The Oklahoma portion of our trip was now over as we started heading east for our return to Georgia. I knew there was one place I wanted to try to get to. Not for historic reasons, really. More for nostalgia. The grave of actor Dan Blocker, best known for his role as Hoss Cartwright on the hist TV show Bonanza, is located in Dekalb, Texas. That seemed like a worthy reason to stop.

Located about an hour and a half east of Hugo, Okla. in the upper corner of northeast Texas, Dekalb’s population is close to 1,500. The last time Dekalb made major headlines was on Dec 31, 1985 when another TV star (and musician) Ricky Nelson died in a plane crash close to Dekalb. He was on his way to Dallas for a New Year’s Eve performance. All seven passengers were killed in the accident when the plane caught fire. The pilot and co-pilot were able to escape and survived.

Dan Blocker is buried in Woodmen Cemetery, as in Woodmen of the World. You’ve read blog posts about them here before. I was looking forward to seeing the many WOW markers they might have.

Woodmen Cemetery has about 3,450 burials recorded on Find a Grave.

But first, we stopped at a nearby Mexican restaurant for something to eat. I promise this plays a part in our cemetery visit, so stay with me. We ended up dining at a place called Maggie’s Mexican Grill. I’ve been eating Mexican food most of my life, but the food I had there was incredibly spicy and a bit salty. To me, it was good. The service was also top notch so I had no complaints at the time.

I would have a memorable meal at Maggie’s Mexican Grill.

Woodmen Cemetery isn’t far from Maggie’s. With close to 3,500 recorded memorials on Find a Grave, it is a decent sized burial ground. The earliest recorded death date is 1896 and its for an unmarked grave. So most of the graves are from after 1900s. It is an active cemetery so burials are still taking place there today. I don’t know if it is associated with a specific WOW camp or chapter.

I zeroed in on Dan’s grave first. I didn’t watch a ton of Bonanza, but many people did back in the day. It ran from 1959 to 1973, so it had quite a run. It was also the first western that was broadcast in color.

On Bonanza, the character of Hoss was the middle son of Ben Cartwright and his second wife, Inger. Each of the Cartwright sons had a different mother, apparently. Poor Ben was widowed three times! Eric “Hoss” Cartwright was the lovable gentle giant of the show, his nickname coming from his large size. It was implied that Hoss wasn’t as quick on the uptake as his brothers. But in real life, Dan Blocker was anything but intellectually slow.

A Memorable Birth

Bobby Dan Davis Blocker was born on Dec. 10, 1928 in Dekalb, Texas to Ora (or Orren) Shackleford “Shack” Blocker and Mary Arizona Davis Blocker. Dan was reportedly weight 14 lbs. at birth, foreshadowing the size he would eventually become. That is one big baby! Shack was a farmer and the family struggled to stay afloat during the Great Depression.

Dan’s father Shack only got to see a few years of his son’s success on Bonanza before he died in 1960.
Dan’s mother Mary lived much longer than her husband and her son.

When he was six, Dan and his family moved to O’Donnell in West Texas where Shack operated a grocery store. At age 12, Dan entered the Texas Military Institute in San Antonio, Texas. It’s now known as TMI Episcopal. That’s why he’s wearing a military-type uniform in the photo below. In 1946, he enrolled in Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. He played football there and later at Sul Ross State University, where he completed his degree Some sites say it was in drama, others say English or speech.

Dan Blocker attended the Texas Military Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

Teacher and Family Man

After serving in the Korean War as an infantry sergeant, Dan returned to Sul Ross and obtained a master’s degree in drama in 1952. That same year, he married classmate Dolphia Lee Parker. Dan worked as a teacher in Sonora, Tex., and Carlsbad, N.M., before moving to California in 1956 to work on his Ph.D. at the University of California at Los Angeles. He also worked as a substitute teacher at Glendale, and began his career as a professional actor in Los Angeles.

Two of Dan Blocker’s children would end up working in the entertainment industry. (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons)

Dan and Dolphia had four children together: Dirk, David, Debra Lee, and Danna Lynn. Dirk would go on to become an actor like his father, while David became a Hollywood producer. Dan was definitely a family man and preferred being at home with his wife and kids than attending Hollywood galas.

Meet Hoss Cartwright

Dan played a few minor roles in 1957 and 1958 on shows like Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. But lightning struck in 1959 when he was cast as Hoss on Bonanza. As a bit of trivia, I learned that Hoss’ trademark hat happened as a joke. He wore it to the audition as a gag, but when the casting team and other actors saw him wear it, they knew it was perfect for Hoss. So he wore it throughout the series.

Dan Blocker played the role of Hoss Cartwright until his unexpected death in 1972. (Source: Getty Images)

One thing I didn’t know was that Dan Blocker started the Bonanza Steakhouse chain. The first Bonanza (called Bonanza Sirloin Pit) opened in Westport, Conn. in 1963. Sam Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly bought the small Bonanza restaurant chain three years later. The company grew to approximately 600 restaurants by 1989, when the Wylys sold it to Metromedia. The company bought the Ponderosa chain of steakhouses in the 1980s and the two merged. The chain went bankrupt in 2008, but there are supposedly a few Bonanzas still hanging on out there.

By 1970, Bonanza had made the top five in Nielsen ratings nine years in a row — a record that wouldn’t be broken for years to come. Dan became a wealthy man as a result and was also a savvy businessman. But from all accounts, Dan liked to live simply and was not a showy with his wealth.

A Sudden Death

In May 1972, Dan went into the hospital for routine gallbladder surgery. He suffered an unexpected pulmonary embolism and died on May 13, 1972 at age 43. It was a complete shock for his family and his many fans.

Bonanza writers took the unusual step of referencing a major character’s death in the show’s storyline that fall. It is thought to be the first time in TV history that a show actually addressed the death of a character. Specifics were not revealed in the series, but some years later, in a subsequent series, Bonanza: The Next Generation, one character stated that “Hoss drowned trying to save another’s life”. Bonanza ended after that 13th season.

Dan is buried with his parents and his sister, Ora, who died in childhood. I don’t know if he or his father were members of Woodmen of the World.

Dan is buried with his parents and his sister. That’s his mother’s grave on the left.
Dan Blocker died at age 43, much too soon.

I have no idea what became of Dan’s widow, Dolphia. She worked to keep her family’s life private when Dan was alive. She may have remarried. She may still be alive today.

WOW Markers

I found this WOW marker for T.H. Russell and it’s one of the more unique ones I’ve seen. On the top is a stone “log” with the WOW seal on the front. On the base, you can see the crossed axe and mallet. That’s not a motif I see as often.

Who was T.H. Russell?

I had a hard time finding any information about T.H. Russel. His epitaph indicates he was married. On Find a Grave, it has him connected to John W. Russell and Debbie Weaver Russell, who had an estimated 10 children together. But I cannot find T.H. listed on their census records.

Killed in Action

This one for John Hartwell Moore made me stop. A native of Dekalb, John was killed in action on July 18, 1918 while serving his country in World War I. He was only 25.

Second Lieut. Moore was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant (Infantry) John H. Moore, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company D, 3d Machine-Gun Battalion, 1st Division, A.E.F., near Cutry, France, on 18 July 1918. While courageously leading his section in the face of intense fire, Second Lieutenant Moore was knocked down by a shell explosion, but continued his leadership as soon as he regained consciousness and personally reconnoitered the area in advance to find a less dangerous route. He succeeded and thereby made it possible for his men to go forward, but he himself was killed in the undertaking.

John H. Moore was only 25 when he died in France.

I do find it interesting that John’s family chose a WOW marker instead of a military one. I could find no obituary for him online that describes his funeral at Woodmen Cemetery, but his fellow WOW members may have served as pallbearers.

A True Woodman of the World

But I found a true Woodman of the World when I photographed the grave of William Wiley “Willie” Loven. When I looked up his memorial on Find a Grave, I saw that one of his relatives had posted a photo of Willie with his fellow WOW members. They are all dressed in their Woodmen uniforms and are holding axes! This is indeed a rare find and I was thrilled to see it.

Willie Loven is on the far left side, standing in full WOW uniform with his axe. (Photo source: Dwight Needens, Find a

Willie was a native of Dekalb, born in 1884. He married Callie Hogland in 1907 when he was 23. They had two children together, Willie and Ovies. He was a farmer. He died at age 35 on Jan. 7, 1919. I could not find an obituary for him, so I don’t know what caused his death. But Spanish Flu would have been a likely cause. Callie, who died in 1964, is buried beside him.

Willie Loven left behind a wife and two children when he died in 1919.

Heart Trouble

I had noticed soon after I’d photographed Dan Blocker’s grave that I was experiencing a tightness in my chest, something I’d never felt before. It got worse as I walked around the cemetery. Sarah had set up a camp chair near her car and was reading. I went over to her and told her, “Something is wrong.” She thought at the time I mean something was wrong with Dan’s grave but that wasn’t the problem. It flashed through my mind that I might be having a heart attack. While I love cemeteries, I really didn’t want to die in one.

Thankfully, Sarah is a level-headed person and she calmly asked me a few questions. I could breathe fine, and I could talk. But I needed to get off my feet and out of the cemetery. The pain was not sharp but it wasn’t pleasant. We started heading toward Texarkana, where our hotel was. I felt better sitting down.

She offered to take me to the hospital but I began to suspect it was heartburn. I’d only had heartburn once or twice when I was pregnant with my son, and that was very minor. I thought perhaps my incredibly spicy meal might have been the culprit, not any coronary issue.

We checked into our hotel and Sarah drove off to get me some Tums. When she returned, I gratefully munched on a few. Within about 15 minutes, the discomfort was totally gone. WHEW! While I had Maggie’s Mexican Grill to thank for my scare but I don’t hold it against them. I realized I just can’t handle a combo of super spicy/salty food. That isn’t there fault. Lesson learned!

I do wish I’d been able to linger a bit longer at Woodmen Cemetery but that wasn’t meant to be. We had a stop to make in the morning before we continued west.

Alex Durden’s Woodmen of the World tree marker tells us he was a member of Denver, Col. Camp #1. The Durdens only lived in Colorado a few years. Alex was 45 when he died in Texas on Oct. 13, 1903, leaving behind a wife and children,