Tales from the cemetery held in Manila

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Rick Sparks told the story of a well-known boat builder of the area, Dick "Uncle Dick" Hillhouse; Sherry Bunch, portrayed Herman Davis' mother, "Granny Davis," sharing the heroism and short life of the World War I veteran; and William Oglesby gave the story of his father Jim Oglesby, a veteran of the U.S. and Canadian military, and a prison of war survivor.

The annual Tales From the Cemetery was held at the Manila Depot Center Monday, May 12. Each year early settlers are chosen and their life stories are shared with fifth and sixth grade students.

Students usually visit the gravesites of the individuals at the Manila Cemetery. Due to inclement weather, this year's event was held inside. The students still had the opportunity to hear about three of the early settlers of the area and the impact their lives had on the area.

Sherry Bunch, portraying Mary Ann Davis, the mother of Herman Davis, gave a wonderful live history lesson on Herman Davis, a World War I hero whose monument and burial place stands in his hometown of Manila. Mrs. Davis was known as "Granny Davis."

Rick Sparks gave the life story of Dick "Uncle Dick" Hillhouse, a well-known duck hunter and boat builder of the area. Several of Mr. Hillhouse's family members were present.

Sergeant Everett "Jim" Oglesby's son William shared the interesting story of his father who was on his own at age 11, joined the U.S. Navy at 14 and went on to join the Canadian Army during World War II before the U.S. joined to fight. Mr. Oglesby adopted Manila as his home and, at his request, is buried at the feet of the man, Will Still, who took him in as a young orphan.

As Granny Davis, Bunch told the students about her son, Herman, who was born Jan. 3, 1888, and grew up in the woods of Big Lake. To help put food on the table, Herman quit school in the fourth grade and began working as a hunting guide.

"He and his cousin killed 400 ducks in one day and sold them for $1 each to be shipped up north," she said. "That was a lot of money in those days. He loved Big Lake and duck hunting."

According to Davis' biography, at 5'3" he was deemed too small for the military but as the war kept going on, he was drafted March 4, 1918. He trained for three months and then was sent to France.

Herman returned to his home and life at Big Lake on May 29, 1919. He did talk much about the war when he returned. When General John J. Pershing's list of the greatest heroes of World War I came out Herman Davis' name was number four on the list.

"He kept his medals in his fishing tackle box," Bunch said.

She told how he got sick due to the poison "mustard" gas used by the enemy and he died at the age of 35. She said members of the Blytheville American Legion and others erected the monument in his memory. School children had a penny drive to help. On Memorial Day 1925, Davis' body was moved from the cemetery and buried behind the monument. The Herman Davis monument is the smallest state park in the state of Arkansas. Also, a fountain was placed in memory of Herman Davis at the Old State House in 1954.

"Herman would not want you to forget the fallen soldiers," Bunch said. "Be proud to be an American."

Rick Sparks shared the story of Dick Hillhouse, an early settler who came to the area and lived on a houseboat at Big Lake and was well-known for his boat building skills learned from his father.

He was born in Vincit, Mo., in 1888. When asked how he settled in the area, he always said he just 'got in his boat one day and ended up at Big Lake and just stayed.'

His parents were George "Dickie" and Nancy Jane Hillhouse.

He was also a hunting guide. His boats were unique and great for maneuvering through the lake. He used tiny strips of oak to build the boats by hand.

Many times he guided hunters who stayed at "Kid" Wright's clubhouse. Mr. Wright was his brother-in-law.

He sold boats in 1910 for $20 each and before he died in 1977 he sold them for $200 each. Some of his boats are still around and can bring much more if the owners wanted to sell. There is one on loan at the Big Lake Welcome Center for people to view.

One of his youngest daughters, Jean Edwards, was at the event, along with his granddaughter, Karla Wilson, and his great-grandson, Kole Minton.

Mr. Hillhouse married Ida Crews in 1912 and they had nine children. The children have wonderful memories of growing up on a houseboat at Big Lake.

Uncle Dick lived off the land and some days he could make $400 selling fur and selling duck boats. The average salary in those days was around $40 a month.

He moved his family to town in 1945 but throughout his life he loved Big Lake and building boats.

William Oglesby said he was honored to be able to tell his father's story.

"Jim Oglesby lived 10 lifetimes in one life," his son said. "At the age of 11 his dad died and he went out on his own. A man named Will Still of Manila found him and took him to his home where he became part of the family."

He told of his father's patriotism as he joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 14. When they found out he lied about his age, he was immediately released from the military service. He traveled as a logger, cattleman, boxer, and at 16 he joined the U.S. Army. After three years he came back to Arkansas and worked the farm.

"In 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland my father knew it was only a matter of time before the U.S. got into the war," William said. "He wanted to do his part to stop Hitler, so he went to Canada and joined the Army."

William told how he was selected to serve with an elite Essex Scottish Regiment. He told of the intensive training he went through to become part of what was known as the best fighting force on earth.

"They called him Arky," William said. "He was the only soldier from Arkansas in the Canadian Army."

His son shared his father's story of war, being a prisoner of war, and survival.

"My father said if everyone could see what I saw for two or three days there would never be another war," Williams said. "He was on death ward of the prison hospital for 31 days. Finally, the doctor decided to give him one more chance. He lost 65 pounds in those three weeks. He did survive and on his way home the Queen of Sweden came aboard the ship and my father met her."

He went back to Canada and then back to Arkansas. He tried to join the U.S. military again, but because of his health he was not accepted. He wrote a book entitled "Home From Dieppe" in an effort to help prisoners of war. In the book, he let the readers know what to send prisoners and related some of the tough times in his life.

"My dad always said there was no greater place to live than the U.S.," William said. "He left Arkansas and went to Michigan where he worked for General Motors. Instead of letting his war experiences hold him back he loved life and he loved children. My father said being in the death ward as a prisoner of war was not as hard on him as when my brother and I were in Vietnam. Remember, freedom is the greatest thing you can have."

Donna Jackson, local historian, coordinated the event. She expressed her appreciation to the volunteers for sharing a small part of Manila's history with the students.

Members of the depot committee and Manila Business Women served refreshments to the students and guests.

Janet Metheny, Manila social studies teacher, thanked everyone who participated in the event and commented that Tales From The Cemetery continues to be a successful learning experience for the students.

Students had the opportunity to tour the Depot Museum before returning to school.

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