracted typhoid fever and died from the illness on July 22, 1914.

Rayburn, Dr. John “Frank” Franklin

Born: July 24, 1869, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: May 19, 1928, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 1 SE

Dr. John “Frank” Franklin Rayburn was born to William Marion and Martha “Matt” Clementine (Waller) Rayburn on July 24, 1869, in Tennessee. Frank was the first of 11 children for the couple. From an early age, Frank wanted to become a doctor. He attended Tennessee Medical College in Knoxville beginning in 1894, and returned to Bonham to practice medicine after his graduation. In addition to working as the family doctor, Frank also campaigned for his brother Sam because Sam’s family used their own careers to help further that of their brother. Frank died from Bright’s Disease, a form of kidney disease. His obituary mentioned that he helped sick people at all hours of the day or night, and many people attended his funeral. Frank was married to Nina Jackson Rayburn, and had a stepson, George Atkins, from that marriage. Both Nina and George were important members of the Bonham community, and both are buried in section A2 of Willow Wild Cemetery.

Rayburn, Lucinda “Miss Lou” Alice (and/or Lucretia)

Born: January 14, 1875, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: May 26, 1956, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2

Lucinda “Miss Lou” Rayburn was born to William Marion and Martha “Matt” Clementine (Waller) Rayburn on January 14, 1875, in Tennessee. She was the fourth of 11 children born to the couple, and the second of three daughters. Lucinda balanced her tall, regal bearing and red hair with a warm personality, truthfulness, and a no-nonsense attitude. For her brother Sam, Lucinda provided invaluable service as a confidant and voice of reason. She lived with Sam, her brother Tom, and their parents in the home now known as the Sam Rayburn House. During the Washington, D.C., social season in January, Lucinda attended formal gatherings as Sam’s official hostess. Unlike her other sisters, Lucinda preferred the social aspects of political life rather than the politics, and she maintained a diary and scrapbook about the events she attended. After the death of her mother in 1927, Lucinda became the head of the household and held the deed to the family land in 1938. She raised turkeys and chickens, and was a member of the Bonham Garden Club and the Current Literature Club. She was also a trustee of the Sam Rayburn Foundation. Lucinda died from cancer,  on May 26, 1956. She was honored with special messages during a session of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Morgan Beatty of NBC Radio’s News of the World credited Lucinda with inspiring Sam’s legislative decisions. Sam carried Lucinda’s locket alongside his pocket watch, and the Lucinda Rayburn Memorial Gardens are located at the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum.

Rayburn, Martha “Matt” Clementine Waller

Born: August 26, 1846, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: February 21, 1927, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 2 SW

Martha “Matt” Clementine Waller was born to Katherine Pickle (or “Pickel”) and John Barksdale Waller on August 26, 1846, in Tennessee. Her father was a justice of the peace in Roane County, Tennessee, where she lived before and after her marriage to William Marion Rayburn on May 14, 1868. She had 11 children. Having worked as a teacher before her marriage, Martha ensured that her family was educated and literate, even teaching her husband how to read and write. During 1887, the family moved from Roane, County, Tennessee, to Flag Springs, a community near Windom, Texas. The Rayburn household under Martha—from childhood to adulthood when she and her husband lived with their children at what is now the Sam Rayburn House—was a matriarchal household. She was stricter with her children than her husband, who the children called “Easy Boss,” and neither she nor William showed love or affection to their children due to their Baptist beliefs. Martha was very frank and forthright with her thoughts, as was her son Sam. She also never stopped living and working the harsh life of a farmer, continuing to complete chores around the farm into her 80s. Although her personality might seem off-putting to some, her children loved her, and Sam prized her letters. She also made him lunch for the train trip back to his office after he had stayed at home in Bonham. Martha died suddenly at her home in Bonham on February 21, 1927.

Rayburn, Richard “Dick” Ashby (or Ashburn)

Born: June10, 1884, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: January 30, 1962, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 4 NE

Richard “Dick” Ashby (or Ashburn) Rayburn was the ninth child born to William Marion and Martha “Matt” Clementine (Waller) Rayburn on June 10, 1884, in Tennessee. After working as a cashier at a bank in Pecan Gap, Texas, Dick began a 40-year career in the cotton oil mill and ginning business that took him to several cities across Texas and Oklahoma before he retired to a farm in Ector, Texas. Politically, Dick served a very important function for his brother, Sam. Dick’s frequent travels, in addition to his friendly and outgoing personality, allowed him to gauge the political weather of Sam’s district and convince friends, associates, and strangers to vote for Sam. Dick was married to Agnes Aurora Wallace Rayburn (1893-1969), and the couple had three children: Martha, Tom, and Virginia. On January 30, 1962, Dick passed away from pancreatic cancer, which was also Sam’s cause of death just two months before. His wife, Agnes, is also buried in section A2 of Willow Wild Cemetery.

Rayburn, Samuel “Mr. Sam” Taliaferro

Born: January 6, 1882, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: November 16, 1961, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 3 NW

Samuel “Mr. Sam” Taliaferro Rayburn was born to William Marion and Martha “Matt” Clementine (Waller) Rayburn in Tennessee on January 6, 1882. He was the eighth child for the couple, and the fifth son. His family moved to the Flag Springs community near Windom, Texas, in 1887. When Sam, around age 10 or 12, saw Congressman Joseph Weldon Bailey speak in Bonham, he decided that he would become a congressman and eventually the Speaker of the House of Representatives. During the early 1900s, Sam worked his way through school at East Texas Normal College (now Texas A&M University-Commerce). After working as a teacher, he ran for and won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1906. Sam earned his law degree in Austin while working as a legislator. During his third term, in 1910, he was elected Speaker of the House in Texas. During 1912, he ran for and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Fourth Congressional District of Texas. He ended up serving 24 full, consecutive congressional terms, or 48 years as a U.S. congressman. From 1927-1928, Sam was married to Metze Jones. Sam represented the fourth district through World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War, helping pass or creating some of the most important legislation in the 20th century, and in U.S. history. He became Speaker of the House on September 16, 1940, and served in that capacity for 17 non-consecutive years. Sam died from pancreatic cancer on November 16, 1961, in Bonham. His funeral in Bonham was televised, and President John F. Kennedy, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and former President Harry S. Truman attended the funeral. The Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site and the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham honor his home and political life.

Rayburn, Thomas “Tom” Edgar

Born: October 20, 1886, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: March 1, 1960, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 3 SE

Thomas “Tom” Edgar Rayburn was the 10th child of William Marion and Martha “Matt” Clementine (Waller) Rayburn. He was born on October 20, 1886, in Tennessee, one year before the family moved to Texas. Until 1910 or so, Tom played semi-professional baseball in Texas and the surrounding states, including for the Texas and Oklahoma Baseball League. He played the positions of pitcher and first baseman, but was noted for his hitting ability as well. Once he purchased 121 acres about two miles west of Bonham in 1914, where the Sam Rayburn House is now, he became a farmer full time. The Rayburn Bros. farm had hogs, chickens, turkeys, and Jersey cattle for milking. The farm produced corn, oats, and hay. Tom also participated in city government and civic functions, particularly areas that involved farming such as serving as a director of the Fannin County Fair. During 1941, he moved out of the Rayburn house after his marriage to Loyce Cordelia DeBerry (1912-1977) and moved just west to a 140-acre farm. His farming and city involvement allowed him to serve his brother Sam’s political interests in addition to creating his own reputation as a reliable friend and neighbor. After a lengthy illness and several operations, Tom died on March 1, 1960, at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. His wife, Loyce, worked at the Sam Rayburn Library and was the last Rayburn in the Bonham area when she died on December 9, 1977. She is buried in section A2 of Willow Wild Cemetery.

Rayburn, William “Will” Henry

Born: March 6, 1877, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: March 18, 1943, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 3 NW

William “Will” Henry Rayburn was born on March 6, 1877, in Tennessee to Martha “Matt” Clementine and William Marion Rayburn. Will was the fifth child for the couple, and the third oldest boy. He had a twin, James “Jim” Lee Rayburn (1877-1950), who is buried at Dodd City Cemetery. Will worked as a traveling salesman and a Deputy United States Marshal for the East Texas district overseen by Judge Randolph Bryant before living in what is now the Sam Rayburn House and helping his brothers’ farm business. Will married Cecil Evans (1880-1917) of Windom on April 25, 1901. They moved around Texas and Oklahoma before Cecil passed away at Allen Memorial Hospital in Bonham, while visiting relatives, on April 5, 1917. She is buried at Windom Cemetery. After Cecil’s death, Will moved into the Rayburn House. Will died at Allen Memorial Hospital from a heart attack on March 18, 1943.

Rayburn, William Marion

Born: October 22, 1840, in Roane County, Tennessee

Died: October 30, 1916, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A2, 1 NW

William Marion Rayburn was the son of John Rayburn (who died when William was six months old), and he was born on October 22, 1840, in Roane County, Tennessee. Having had to run a farm and help his family from an early age, William attended only three weeks of school. William joined the calvary of the Confederate States Army and earned the rank of Captain but could not accept it because of his illiteracy. He married Martha “Matt” Clementine Waller on May 14, 1868, and she taught him how to read and write. Martha gave birth to 11 children. In 1887, the family moved from Roane County to Flag Springs, Texas, to continue farming on more fertile land. When William’s son, Sam, was getting on a train to go to college, William handed Sam $25 and said, “Sam, be a man.” His son remembered these words for the rest of his life. Soon after moving into what is now the Sam Rayburn House, William died from a long illness on October 30, 1916.


William and Martha’s Other Children:

Four of the Rayburn’s 11 children are not buried at Willow Wild Cemetery.

  • Medibel “Meddie” Rayburn Bartley (1879-1969) is buried at Ladonia Cemetery, Ladonia, TX, with her husband, Samuel Edward “S.E.” Bartley (1880-1948).
  • Charles Monroe Rayburn (1870-1901) is buried in Dodd City Cemetery, Dodd City, TX.
  • James “Jim” Lee Rayburn (1877-1950) is buried in Dodd City Cemetery, Dodd City, TX, with his wife, Otha Morris Rayburn (1880-1956).
  • Katherine “Kate” Rayburn Thomas (1872-1971), the last surviving member of the Rayburn family, is interred at the Hillcrest Mausoleum, Dallas, TX, with her husband, William Albert “W.A.” Thomas (1876-1946).

Cunningham, Henry Allan “H.A.”

Born: December 26, 1871, in Ravenna, Texas

Died: February 1, 1966 in Bonham, Texas

Plot: A22, 1 SW

Henry Allan “H.A.” Cunningham was born on December 26, 1871, in Ravenna, Texas, to Frances Agnew and Dr. John Cunningham. He graduated from the University of Texas with a law degree in 1893 and started a firm one year later. He soon became the city attorney and joined a Fannin County regiment during the Spanish-American War (1898). While running for county judge in 1906, he and Sam Rayburn, who was running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, traveled together across the county in a buggy. Both men won their respective elections, with H.A. serving as county judge from 1907-1910. On September 17, 1907, H.A. married Cornelia McClellan (1879-1962), a teacher, and the couple had two children. After his judgeship ended, H.A. opened a law firm with Mark McMahon, and through the years other partners joined, including other Rayburn associates R.T. Lipscomb and Buster Cole. H.A. served as Rayburn’s attorney when needed, and also functioned as one of Rayburn’s most important political allies and supporters in Fannin County. H.A. was a member of several service organizations, and due to his unwavering support of the Democratic Party, attended several party conventions and was invited to the inaugurations of President Roosevelt and President Truman. He was also the original chairman of the Sam Rayburn Foundation. H.A. died in Bonham on February 1, 1966.

Risser, Dr. Joe Albert

Born: August 17, 1916, in Bonham, Texas

Died: August 19, 1974, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: B126, L Circle

Dr. Joe Albert Risser was born in Bonham, Texas, on August 17, 1916, to Mr. and Mrs. Ross Eugene Risser, Sr. Joe came from a prominent Bonham family, as his father founded the Southwest Pump Company in the city. Joe attended the University of Texas before earning his medical degree from Tulane University, where he graduated at the top of his class. He joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in England during World War II. However, his job as an epidemiologist meant that he traveled to areas reporting a large number of illnesses to see if the enemy was spreading germs. He worked with other doctors from the Allied and Axis powers on these epidemiological studies. Joe returned to Bonham after his discharge from the Army, and opened a medical practice near the old Allen Memorial Hospital. He was the Rayburn family physician, caring for the Rayburn family members that remained in the Bonham area. Sam Rayburn died at the Risser Hospital on November 16, 1961 (Rayburn wanted to pass away at his home in Bonham, but special medical equipment was needed to comfort him in his last days so he stayed at the Risser Hospital). Joe announced the death of Rayburn to reporters at his hospital, and the hospital now has a historical marker. He married Sara Watson (1925-2006), who worked as a medical secretary at the Risser Hospital, and the couple had two children. Sara is buried in the same section of Willow Wild Cemetery as her husband. Joe died on August 19, 1974, after several months of failing health.

Nevill, Nell Stansell

Born: 1891 in Fannin County, Texas

Died: June 9, 1969, in Little Rock, Arkansas

Plot: C132, 3 NE

Nell Stansell was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. N.B. Stansell, and she was born in Fannin County in 1891. During 1913, she married Dr. O. Clyde Nevill (1886-1953). The couple lived in Bonham and had two children. She knew the Rayburn family, and from March 15, 1955 to 1957, she was a clerk at Sam Rayburn’s Bonham office. Nell helped prepare for the dedication of what is now the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum. She was living near her son when she died in Little Rock, Arkansas, on June 9, 1969.

Abernathy, Robert Jones

Born: September 27, 1851, in Giles County, Tennessee

Died: January 3, 1929, in Dallas, Texas

Plot: D94, 3 NW

Robert Jones Abernathy was born in Giles County, Tennessee, on September 27, 1851. His family arrived in Bonham in 1867. Jones graduated from Poughkeepsie Business College, then entered the mercantile business with his brother. After working as a bookkeeper for a short period, Jones started Thompson, Abernathy & Co. with three other men. He married Sarah Alice Hunt (1858-1918) in 1878, and the couple had seven children. Tom Rayburn purchased 120 acres of land 1.5 miles west of Bonham from Jones on July 8, 1914. The land cost $50/acre, totaling $6,000, which Tom paid $3,000 in cash. Tom deeded half of the interest to his brother, Sam. Jones died in Dallas on January 3, 1929, and is buried at Willow Wild Cemetery alongside his wife and daughter.

Thompson, Emmett Charles

Born: September 14, 1885, in Bonham, Texas

Died: August 19, 1958, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: D94, 4 SE

Emmett Charles Thompson was born in Bonham to Mr. and Mrs. F.M. Thompson on September 14, 1885. Emmett lived in Bonham his whole life. He made his living as an accountant, working for several businesses in town as both accountant and bookkeeper. He was the third city manager for the city. He had two children. Emmett participated in civic service in Bonham, such as holding elections during voting season. As a businessman and city leader, Emmett was friends with Sam Rayburn. During the 1954 campaign specifically, Emmett went fishing with Rayburn, and gave Rayburn some information about Rayburn’s opponent that Emmett had seen firsthand and heard from contacts in other counties. Emmett was married to Ollie Mae Gutherie (1898-1979). Emmett died on August 19, 1958, after a month-long illness. His wife is buried at Arledge Ridge Cemetery.

McDade, James Wilkins

Born: November 5, 1921, in Bonham, Texas

Died: May 29, 1988

Plot: D99

James Wilkins McDade was born in Bonham on November 5, 1921. After graduating as the valedictorian of Bonham High School in 1939, James served in the U.S. Army during World War II (1939-1945) and earned the rank of Technical Sergeant. James worked for Sam Rayburn from August 1, 1947 to May 31, 1951. During this time, he received his bachelor’s degree and law degree from George Washington University. Once he left his position with Rayburn, James practiced law in Washington, D.C., with a focus on natural resources and public lands. He died on May 29, 1988.

Steger, Thomas Peyton

Born: March 15, 1852, in Tennessee

Died: March 25, 1932, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: D117, 3 SW

Thomas Peyton Steger was born in Tennessee on March 15, 1852. He married Alice Scales (1855-1931) and earned a license to practice law in that state. The couple had two children. After working as a telegraph operator, and for the Associated Press in Memphis, Tennessee, he moved to Bonham, Texas, in 1889. There, he practiced law and served as the president of the Fannin County Bar Association. He was also a city judge for Bonham. Thomas was friends with Sam Rayburn, and supported Rayburn during his 1906 campaign for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. When Rayburn needed training for his law degree, he worked with Thomas and Preston C. Thurmond at their law firm. When Rayburn ran to represent the Fourth District in the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas participated in campaigning for Rayburn and was one of Rayburn’s local contacts regarding political matters. Thomas was regarded as “one of the best read men in the county,” and his son, Harry Peyton Steger (1882-1913), worked at Doubleday, Page & Co. and was the literary executor for the author O. Henry (Sidney Porter). Thomas died on March 25, 1932, and is buried next to his wife and son.

Halsell, Charles

Born: June 2, 1867, in Joplin, Missouri

Died: July 2, 1954, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: E43, 1 SW

Charles Halsell was born on June 2, 1867, in Joplin, Missouri, to Mr. and Mrs. Martin W. Halsell. The family moved to Bonham in 1876. He attended college in the area, and married Cora Belle Bivins (1869-1959) in 1892. The couple had three children. Charles was a businessman his whole life. He started a company called Halsell and Caldwell, Home Furniture and Undertaking before joining or creating other furniture and undertaking businesses. He dabbled in real estate and farming, and was an owner, president, director, or board member of several businesses including: Bonham Electric Light and Power Co., Bonham Cotton Mills, the First National Bank, and the Texas and Oklahoma Baseball League, which Tom Rayburn was involved with as well. As a prominent businessman, Charles also participated in civic affairs such as the Bonham Rotary Club. His hobbies included golfing, and making and collecting canes. During Sam Rayburn’s first campaign for both the Texas and U.S. House of Representatives, Charles supported him financially. Charles also acted as a local political liaison, and with his active involvement with so many professional and volunteer groups, he likely garnered Rayburn several votes and supporters. Charles died at his home in Bonham on July 2, 1954, after a short illness. His wife is buried next to him in Willow Wild Cemetery.

Inglish, Dan Sweeney

Born: September 8, 1910, in Austin, Texas

Died: May 23, 1996, in Plano, Texas

Plot: F207, NE

Dan Sweeney Inglish was the great-grandson of Bailey Inglish, who was credited as the first permanent settler of Bonham. Dan was born on September 8, 1910, to Edna Sweeney and Charles Robert Inglish in Austin. Charles Inglish was in the newspaper business and an early supporter of Sam Rayburn. These close family ties helped Dan earn a spot on Rayburn’s staff from January 1, 1932, to September 15, 1940, the day before Rayburn became Speaker of the House and the day before the passage of the Selective Service and Training Act of 1940. While working for Rayburn, Dan was an assistant legislative clerk who briefed bills from the Unanimous Consent and Private Calendar of the House. Dan left Rayburn’s office to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and during World War II (1939-1945) he served in Australia and the Philippines as a 2nd Lieutenant. After the war, Dan worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development until he retired in 1970. He married Marie Princess Vick (1912-2000) on December 22, 1951, and the couple had two children. He supported the Sam Rayburn Library and other Fannin County historical associations despite living in Forth Worth. Dan died on May 12, 1996, and is buried near his family in Willow Wild Cemetery.

Freeman, Martha Steele

Born: September 26, 1921, in the Whiteshed Community near Bonham, Texas

Died: August 8, 2001, in Bonham, Texas

Plot: F252, 4 NE

Martha Steele Freeman was born to Bess V. Smith and James A. Freeman north of Bonham, Texas, in the Whiteshed community, on September 26, 1921. Her parents worked on a toll bridge along the Red River. She graduated from East Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A&M University-Commerce, Sam Rayburn’s alma mater) in 1944. She earned her master’s degree in Washington, D.C. Martha worked on the Manhattan Project (a project that Rayburn secured funding for) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, before spending the rest of her career in Washington, D.C., where she lived for 39 years. She worked for the Army at the Pentagon until she started working on Rayburn’s staff from April 15, 1952, to June 1961. Martha continued working for members of Congress until she joined the Federal Highway Administration under the Department of Transportation, where she worked for 11 years before retiring in 1979. While working there as a technical writer and program evaluator, Martha created the Women in Construction Training Program. She received national awards and recognition for this program. When she wasn’t working, Martha played several instruments, sang in several choral groups around Washington, and was a member of clubs and organizations such as the Women’s Equality Action League and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. Martha died in Bonham on August 8, 2001, and is buried with her family.

Cole, Buster

Born: November 28, 1911, in Saltillo, Texas

Died: January 20, 1988, in Grayson County, Texas

Plot: G299, 7 SE

Buster Cole was born to Virgil E. and Nettie Teer Cole on November 28, 1911, near the town of Saltillo in Hopkins County, Texas. After studying at the Cunningham-Lipscomb law firm, Buster passed the bar exam in 1932 and became the county attorney for Fannin County. He married Lena Mae McClure (1913-1990) in Yuma, Arizona, on March 8, 1936. The couple had two children. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Buster joined the U.S. Army. He reached the rank of captain, and earned a Soldier’s Medal for helping civilians on an Icelandic ship that was bombed by a German plane. He continued practicing law after the war, serving as President of the State Bar of Texas from 1963-1964. At the time, he was the only president not from a major city, and who had not graduated law school. Buster was also elected a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Through his work at the Cunningham-Lipscomb law firm, Buster met Sam Rayburn and became a lifelong friend and political advisor. In 1948, Buster became Rayburn’s campaign manager for Fannin County. As Rayburn’s lawyer, Buster helped Rayburn buy the land where the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum now sits. Buster was the secretary/treasurer of the Sam Rayburn Foundation. He died on January 20, 1988, and he and his wife are buried at Willow Wild Cemetery. The Buster Cole State Jail west of Bonham is named for him.


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