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Little Girl's Grave at Sipe Springs

On a lonely stretch of road in north central Texas, a group of faded, tattered toys stand guard at the grave of a small child. Although the body of the young girl has occupied this space for more than 100 years, some of the toys have been placed there as recently as a few weeks ago. It just doesn’t take long for the Texas wind and sun to make things look old.

There’s no denying it’s a macabre sight, when you first approach. Known locally as “The Penny Grave” -- because people have been known to place coins on the grave -- this final resting place lies within a few feet of  a Comanche County Road off of FM 1477, near the once-thriving community of Sipe Springs.

There are two markers at the grave site, bearing the words “Grave of little girl. Age 3, 1870s.”  And “Name Unknown, Died 1870 moving west.” A third marker reads, “Who is this little girl?”

According to area legend, the little girl and her family were traveling west with a wagon train. The child supposedly fell off the back of the wagon and died from head injuries. Her grief stricken family – miles from home  – felt they had no choice but to bury the child there.  Maybe they didn’t know that there was a small community several miles away – who knows?

For a brief time, that little community, Sipe (pronounced seep) Springs, was an oil boom town and boasted a population of 10,000. According to area historians, and the book “Patchwork of Memories”, the first school was built in 1873. Churches and a post office were soon built. The first postmaster was M.W. Hall. In the beginning, several men took turns carrying the mail from Comanche once a week. Later, 10-year-old Nim Childress became the first official mail carrier, riding a mule named Jude.

A company of “Minute Men” was organized for protection from the Indians. One of the settlers, Bob Leslie, was killed during the last recorded Indian raid in 1874.

In the winter of 1918, an oil well, the Goss #1, came in and changed the little community. For the next several years, life was good. There were two banks, a big school, an opera house, numerous stores and restaurants, and a professional baseball team. In fact, Sipe Springs grew so fast that it soon rivaled the county seat, Comanche.

That was many years ago. Now days, it probably more closely resembles the desolate, cactus and mesquite tree dotted landscape of the 1870s, than it does a bustling town. There are a handful of houses left, and a small but dedicated volunteer fire department, and the people who live there seem to enjoy the peace and quiet.

Most visitors to the area are looking for the little girl’s grave.   Area residents say that the County Commissioners, who maintained the adjacent dirt road, would periodically gather the coins from the grave and purchase flowers. A series of newspaper articles about the site – in the 1990s – created a broader interest in the grave, and visitors began leaving other small tokens.

Among the things placed on the grave recently were stuffed animals, dolls, baby bottles, keys, angels, toy trucks and cars, notes, photos and Bibles. It doesn’t take long for the elements to mar the items, creating a somewhat garish, but still haunting image.

The original headstone was damaged years ago, but local residents replaced it. One elderly woman recalled her mother “tending” the grave for years.

Although no one knows exactly who this child was, obviously people still care.

—— by Laura Kestner

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