Prairie Cemetery project underway
The ancient Prairie Cemetery, south of Lake City, is being examined from above and below to find graves of loved ones buried there.
Riverside teacher and Lake City councilwoman Brenda Hutcheson spearheaded a project in January to reclaim the overgrown cemetery on County Road 812, one-and-a-half miles east of Lunsford.
"The cemetery has been overgrown with vines and brush for years," Hutcheson said. "My husband Donnie (Hutcheson) and I were raised in the Prairie Community, and wanted to do something about cleaning it up. We only found two stone headstones at first, but remember there being over 20. Many markers had been wood and they were gone.
"We contacted Craighead County Judge Ed Hill about getting help from the county road crew to remove the thicket covering the cemetery. The road crew brought heavy equipment and removed 30 dump trucks of brush and debris."
Hearing the story on KAIT-TV, Mike McGuirt, a teacher at Westside, brought his drone to the Prairie Cemetery to take photos before the county workers began and afterwards when the property had been cleared.
Volunteers came to the cemetery on Saturdays during February and March to rake and clean the surface of the cemetery. They probed for unmarked graves and located a third stone marker and a metal grave stake. ASU Archeologist Dr. Julia Morrow and her assistant Brandy Dacus examined the cemetery and advised Hutcheson as how to document the findings.
"Calls came in from everywhere giving me information about loved ones buried there," Hutcheson said. "This has helped us uncover a lot of information about the people who lived in this area, as well as nearby schools, and organizations. Our desire is to give those buried here a proper resting place."
Surveyor Michael Daniels, with the Bureau of Land Management, visited the site to look for what was first believed to be a section marker. The marker turned out to be the base of another tombstone.
Wilma Johnson Freeman, of Jonesboro, contacted Hutcheson to report five members of her Watkins family were buried there from 1892 through 1913.
"Wilma and her husband Ron Freeman came to the cemetery in hopes of finding the unmarked graves of their family," Hutcheson said. "The Watkins family was willing to sponsor the cost to hire GPR scanning of the cemetery to find graves. Mrs. Freeman contacted Ethan King, project manager with Ground Penetrating Radar Systems, out of Little Rock, and he did the work last Saturday."
King found 14 more grave sites on the cemetery property, much to the pleasure of the Freeman and Watkins family.
"We believe we have found our Watkins family members on the south end of the Prairie Cemetery," Mrs. Freeman said. "My cousin Sandra Whitmire and her friend Dwight Baker have already placed the cemetery on the Find-A-Grave site, listing the three headstone names, with hopes of soon adding our Watkins family to the listing."
"Donnie's cousin Harold Hutcheson, owner of Hutco Inc. of Paragould, also lived in this community growing up and has offered to construct an arched metal sign with the cemetery's name on it after work is completed," Brenda Hutcheson said. "He and his wife Viva came over here to work and have been great supporters of the project.
"Landowner Jim Moore has pledged his support in making sure we have enough space to clear the property and erect a fence when work is completed," she said. "It didn't take us long to see how interested people are in the work being done here. Even students from Riverside School and ASU came out to work. Local farmer Lynn Nall helped level the site for mowing at a later date.
"Now we are just waiting for the printout with the GPR results so we can purchase small concrete markers to identify the found grave sites. When we are finished we want to list the names of all those buried here on a marker near the metal arch out front. We are trying to raise money to pay for those and have already received several donations."
The Prairie Cemetery is featured in this month's spring issue of Delta Crossroads.
Anyone who has information about the cemetery or the people buried there is asked to contact Brenda Hutcheson at 870-530-1426.