Life On Rich Mountain, Part II ~ Some Stayed Behind

A June evening on Rich Mountain

Around mid-summer, Arkansas wineberries begin to ripen. Prickly tangles of fruit and vines native to China, Korea, and Japan, the wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) arrived in the United States around 1890. Intended for use as breeding stock for new varieties of raspberries and blackberries, the plant’s beautiful red canes soon were planted as ornamentals as well. Perhaps inevitably, the wineberry escaped cultivation and began spreading through the wilds of North America.

Foragers eager for the delicious fruit have learned to stake out patches well in advance of the harvest. Thanks to the plants’ fuzzy red canes, they’re easy to find, particularly when a dusting of winter snow makes them even more obvious.

Wineberry canes in winter – Beargrass Creek Nature Preserve, Louisville

Amos Reeder, an early settler on Arkansas’s Rich Mountain and a well-known horticulturalist, introduced wineberries to the mountain community, perhaps encouraged by the success of mountain vineyards and berry patches. An 1891 Biographical and Historical Memoir of Western Arkansas, published by Chicago’s John Morris & Co., noted the abundance of fruit in the Ouachitas, both cultivated and native.

“This is the home of many varieties of grapes. The Ouachita, or mountain grape, about the size of the Concord, grows wild on the mountain. The few vineyards that have started have given entire satisfaction, with not a failure in eight years: large fruit and a fine flavor, no blight, mildew or insects, and but few leaf rollers.
Strawberries grow wild wherever protected from stock. The few that have cultivated the strawberry have received ample reward for their labor in large and finely flavored berries and an abundant yield.

Born in Kentucky in 1847, Reeder served the Union as a Sergeant in the 22nd Kentucky Regiment during the Civil War before moving to Arkansas, where he met and married Lida Kesterson in 1891. The couple moved to the summit of Rich Mountain, where they cultivated 120 acres and received their land patent in 1903. During those years, Reeder continued to work with his berries, which eventually established themselves along the length of the mountain’s north slope. 

When Reeder died in 1916, his burial took place in the Sexton cemetery at the foot of Rich Mountain, almost directly below the Queen Wilhelmina Inn. Today, no stone marks his grave, but it lies in sight of vines descended from those he brought to the mountain himself.

Amos Reeder came to Rich Mountain relatively early, but he was far from the first to be laid to rest in its shadow.

Bill Putman, born in Texas in 1828, also arrived at Rich Mountain after the Civil War. A Confederate veteran, he married Elizabeth Morris, a Choctaw woman, and eventually owned 400 acres of land on and around the mountain.

At the time of Putman’s death in 1888, friends honored his request to be buried at the foot of a shade tree near the dooryard of his home. In her history of the area, Aileen McWilliam notes that such burials were customary among the Choctaw, and Putman may have been following the practice of his wife’s tribe.

Another at-home burial was that of the woman known both as Granny Bowling and Grandma Williams, since she married Mr. Williams after Mr. Bowling died. Her son Caleb received his land patent in 1900, and she was buried near the house on their family property: her grave marked by a simple stone cairn.

Oddly enough, both Bill Putman and Grandma Williams appear in some lists of settlers buried in the Pioneer Cemetery atop Rich Mountain. To understand how that could happen, and to understand who might — or might not — be resting there requires following the trail to the cemetery itself.

The trail to the Pioneer Cemetery

After land patents began to be granted by President Lincoln in 1862, James L. Witherspoon acquired three parcels of land along the Rich Mountain summit. After his death, the land was bequeathed to his son, John, then sold and resold a total of five times until it eventually became United States Forest Service property in 1923.

In September, 1890, owners A.Y. Hays and M.M. Triplett deeded one acre of the former Witherspoon land for a church, a school, and a cemetery. At the time of the deed, for which Hays and Triplett received ten dollars, the combination church and school already had been built, and it’s possible one burial had taken place in the cemetery.

Today, the exact number of graves there remains an open question. Some say there are twenty-three, while others suggest twelve, or sixteen, or twenty. Determining the exact number is difficult since records are sketchy, and only one grave, that of Bill Hefley, has a typically inscribed marble stone. Some gravestones have crumbled or been toppled over the years. Other plots are marked with native rocks whose inscriptions — if any- – have faded, and at least a few graves never were marked.

In time, even the cemetery’s original name, Witherspooon, faded away. Another branch of the Witherspoon family had established their own cemetery near Vandervoort, south of Rich Mountain, and the James Witherspoon family hadn’t deeded the land for the mountaintop cemetery, so the decision was made to call the last home of those early settlers the Pioneer Cemetery. 

A token of remembrance at a pioneer grave

According to Elsie Allred, the great-granddaughter of William Beauchamp — a homesteader on the land where the Queen Wilhelmina Inn was built — the first Pioneer Cemetery burial may have been a young Wilkerson girl.

The details of her story vary according to the source. Some say she was sent for water, others for wood. But in its broadest outlines, the story remains intact, having been passed down through the decades by former residents of the mountain.

A family living on the mountaintop near where the cemetery is now fell sick, all but a little girl too young to go for help. The nearest doctor was at Bethesda Springs, near Dallas, the county seat: about seventeen miles distant.
The weather was bitter cold. The girl was sent outside to bring in some firewood and was treed by wolves. The next morning, her frozen body was found in the crotch of the tree, and the weak and stricken family managed to secure help to dig a grave and bury her close by the church-school building.

Quite apart from such dramatic circumstances, infant mortality was high, and it’s assumed several unknown children might be lying in small plots. One whose name is known was Jesse Farless, who died in 1894, and whose father moved off the mountain to join the community at Mountain Fork.

One grave, or two?

James Witherspoon, his wife, and at least one of their children are among those whose graves were marked only with native stones, as were the graves of A.Y. Hays, who died on the mountain;  an Indian named Redbird; a man named Wohlenburg who sold honey; Peg-Leg Keith; Mr. Williams, who may or may not have been Grandma Williams’s husband; and Betty Bowling Davis, who died (perhaps of tuberculosis) while her two children were at school.

While the circumstances and even the dates of so many deaths are ambiguous at best, others are rich in vivid detail. The demise of John McSlarrow in the early 1930s is an example.

In the early 1930s, Carlos Hill, who had been for a while at Commonwealth College in the Center Point community, was living in the old laundry buildings that had been an adjunct of the Queen Wilhelmina Inn. He was engaged in building rock cottages for summer people. [One house built by Hill sold to Oklahoma oilman C.E. Foster; now a historical site, it’s part of Queen Wilhelmina State Park.]
[Hill] was joined on the mountain by John McSlarrow, another man who had been at Commonwealth as a worker. One day McSlarrow had been down the mountain and had brought mail from the Rich Mountain post office. The trip afoot up the mountain evidently overtaxed him, and he died of a heart attack.
Hill got Lawrence Walker, caretaker at the Craig house, to help him. Together the two men managed to wrap McSlarrow’s body in sheets and take it to the old cemetery, where they dug a grave and laid him in, with Walker saying a few words by way of ceremony.

The last person to be buried in the old cemetery also was the last of the settlers to leave Rich Mountain. Bill Hefley remained on the mountain as long as possible, but came down in 1949 in order to live closer to medical care.

Sometimes called Uncle Bill, but just as often referred to as The Old Hermit, Hefley brought his wife to Rich Mountain for her health: particularly the presumed benefits of fresh mountain air.

Last to leave, and last to return

Not long after their move to the mountain, Hefley’s wife died. After her body had been taken back to their former home near Fort Smith for burial, Hefley himself returned to the mountain, and lived as a recluse. Even thirty years after his death, jars of preserved food he’d buried atop the mountain continued to be found, giving new life to stories about his unusual habits.

In his latter years he tended the old graveyard, fencing it against wandering cattle and generally overseeing things. All he asked was to be buried on the mountain he loved; in 1952, after 86 years of life, his wish was granted. Some say he still watches over the old graveyard from his resting spot there: the bits of stone and coins atop his gravestone seem to acknowledge a continuing sense of his presence.

Outside the cemetery clearing, the Ouachita trail meanders for more than two hundred miles through the forest: westward over Winding Stair mountain into Oklahoma, or eastward to the outskirts of Little Rock. If you choose to hike east, you’ll pass the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge before reaching the fire tower on Section 17, the land for which William Wilkerson received a patent in 1897. 

Not far away lies Section 16, where A.E. Wilkerson squatted for years, making good use of its clear, dependable spring and the deep, rich soil which gave Rich Mountain its name. Traces of his terraces and walls remain, but the gardens are gone. Only the grasses, the woods, and the wildflowers serve as tokens of the life that blossomed and spread across the mountain in centuries past, waiting to greet the settlers.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Surrounded by such beauty, visitors sometimes describe the Pioneer Cemetery as barren and poor: a depressing testament to the harshness and brevity of settlers’ lives. Scattered stones and encroaching vines do suggest neglect, and the absence of any names or dates beyond those on Bill Hefley’s stone can make it difficult to grasp the history lying beneath the surface.

Yellow crownbeard (Verbesina helianthoides)

Still, the riches continue to spread through the woods and creep through the cemetery fence, suggesting that, in time, the mountain will reclaim its own. The lyre-leaf sage pushing up through the stones, the exuberant spiderwort peering through the fence, the lovely and useful self-heal lining the trail are little different from the wonders enjoyed by those who dared the mountain life.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohensis)
Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris )

For the settlers who remain on the mountain, the soil still is rich, and the waters still flow, just as the flowers that brought them pleasure and the fruits that once fed them endure.

 Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria)

Having lived on, loved, worked, and fought against the privations of the land, the pioneers truly have settled in at last: embraced by the mountain they loved, and cheered by the cup she raises in their honor.

Standing winecup (Callirhoe digitata)


Comments always are welcome.
Details about land patents can be found in the Federal Land Records for Polk County, Arkansas. Additional information came from the Family Maps of Polk County and the ArGenWeb Project.
Quotations are taken from a Ouachita National Forest/Arkansas State Parks brochure titled “The Old Pioneer Cemetery Historical Site.”
All photos are mine, except for that of the wineberry canes, which can be found through the links inserted above.


106 thoughts on “Life On Rich Mountain, Part II ~ Some Stayed Behind

  1. There is something very comforting in the fact that people still care about writing and reading about the final resting places of those who have gone before us. Your research, storytelling skills and photographs are always a wonderful treat.

    1. Thanks, Jean. Not only are the details of such different times fascinating, the similarities between our generations and those who have gone before us are as well. Beyond that, I do enjoy returning to a place I’ve visited previously after doing research like this. It’s always a different experience, and always much more satisfying.

  2. The first part of the species name phoenicolasius seemed to me a reference to ancient Phoenicia or to the mythological phoenix, but why would the namer refer to either of those? I hunted around and finally at a page on the website of the Missouri Botanical Garden found this: “The epithet is Greek, phoenic- referring to the purple-red (wine)color and -lasius to the hairy or shaggy state of the stems and flower parts.” That still left me puzzled about the connection to the legendary bird that consumes itself in fire. The Online Etymology Dictionary gives more information in its entry on phoenix: “Greek phoinix, the mythical bird of Arabia which flew to Egypt every 500 years to be reborn; it also meant ‘the date’ (fruit and tree), and ‘Phoenician,’ literally ‘purple-red,’ perhaps a foreign word (Egyptian has been suggested), or from phoinos “blood-red.” The exact relation and order of the senses in Greek is unclear.”

    The red canes look similar to those of the Rubus trivialis common in central Texas, but thicker and higher and therefore more prominent.

    1. I had some similiar thoughts about phoenicolasius, but it was one of those trails I decided not to go down: at least for the purposes of this post. I’m glad you made the trek. I did have this in my notes: “The berries are named for the fact that they become the color of red wine when ripe–a very deep purplish red.” I’m not sure now where I came across that detail, but it certainly accords with what you found.

      The berries ripen differently from dewberries or raspberries, too. Instead of the berry forming, and then turning red, the wine berry stays encased in a hairy pod until shortly before it ripens. It’s an odd little thing, but apparently the taste is wonderful.

    1. Your comment about ordinary people reminded me of this wonderful song about “Everyday People”. I suppose in a celebrity-obsessed culture it’s inevitable that ‘ordinary’ would begin to seem equivalent to boring, or humdrum, but that’s not at all the case — as the lives of these people shows.

    1. I did, although it took me a while to figure out why Verbesina seemed so familiar. Once I did, I looked again, and saw an obvious resemblance between the two: the disc flowers.

      For some reason, I have it in my mind that the brown ‘things’ sticking up in the middle of the star-shaped florets are called anther tubes, and that they open to reveal the anthers. Is that right, or is it a bit of misinformation I imagined somewhere along the way? The structure’s the same in frostweed. For that matter, skeleton plant and chicory have those ‘tubes’ as well. They must have a name, but I can’t seem to find it.

      1. I, too, have heard the five fused stamens referred to as an anther tube. The anthers spread out beyond the tip of the tube. The tube surrounds the style, which extends beyond the anthers. At least that’s my understanding of the situation.

  3. What a beautiful and interesting read this is, Linda. You’ve piqued my interest in taking much more time to check out this area, just a few hours away from here. We did once take time to hike to a cemetery along the Tahlimena drive, but I have no idea what the name of the cemetery was. My wish is for a lovely autumn season this year where Forrest and I can get away for a few days to explore this area. It’s been a long time since we’ve been to that enchanted area of the woods.

    1. If you were on the Talimena Scenic Byway, I’d be surprised if you didn’t visit the Pioneer Cemetery. I’m not sure there’s another cemetery until you get into Oklahoma, or take the road down the north slope to the little towns on that side of the mountain. The Forest Service topo map is a little confusing, because it calls the Pioneer Cemetery the ‘Heely’ cemetery — a misspelling of Hefley.

      If you find the Wilhemina Lodge at the far right on the map I linked (there’s a red dot) and then follow the blue line of the Ouachita trail to the west, you’ll find the ‘Heely’ cemetery just above the ‘T’ in “forest.” That’s the Pioneer Cemetery. There’s a trailhead on the Scenic Byway, too.

      I think a lot of us are hoping for a lovely autumn. I certainly am. I have to get back up to Kansas City before the snow flies, and the Arkansas route will be my choice.

      1. I will go back in my photographs and see if I can piece the trip by photos and see if it was indeed the Pioneer Cemetery that we stopped at – it seems to me that it wasn’t much of a walk to get to it.

        That will be another big drive for you, but oh what lovely scenery. FD has an uncle in Zwolle, LA so we often go the backroads down through east Texas if we have the time. Forested areas take longer but you cannot beat the scenery.

        1. It can’t be more than a half-mile from the trailhead to the cemetery if you start from the Byway. Maybe not even that. It sounds to me like that’s exactly where you were.

    1. I’ll bet your Sunday’s going swimmingly, Pit. I’ve been keeping an eye on the rain totals that way, and you surely have had a few more inches. I hope it came down slowly and gently, and that you didn’t get the kind of flooding San Antonio did.

      Glad you enjoyed the history, and liked the flowers. I’d never seen the crownbeard or moth mullein — coming across them was great fun.

      1. Hi Linda,
        we had some very greayt rain, starting last night around midnight, and going on till around 1:30 PM today. A very beneficial rain: gentle, not too much at a time, 2.7″ total. Good soaking and ground penetrating rain. Watch the video of our creek running here:
        Have a wonderful week,

    1. Thanks, Allan. Of course, writing a piece like this raises as many questions as it answers, and some of those questions are great fun to ponder. For example: why did Granny Bowling become Grandma Williams? Was there a difference in status between her husbands? Did the Williams’ family customs dictate ‘Grandma’ rather than ‘Granny’? And so on.

      Learning that James Witherspoon received his land patent the year President Lincoln made them available was a bit of a stopper, too. Sometimes, the past isn’t quite as past as we imagine.

  4. Anybody who calls those the “good ole days” needs to have his head examined! Freezing to death, starvation, lack of medical care — all horrid ways to go. I wouldn’t have made a very happy pioneer, I’m afraid. Still, there’s something to be said about being surrounded by all that native, pristine beauty … before littering and pollution became problematic. A most interesting conclusion to your tale, Linda — thank you.

    1. Well, on the other hand, we have obesity, drug addiction, and traffic deaths, so there’s that. Every age has its challenges, after all. Who knows? It’s even possible that, were we able to bring back those pioneers from Rich Mountain, they might take a look around and say, “Uh — no thanks. We’ll stick with the wolves.”

      One thing really did interest me about modern Arkansas: at least, most of the portions I traveled through. It was absolutely the cleanest state I’ve ever been in. It took me a while to figure out what was missing. Eventually, I figured it out. There wasn’t any litter: not alongside the roads, and not on the trails. There were a couple of places in the state where things were untidy, but for the most part, it was a pleasure to be in a place that was so clean. Texas could learn something from those folks.

      1. Minnesota is clean like that. Furthermore, not many people smoke, and most seem inclined to exercise and eat healthily. Illinois could take a lesson from them!

  5. While the history and the cemetery are fascinating, I locked onto that first photo of the layered ridges and your later mention of the Ouachita trail. You know I’m already a fan of Arkansas’s natural riches, but with every post, you quicken my interest in getting back there to do some real hiking!

    1. You can find trail reviews and topo maps online, but a book I’d recommend is Tim Ernst’s Arkansas Nature Lover’s Guidebook. It’s a great overview divided by subject: prairies, waterfalls, etc. By the time I’d spent a couple of hours with my copy, I had dozens of places I wanted to visit. When you visit the page I linked, click on “Guidebooks and Maps” and you’ll find two other resources that might be of interest: the Arkansas Trail Guide, and the Ouachita Trail Guide. Friends who’ve hiked the Ouachita in sections highly recommend that guide.

  6. This post is very interesting. Your descriptions of the plants, terrain and how the settlers lived and died, makes one appreciate even more how easy our lives are now compare to times in the 1800’s. I imagine the people living on the mountain lived good lives but none the less it was quite harsh if they had to contend with wolves, the heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter.

    I wonder if folks go to Rich Mountain to pick wine berries? The fruit sounds delicious. I love reading about fruit and vegetable species/varieties that I have not previously known.

    1. The wine berries can be found all over Arkansas now, as well as other states to the east. Here’s a map that shows where they are.

      Apparently they were brought into the east coast first, and then started to move westward. Amos Reeder may well have known them from Kentucky, and brought them with him to Arkansas. They are invasives, and land managers don’t love them at all. Still, I kept reading articles about them filled with comments like, “I know they’re invasive, but I love those berries.”

      I try not to romanticize the past. Even my grandparents and parents had some hair-curling stories to tell of the World Wars and the Depression, and the conditions that led my grandparents to this country weren’t easy. Still, it’s a fact that I often feel I have more in common with life in the 1800s than I do with life in our current world. I love my air conditioning, my car, and my computer, but there’s a lot to appreciate about the old ways, too.

    1. I’ve gained great respect for real historians in the process of writing these posts. The “five Ws and an H” that we learned in our high school journalism class certainly does come in handy as a guide, although they’re not always as helpful as I’d like when it comes to figuring out which sources are reliable and which not.

      Still, it’s fun to sift through the years, and satisfying to be able to re-present some of the story so that others can enjoy it. I’m glad you did — and thanks, too, for your appreciation of the photos. Taking photos in a forest isn’t quite the same as being out on the coastal prairie!

  7. Story after story. We’re lucky to get the ones we do. It’s sobering to think of all those that we’ve lost. It’s a grace to have the ones we have. Enjoyed both posts of life on Rich Mountain.

    1. Can’t you just imagine what the settlers of Rich Mountain would think, were they able to come back and discover us honoring their lives in this way? Not everyone on the mountain was admirable, of course, nor everyone on the trails. Horsethief Spring didn’t have its name pulled out of the air. Still, there’s a lot that can be learned by studying the past: about them, and about ourselves.

    1. I was so tickled to find some new flowers, as well as some familiar ones, and delighted to learn so much about a very interesting part of the country. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  8. What a fascinating post. The early settlers certainly had a hard life.

    I can wander for hours through old cemeteries, reading the stone inscriptions.

    Beautiful images of the flowers, although Spiderwort is the only one I’m really familiar with having grown it in the community garden when I lived next to the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Melbourne.

    1. Like you, I enjoy cemeteries, particularly ones that are very old, very isolated, or just plain quirky. In Texas, cemetery searching can be very interesting, because any old place that someone is buried automatically is designated a cemetery, and protected. I have a couple of photos of two very old stones that are sitting at the side of a country crossroad; when the state mows, they stop, get out the trimmers, and work around them. It’s a nice gesture of respect, as well as being the law.

      The spiderwort, winecup, self-heal, and chicory can be found in Texas, too. The others were new to me. When I got farther north, into Missouri and Kansas, I found even more new flowers. One of these days I’ll show them. there were some beauties, including one I discovered bearing the name Arkansas wedding bouquet.

  9. As always I am impressed by your research and photography skills, as well as your topics. Such interesting people you present for our benefit. Thanks, Linda, for letting me walk Rich Mountain with you.

    1. The next time I plunge into a bit of history, it’s going to be focused on the west end of the Talimena trail, in Oklahoma. There’s some equally neat — and poignant — history that involves the U.S. military, the Choctaw nation, and a ‘missing’ town that’s only a road on a Google map now. My poor cousin stuck it out with me while I tried to find the place, and I never did, but now I have a clue, and I’m going to have to go back — you’ll like it, I think.

      But I’ve had enough deep dives into history for just a bit. It’s time for some flowers, and some humor, and a little lightness. Besides, it’s September, and storms are lurking. I need to spend a little time doing what I should have done months ago to get ready for hurricane season. They’re lurking!

      1. Florence is having an effect on my life as of today. My granddaughter and her family are coming in – evacuating Raleigh. They left last night and should arrive tonight. I’m glad to have them even under these circumstances. Love the promise for more history coming, especially the Oklahoma kind. However, I always enjoy your delves into other venue also.

  10. Two images came to my mind: One of a torn spider web laboriously mended. Each death is a hole in the web of life that the survivors are left to mend. Each one buried in that graveyard left a hole in the life of that community. The second image was a pile of pebbles, seemingly located at random as viewed by someone who did not know that there was a grave beneath them. It’s an old Jewish custom, the placing of pebbles on a grave or gravestone as a visible sign of remembrance. I’m glad to see the custom has spread. It’s a beautiful idea to leave a trace behind, a pebble that says, “You are not forgotten.” It’s a reminder that, just as every birth leaves the world richer for the possibilities of what that new life may become,. every death leaves the world poorer for the loss of the potential that life has realized.

    1. When I was thinking about the names of the people buried there, it occurred to me how descriptive they are, and how much they tell us about their role in that community. Mr. Wohlenburg, known as ‘the honey man’ is one example, and I’m sure there were others. Their function was folded into their names.

      Leaving tokens at a grave is a wonderful custom, and the variations I’ve seen are interesting, too. When I visited Leadbelly’s grave in Louisiana, his stone was covered with guitar picks: a perfect tribute. In the photo of the stones with the pink flowers, you can see a penny and a couple of dimes, too. It crossed my mind that those coins add another layer of meaning to the gesture. They not only say, “You are remembered,” they add, “You are valued.”

  11. Those pioneers moving west from our east coast encountered challenging worlds simply trying to survive as I recall reading in recent years some historical records about the settling of Ohio. People continued pushing west into that Arkansas wilderness. Your photos lovely and the story fascinating. I recall being told by locals when we lived further south for a few years that Arkansas was the only state in the Union that could be self-sufficient if cutoff from the rest of the country. I found that hard to believe, convinced it must surely be excessive state pride, but I never attempted to investigate any reality to the claim.

    1. The comment about Arkansas’s ability to exist on its own tickled me, as I’ve heard the same claim made about Texas and Kentucky. I’m sure other states have made the claim as well. I suspect it might be rooted in an appreciation for the self-sufficiency of the pioneers who settled the lands, although in truth those pioneers also appreciated the necessity of being “isolated together.” Of course, we’re living in a different world today, and it takes a good bit of effort to get off the grid, even if someone wanted to.

      On the other hand, there are individuals and communities who fare better than others when cut off from the rest of the world, as after a hurricane or ice storm. The ability to take care of oneself, and the willingness to take care of others, may be old-fashioned values, but they work just as well today.

  12. Wonderful. Such history can bring tears to one’s eyes, and not the sentimental kind either. How wonderful life’s rich tapestry is, how deeply moving are the lives of people long gone and now part of the same earth they were in their lifetimes.
    The history of a particular place which has stayed true to its beginnings and the people who worked and loved the land is the most deeply interesting one. Forget about kings and queens, it’s the quiet places and the modest people who build the most lasting monuments.

    Wonderful photos too. Thank you Linda.

    1. Once I found this tiny cemetery, there was no question I’d write about it. I would have lingered longer, had I not sensed a faint tinge of impatience in my traveling companion, but I was there long enough to be moved by the tumbled stones and the encroaching flowers. It’s impossible in a place like that not to think of all the other small and hidden gravesites across the country: some nothing more than a faint rise in the prairie where someone who died in passage was left behind to become part of the land.

      It is interesting that the Queen Wilhelmina Inn and this cemetery lie so close to one another, and that at least one of the people responsible for the first rebuilding of the Inn is buried here. The vision and the money of the wealthy developers was necessary, but the labor — and lives –of the ordinary people who helped to bring the railroad and the Inn to life were no less necessary.

      Speaking of the hidden ones of the world, did you notice who was lurking in the last photo, of the winecup? He’s no less interesting than the rich, colorful flower.

  13. For future research, you might like to know that the Bureau of Land Management has a website where copies of land patents can be downloaded. The URL is Select the state and county, type in the name, and you’ll be presented with a result that has an “Image” icon on the left side. Click on that and you will see a .pdf copy of the actual land patent.

    1. What a great resource, Jeff. Thanks for passing it along, I found a couple of search possibilities other than land patents that might be useful in the future. Thanks so much!

  14. It’s fascinating to look at the past and the incredible hard life that Pioneers lived in the mountains. Also, how the mountains retake the land so rapidly. Thank you Linda for your wonderful writing, as always! :)

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, H.J. It’s occurred to me that we often speak about settlers living on the land, but they knew how to live with it, too. They have a lot to teach us about that, if we’ll just listen.

  15. How fascinating reading of the lives of these pioneers, a little haunting too, still, it’s a life I would choose, wolves and all. Some beautiful images here, especially of the mountains and wineberry

    1. Landscape photos are something I’m not particularly practiced with, and I wasn’t sure I could get any longer view that would show their beauty. But this one satisfied me, and I’m glad it pleased you.

      The wineberry canes are beautiful. We have wild berries that are similar in color, but they tend to stay closer to the ground. I read that the wineberry can grow to six or nine feet — quite an obstacle for people trying to get through them, but convenient for the pickers filling their buckets.

  16. Linda – This is excellent, start to finish, thank you. The pictures are wonderful, especially the glowing red canes and beautiful spiderworts, and that crownbeard, with its very intent bug. And the selections of local and family history are very poignant. After I read this the first time, I was walking in the woods, and thinking about those folks coming out, and finding their daughter’s frozen body up in a tree. I’d like to know about all these people. I wonder if the Union and Confederate vets would get together and talk about the war, or if they’d leave it alone.
    I helped mend an old marble tombstone once, with epoxy, and because it had been laying facedown for many years, the inscriptions were still sharp and legible, but all over the northeast, there’s markers with the carvings pretty much weathered away. I know that bothers genealogists, but in a way it seems ok to me, definitely a lesson there.

    1. These were fascinating pieces to write. They certainly percolated long enough. I picked up the little pamphlet on the Pioneer Cemetery when I was at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge in 2016, but I never read it until I was thinking about this year’s trip. That was when I really looked at some photos I’d taken of the scrapbook they have in the lounge area of the Inn, and realized the portrait of a matronly Queen Wilhelmina was on the wall for a reason.

      I’m glad you liked the flowers. Early June puts on quite a show in the mountains. There were spiderwort everywhere, and in some of the ditches they were combined with bright orange milkweed — quite a dramatic combination.

      I wondered about the Civil War vets myself. I not only wonder how the relationships between Union and Confederate soldiers were, I wonder how the earliest settlers — particularly those who went to the mountains to get away from the war — felt about those ex-soldiers from Kentucky, Tennessee, and elsewhere making their way into what had been a pretty isolated society.

      One of the things I really like about the online cemetery sites is that so many people are out and about, photographing the old tombstones and posting them online. It’s a way of preserving them for that time when age and weather (or, unfortunately, vandalism) have rendered them unreadable.

      Even though cremations are more popular now, and fewer people want those in-your-face stones, I still think one of the best parlor games ever is “What do you want written on your tombstone?” I’ve said for years that, were I to have a stone, I’d want it to say, “She varnished from our sight.”

  17. At the time of Putman’s death in 1888, friends honored his request to be buried at the foot of a shade tree near the dooryard of his home.

    This custom of where and how to bury our loved ones is interesting. One has to imagine that a lot of people were buried “out back” before the church and community graveyard came to be. These days with the growing popularity of cremation, not a few loved one’s ashes are scattered “out back”.

    It might mean the slow demise of the graveyard and a blow to our walks through history – but in a way, it is coming full circle.

    1. It’s interesting that the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of what funeral directors so primly call a person’s ‘final disposition’ is more and more a matter of choice, and less one of necessity. There weren’t many choices when someone crossing the plains in a Conestoga wagon died; it was going to be burial, there, and then.

      Texas is laced with tiny family cemeteries that came into existence because of necessity. Sometimes, in addition to the family members in the plots, there will be an occasional ‘Pegleg’ or ‘Bronc.’ Presumably, they were workers, or passers-through, or individuals without family, who were included in the family circle as a last gesture of acceptance.

  18. As you know, I have always admired your writing, both for it’s command of the language and the depth of your research. But I want to say that your photography really is the icing on the cake now. A June evening on Rich Mountain is just lovely.

    1. It took me a while to figure out why the sunsets there seemed just a little different. I finally figured out that the Ouachitas run east and west, rather than north and south, so the sun never rises or sets ‘behind’ the mountains.That’s what accounts for the way the light’s stretched horizontally down the valleys here, from left to right. I’m really glad you like the photo, and I’m glad I had the chance to take it.

        1. Your comment about wishing you’d arrived a bit earlier, to achieve a little more separation, brought a smile. Things do happen fast, don’t they? I’ve made the mistake of coming in to get a cup of coffee while waiting for the sun to sink just a little lower, and — a cup of coffee can be too long.

  19. Makes me yearn even more for those Arkansas hills. I have been lobbying for us to go east next spring through the southern states mostly, up as far as Virginia and then back across. We’ll see how things unfold.
    Stellar story telling once again and beautiful photography. The history of the pioneers fascinates me and I try to imagine being there. Like you say, if they were here they might look around and decide they like wolves better. Sometimes I feel that way.
    Have you ever read the Outlander Series by Diana Galbadan? Eight books in the series. In the latter part of the series the protagonists (one of whom, Claire, is a time traveler) are homesteading in North Carolina. Galbaldan, a great story teller describes in detail life then and especially Claire who is a healer and herbalist.

    1. I haven’t read the Galbadan series, but I have a friend who’s greatly interested in herbalism who might enjoy the books. I’ll be sure to tell her about them. She’s a great reader, so the thought of an eight-volume set would be right up her alley.

      Digging around in archives and prowling cemeteries is a kind of time traveling, don’t you think? I suspect you’ve had the same experience with your genealogical research; there comes a point where those people from the past come alive. I suppose it’s akin to what fiction writers mean when they say a character takes on life. You’re going your way, feeding the dog or washing dishes, and suddenly realize there’s someone hanging around who’s insisting on being noticed — even if no one else can see them.

      I hope you can tempt Himself into that journey. I’ve never been to the Carolinas, or Virginia, or any of those eastern seaboard states, but I’ve spent plenty of time in states you’d cross getting there, and all of them are worth a visit. Of course, there still are parts of Texas I’ve not visited and would love to see — so many destinations, and so little time!

  20. Fascinating history of this area: regular folk living, dying, remembering. Your well-told history is framed by those who bloom–and die–there now. Thanks for this story and beautiful photos, as always.

    1. And every place on earth has the same regular folk, doing perfectly ordinary things: which is to say, living extraordinary lives, even when they’re not aware of it. I think that’s why I’ve always responded to Carl Sandburg’s poetry. He’s not much favored today, but he knew the common people, and wrote about them in his great poem, “The People, Yes.”

      The people yes
      The people will live on.
      The learning and blundering people will live on.
      They will be tricked and sold and again sold
      And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
      The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
      You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.

      1. “learning and blundering” certainly describes my pathway through life–guess I’m not alone. You (and Sandburg) are correct: we common folk have stories to tell.

  21. Lovey photographs! The post left me thinking about cemeteries. When we were in Denmark some years back, we discovered that plots are rented/leased for 10 years or so, during which the family visits etc. But after that time – unless the family renews the lease – another body/urn is located in the site and another memorial is placed there. It is interesting how people sometimes use language of forever to indicate the resting place of their dead. Death, too, it seems is subject to change as this evolving cemetery seems to indicate.

    1. But — what happens to the people who originally were placed in the plot? I suppose space considerations play a role, but that seems odd, at best. On the other hand, I suppose families continue renewing the lease until there’s no family left: or at least no family that feels an attachment. Still, it’s like erasing history. I can imagine instances where ordinary people simply disappear because no one pays the lease fee. That really strikes me as odd. I think about how much can be learned in cemeteries where graves go back to the 1800s (or earlier, in other parts of the country), and it makes me feel sad to think of those being replaced.

      It feels more like devolution than evolution! And it’s strange that I feel less distressed by cremation, which of course leave no ‘place’ to visit. Clearly, there are non-rational responses to all these issues that rarely surface until something triggers them.

      1. Yes, it is strange to me as well. But I think a good number of the “burials” are ashes, and so it might not be as big an issue. Also, this is a modern move, and as far as I could tell, headstones etc from the past were not being touched. Interesting times…

          1. That’s really quite interesting. I can see both sides of the issue, even though I’d not really given it much thought. The cemetery where my parents and their friends are buried is adjusting to new customs in a creative way. A single grave plot can hold one casket, or four cremation urns. It certainly is a space saver, and offers permanence as well.

            1. Yes, creativity and flexibility are necessary. As in life, so in death; no one size fits all, as is delightfully illustrated in this quote from the Obituary of Nuala Considine. ‘ It was Considine’s wish to be returned to her native Ireland and, as always, there was a tremendous wit that permeated even these darkest thoughts. She wrote to a friend: “There is a family plot that houses my parents and sister. My plan is to be buried there but the undertaker said she wasn’t sure if another body would fit and wanted to know if I was fat. She wouldn’t take my word for it and wanted to inspect me, so I presented myself. Like letting the hangman take a look at the prisoner before execution. She said, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine. There’s room. Take your time’. I said ‘Thank you’.

        1. As soon as you wrote ‘ossuary,’ I remembered reading about the custom in one of the Slavic countries. That little article led me to this, which somehow is more fascinating than repulsive. The variety and creativity are — well, remarkable. In some cases, of course, the weirdness factor is fairly high.

  22. I wonder where you find the people you choose to write about? Both their stories and the places they inhabit are always an interesting read. Someone else in a comment here, appreciated the focus on ordinary people, and I do the same. And as others comment too: The photos are lovely.

    1. I suppose I find my topics the same way your find your photos, Otto: I keep my eyes — and ears — open. Or, to use a metaphor, when I go fishing for interesting things to write about, I don’t use a pole and a single hook. I use a net, and drag it along behind me. Then, like any fisherman, I cull the catch, keeping the good ones, and throwing back the rest.

      On the other hand, these posts are a perfect example of that kaleidoscope I was talking about. I collected the pieces over a three-year period: conversations, pamphlets, photos, travels. Then, I stumbled on the cemetery, and that was the “twist” that brought everything into focus.

      Of course you enjoy ordinary people: your Cuban family’s proof of that. And I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I’m especially fond of the landscape, although it was great fun to find some unfamiliar flowers.

    1. Some of those mountain folk remind me of the old salts who continue to live on or near the water. There were a couple of guys who refused to leave their barrier island when Hurricane Ike was coming. As one said, “I’m nearly 90, and this is my home. Why would I leave?” When he was interviewed, he was sitting on his porch, drinking a beer and watching the ocean that eventually would take him, and every dwelling for miles. I’m not sure I’d make the same choice, but I understand it.

    1. It was great fun to see so many flowers on that trip that were new to me. I really need to post something about the Kansas and Missouri prairies that I visited, too — they were full of flowers I’d only seen in books. The chicory is akin to our skeleton plant, at least in appearance. Both are members of the Asteraceae, although they’re in different genera.

    1. I enjoy cemeteries, too. The Galveston cemeteries are treasure troves, but even the small and hidden ones can be terrifically interesting. I found one off Highway 71 south of El Campo that was on a dirt road, in the middle of pastures; it turned out to be a very old Black cemetery. Paris, Texas has a twelve-foot high Jesus wearing cowboy boots, and out in the middle of Kansas there’s a mostly Scandinavian cemetery with Thomas the Tank Engine tucked in among the historical stones. There was a birth date on Thomas, but no date of death. I guess a railroad enthusiast wanted to guarantee he got what he wanted in terms of a memorial!

  23. A wonderful local history, though the story of that young girl is so heartbreaking. I didn’t know that wineberry grew wild in that area, I don’t think it is found this far north. I also hope it isn’t too invasive. When we were in British Columbia we were amazed at all the thickets of Himalayan Blackberry. You could pull off almost any road and pick berries – they were delicious but they smothered the native flora.

    1. Funny — I never would have associated the Himalayas and blackberries. On the other hand, I was a little surprised to find wineberry native in Korea, Japan, and China. You’re right that it’s not common in your state. The USDA map shows it only in Morgan, Jersey, and Massac counties. Everything I read about it indicated that it is terrifically invasive, but that it’s also agreat source of food and shelter for birds and wildlife, so there’s that. It apparently is quite a tasty berry: sweeter and more flavorful than our dewberries.

      I can’t imagine the feelings of that young girl’s family — or, perhaps more truthfully, I can. That’s part of what makes it so heartbreaking.But it’s still good to hear the stories, and preserve them. The feelings that rise when we hear them are a reminder of a common humanity.

  24. Ah, I have finally seen the visitor to the winecup. I wonder if it is just resting or if it is imbibing from the stem. I am curious about the word ‘treed’. This is the third time I have read it in as many weeks. It’s much more efficient than what I would say which is ‘stuck in a tree’ or ‘trapped in a tree’. I love the way you show the land claiming the people, incorporating them, really permitting them to stake a true claim in the land.

    1. I’d say just resting, or perhaps lurking, hoping for a tiny insect to supplement its mostly vegetarian diet. Apparently they prefer leaves and grass to pollen or nectar. There might have been a little lingering dew, though. I suppose they will drink, as well as getting water from the plants that they eat.

      I grew up with critters treeing one another: dogs treed cats or raccoons, irate apple growers searched for kids they’d treed in their orchards, and so on. Probably the best recent example I’ve seen is this hunter being treed by a bear. What an experience. The young man clearly had been taught well.

      1. I can see why that video went viral. I have watched it several times over. It’s also the first time I have seen a stand like that for hunting, which no doubt shows ignorance on my part about all things hunting related.

        1. If I remember correctly, the number of hunters who suffer accidental gunshot wounds is far less than the number who fall from their hunting stands. Climbing up and down with gear in hand is one issue, and of course there always are the ones who decide a deer stand’s the perfect place for a brew or tw, and end up having one too many. Most hunters I know are wise enough to leave the drinks and the shenanigans for the evening, after the hunt.

  25. I certainly can understand why Carlos Hill and Lawrence Walker wrapped McSlarrow’s body in sheets and put him to rest without much fanfare. The circumstances didn’t allow for much more. Life was very cruel back then, but you have to wonder why the “stricken” family of the girl who was treed by wolves didn’t check on her after a while. Maybe too cold outside. :/ Maybe they did, but couldn’t find her until daybreak. Rough times. I’m opting for cremation, and like McSlarrow, no hoopla.

    Your research is appreciated, and the time you spend on it.

    1. My thought, based on what I’ve read, is that the girl’s family was so ill they couldn’t go out to search for her. Given the sorts of diseases that occurred during that time, including typhoid and malaria as well as ‘garden variety’ respiratory diseases, it makes sense that they might have had high fevers, fell asleep, and didn’t realize she hadn’t returned until the next morning. Whatever the facts, it had to have been a heart-rending experience.

      You’re right that even in the best of circumstances, options were limited. Even in towns like Little Rock, coffin makers, embalmers, and such didn’t come along until about 1900. It was up to the community to care for those who died; it just was part of life.

  26. Really enjoyed reading this article. I used to spend 2wks every summer in Mena because my Grand Parents lived there and we would go up on Rich Mountain, loved that mountain and its history.

    1. Visits with grandparents always are special, but being able to visit grandparents in such a grand setting would have been even more delightful. I’m happy you had that experience, and I’m glad y ou enjoyed this history. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for telling me.

      I have another post that will show up eventually, about the old military road that ran from Fort Smith to Fort Towson. It’s a different sort of history, but just as interesting. There’s no end to the beauty or the interesting tales that can be found in that area.

  27. Cemeteries are always fascinating; even without plants they are “planted” with people whose stories are intriguing though often barely outlined. I could look at gravestones for hours — but when there are wildflowers about, I might never get away.

    Your flower photos are heartbreakingly beautiful. Great honor is done to the chicory bloom by your skill with the camera, the shiny insect and the crownbeard complement each other artfully, but the moth mullein is my favorite: exquisite! Thank you, thank you!

    1. You would love several of the old Galveston cemeteries in the spring. They allow the wildflowers — mostly gaillardia, daisies, and coreopsis with a scattering of others — to bloom as they will, and in some years they cover the ground for weeks. There’s wonderful history there even without the flowers, but when they appear, it’s splendid.

      I had hoped to see some new flowers on the trip, and I did, indeed. That mullein that you like not only grew on the mountain, it also lined the roadsides in part of the state. It is a beautiful thing, indeed — and it comes in white, too!

  28. I am interested in finding out more about Bill Putman and his wife Elizabeth Morris. Where did you find your information regarding her being Choctaw and the 400 acres they owened extra….. ?

    1. When I was at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, I picked up a series of booklets in the gift shop. The information you mentioned came from one titled “The Old Pioneer Cemetery Historical Site.” It was written by Aileen McWilliam in the mi-1970s. Both she and many of her informants have passed on, but there surely are those who remember her and the people she interviewed. She grew up on the east end of Missouri Mountain, about 30 miles from Mena. She taught biology and chemistry at Mena High School.

      I’m sure if you contact the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, they’d be happy to send you a copy of the booklet.

      Also, I found some information in the land records for Polk County, and the original patent maps. I learned a lot — about how to search through old records, if nothing else! — and hope this is of help to you, too.

      1. My daughter and I recently visited the cemetery, we noticed in the back of Helfey’s head stone was the Garlande D Broaddus with dates but it was upside down. Do you happen to know the history or reasoning of this. I did some research myself and found out she was buried at Pinecrest Memorial Cemetery in Mena. So our question is how did her head stone end up in that cemetery with Mr Hefley’s information on the opposite side?

        1. I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything about that. The first thought that crossed my mind was that they might have recycled the stone. That seems too odd to be true, but it’s at least a possible explanation. I seem to remember that there’s quite an active historical association in Mena. That might be a place to start, or the Pinecrest Cemetery itself. Best of luck to you — that’s an interesting situation!

  29. Wonderful and surreal to read about my 3rd great grandparents William Putman and Elizabeth Jane Morris … and for my kids

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. One of the great things about blogging is the number of unexpected contacts that arise, just like yours. Our forebears deserve to be remembered.

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