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Pioneer buried under front lawn in subdivision

Augusta Specht Green's husband John was shot dead in a pasture south of their frontier ranch house. She had him buried on the spot, sans coffin, under a motte of oak trees on their 1,280-acre ranch in northwest Bexar County. His gravestone read "John F. Green, born Feb. 14, 1840, died July 9, 1873."

He was well-known as an "Indian fighter," a dangerous title in Texas' frontier times. Local Native American tribes, such as Apache, Comanche, Kickapoo, and Seminole, considered it an honor to fight and kill any frontiersmen who earned such a reputation. In 1873, Indian and Mexican marauders killed several local setttlers, including Green, during one of the region's last great raids.

Many years ago, John Green's family moved his headstone from his grave because of vandalism. His body lies in an unmarked grave in the front yard of a home in the Guilbeau subdivision. His family would like to place a marker or plaque there to remember the German settler killed by Indians in the 19th century. (Photo by Michael Cary)

A Bandera resident sent a letter to the San Antonio Daily Herald, writing that "no man who was ever slain upon this frontier is more regretted than John Green, a German by birth, he was almost raised in this country and was well known. Simple and unpretending in his habits, he was one of the bravest and best Indian fighters on the frontier, on that account, we believe, he was murdered."

Green was left to rest in peace for more than 100 years, until the mid-'80s, when the Larry Thomas Co. surveyed and platted the Guilbeau Park subdivision. Thomas' construction crews were about to bulldoze the German immigrant's gravesite, marked by a rock wall and iron gate, when his great-granddaughter, Shirley Sweet, and her husband, Gerald, intervened. Thomas conveyed an easement to protect Green's burial site, now located in the front lawn at 9131 Jean Verte.

The homeowners couldn't be reached for comment.

In the past decade, the easement has dropped off the deed records at the county courthouse (the house has had at least two owners). The Sweets removed Green's rock wall and the headstone, which had been hit by vandals before the subdivision was built, leaving his gravesite ummarked. Now the Sweets worry their ancestor's memory will fade into oblivion unless a permanent marker is established at the site.

"We haven't had a marker there for 10 years," says Gerald, who has a copy of the easement, which stipulates that if the grave is abandoned, the easement is void. "The body is still there, the grave is not abandoned. They must have assumed we abandoned it."

"Somehow I want to get it marked," says Shirley Sweet, who received an application for an official historical grave marker from the Texas Historical Commission.

The Sweets say the ranch house that Augusta Green occupied with her three babies after her husband's death also is in danger of disintegrating, but that the City has taken steps to protect it as an historical structure. The roof has caved in, but the walls are standing. The cistern has trash in it, and the floor over the basement (where the occupants could hide from danger) is rotted, but the structure remains in a grove of mesquite trees adjacent to Loop 1604 at Guilbeau Road.

Daniel Sweet remembers visiting the gravesite with his family. "We would come out with our grandfather and would park at Loop 1604, hike to the cemetery. My brother and I would find it. There were three people in the cemetery, but two of the bodies were removed. They might have been relatives."

John Green married Augusta, daughter of Augustus Theodore Specht, in December 1868, and they later settled on their ranch in Bexar County. The ranch was later absorbed by a nearby ranch, and many of the Greens moved into San Antonio.

By the time the Thomas Co. planned to build the Guilbeau Park subdivision, Shirley and Gerald Sweet had assumed responsibility for caring for their parents, which left little time to lobby for the protection of Green's gravesite.

But today they want a permanent marker to honor their ancestor, either with an official historical marker or a bronze plaque set into the lawn.

"The family talked about moving him in the early 1900s, but it never happened," says Shirley Sweet. "It is important to honor the family member, and I want to do what is right."

By Michael Cary

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