Remembering Those Buried Beneath the Cedars, published in 2020, is the most recent book authored by local resident Deborah Burkett. Its subject, cedars and cemeteries, may seem far afield from the topics of her first two books, Quilts and Their Stories and East Texas Piney Woods Spunky Women 1830s-1950s. However, each of her works are connected by a single thread, history, specifically east Texas history.
Burkett is passionate about preserving the tales of ordinary people, stories that might otherwise fade out of existence, unacknowledged.
“If we don’t get the stories down and in print, where we can share them with other people, they are lost.” she said. “And those everyday stories are what makes Texas great.”
Research for her first book gave her plenty of information, including what she termed “leftovers,” material remaining or coming to light following the publication of Quilts and Their Stories. This, of course, led to her second book, Spunky Women.
“One book led to another, to another,” she said.
While researching for her second book, Burkett visited a number of cemeteries. As a member of the Cherokee County Historical Commission she also worked on obtaining information for various historical markers, including one for Cedar Hill Cemetery in Rusk. It was during her research and cemetery visits that she began to notice the cedar trees.
“I had some more stories and I was thinking about the cemeteries and the cedar trees and there were two or three other topics I thought I might write about, but then I always went back to the cedar trees and the cemeteries,” Burkett said.
Beneath the Cedars features over 50 east Texas cemeteries, 11 in Cherokee County, with stories of settlers buried at each one. The book explores the resting places of the known, such as Sam Houston and Thomas Jefferson Rusk, and the unknown, such as African-American slaves. People remarked upon include politicians, preachers, doctors, educators, Masons and military veterans.
Information for her work was gathered from headstones, history markers, newspaper articles and interviews with descendants of those who now grace the pages of her publication. Expertise regarding the cedars was provided by the Texas A&M Forestry Service.
Many of the photographs in Beneath the Cedars were taken, not specifically for that publication, but simply as documentation for other research and events.
“I’ve been to enough preservation workshops all over the state where they say, ‘No matter what you’re doing, make copies and always document where you’ve been’,” Burkett said.
Her love of photography and storytelling through photographs actually began as a child.
“I was always the little girl at the family reunion with a little Kodac and I took pictures. I’ve always loved to take pictures,” she said. “The photographs have always been a big love.”
The joy of photography first led her to learn how to develop her own pictures in a dark room, a technology she says she no longer uses, and to hand-tint old black-and-white photos.
“I just always loved the images and the history of the old, old pictures,” Burkett said.
When questioned as to how she determined who or how many people she would present in her publication, she stated she had learned to “write tight” from her article submissions to local newspapers. This allowed her to include the stories of numerous individuals by keeping each story concise.
By self-publishing her books, Burkett determined each aspect; book size, type of paper and the use of color photos. Serving as her own editor ensured her own vision would be realized and allowed her to determine the exact content of each book.
Each of her works were printed locally by Creative Graphics, where she developed a relationship with former owner John Thomas. Thomas even came out of retirement to assist with Beneath the Cedars.
Burkett confesses it was the support she received during her writing that brought her books to fruition.
She also confirmed there were more stories regarding the history of east Texas that she’d like to pursue. When queried about the possibility of a fourth book, she responded, “Not another book, but articles for
newspapers and websites.”
To purchase any of her three books, contact Deborah Burkett by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone, (903) 752-7850.