Marks Family Reunion number 135


Entrance to Marks Cemetery area

You can tell when you see the first vestiges of Marks Cemetery that it's not going to be an average country last resting place.

Marks Cemetery in Cleveland County, Arkansas is worth the trip. If you are a history nut, put it on your bucket list. If you simply want to see something you won’t see anywhere else, it fills the bill. It’s kind of a park and kind of an outdoor museum carved out the southeast Arkansas boondocks.

pit barbeque

See the pork barbeque pit at Corndancer dot-com

If you can wangle an invitation, the best time to visit the site is for a few hours on the first Sunday morning in June when the Marks descendants gather for their annual family reunion an event dating back to 1877. More than one of these family members can regale you with historic tidbits, which others will corroborate with a reasonable degree of accuracy. You will also eat well. Very well. Speaking of eating, before we go too much further, may I direct you the start of this story on the Photo of the Week Page at Corndancer dot-com. We’ll wait here until you return.

Salt Branch memorial

As you enter the cemetery grounds you run up on this historical marker at Salt Branch, a lazy little stream which meanders around the grounds. The marker bears a quote from the Cleveland County Herald, in a story on the Battle of Marks Mill: "So many horses and soldiers were killed that Salt Branch ran red with blood." In the battle Confederate forces ambushed a Union Supply train and captured more than 1,000 prisoners.

Most of the acreage around the well-tended cemetery is unique. It was smack-dab in the middle of the legendary battleground of the Battle of Marks Mill site during the War Between the States. The Marks family had called the area home for 28 years when the battle took place on April 25, 1862.

By the 1950s, the family cemetery had gone the way of many other rural places of final rest after family members moved “to town” or out of the state. It showed evidence of overgrowth and neglect. Some family members imbued with a good case of well placed righteous indignation decided enough was enough and got the group organized to clean it up and maintain that status.

See more reunion and ground pictures in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

horse drawn tobacco planter

This is a horse-drawn tobacco planter. The plaque reads, "Purchased in Nashville, Tenessee. Used in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Brought to AR by Knowlton Broach to plant sweet potato slips. Edgar Colvin 4-2002."

Along the way, some brilliant Marks descendant minds decided that since this place was of historic value, why not sprinkle the landscape with historic artifacts, memorials, and informational plaques. Once the idea took wings, it engaged a ratchet and placement of historic accoutrements and thingamajigs continues. The latest entries are a couple of unknown soldier monuments standing side-by-side on the entrance road to the cemetery placed in September 2010 by Edgar and Sue Colvin (she’s a Marks, he married in). Appropriately, one monument memorializes Confederate Soldiers and the other reverently remembers Union Soldiers. Nobody is taking sides now, just respecting history.

horse drawn stalk cutter

This old horse drawn stalk cutter is near the cemetery entrance. The blade and mechanical setup is similar to a reel type lawnmower.

You won’t find a lot of Civil War cannons and other war left-overs at the site, but you will find a treasure trove of  old horse-drawn farm implements including, a row-crop planter, a couple of mowers, a hay rake, a bulbous tobacco planter, and a bunch more. You’ll also see an old railroad switch doo-dad with a nearby short section of track festooned with a cattle guard that looks like a medieval torture device.

See more reunion and ground pictures in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

Young whitetail deer buck

This young buck gives me a curious look. I had just completed shooting a huge Catalpa tree which will see in a future post, when I looked up and saw him. By the time I grabbed the camera with the long lens, he was long gone. The location was Prairie Road in Cleveland County, Arkansas.

Though the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, all of the improvements, artifacts, additions, maintenance and use of the land are placed, privately funded and supported by like minded individuals who believe there is great value to the site. The gallons of sweat equity that have and continue to fuel this hallowed place are astronomical. It’s a testimonial to a family that places a premium on being who they are and knowing where they came from.

flag in woods

Click the flag for more reunion pictures

See more pictures in our Weekly Grist gallery.  More reunion. More grounds. 28 high resolution pictures in all.

We shot more reunion pictures than we had room for in this article, so we’ve put all of the keeper pictures, with captions, in our weekly on-line gallery.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey,

Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/

http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/

http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Meandering through the Piney Woods


Jonquils on Cross road north of Kingsland Arkansas

My first jonquil sighting of 2011. This is the earliest sighting in several years. The yellow posies are on Cross Road, north of Kingsland, Arkansas.

old service station

See more pictures at Corndancer dot-com

Cross Road north of Kingsland, Arkansas looked promising on the map and lived up to my fondest expectations for Nikon fodder. I had not gone far when I spied my first jonquils of the year. Considering that these flowers were covered with snow not long ago, they are tougher than they look.

Before we go down Cross Road further, you may want to check out how this story started by going to the Photo of the Week page on Corndancer dot-com. You will see a couple of old buildings in Kingsland.

I followed Cross Road and came to Cross Roads Cemetery. It appeared that some patriotic-minded relatives and/or friends had seen fit to decorate a family plot with a short flag pole from which Old Glory was happily flying in the afternoon breeze. The decorators also festooned the plot with weather-proof flowers. The overall cemetery was cared for much like the fairways of a pro-tour golf course. These country folks are serious about their cemeteries.

Grave site with American flag

The Robinson family plot at Cross Roads Cemetery on Cross Road north of Kingsland Arkansas. The flag pole is wrapped in tinsel. This site called for a salute,

old fire tower

Old fire tower on Arkansas Highway 229 north of Fordyce near the Bunn community. The discolored part of the Pine trees is light from the setting sun.

If you resist the temptation to turn off Cross Road and continue, the road eventually swings due west and butts into US Highway 167 just north of Fordyce, Arkansas. Turn south go a quarter mile or so and turn west on Bunn-McGriff Road and the territory looks about the same, but nothing spectacular. The road eventually butts into Arkansas Highway 229 where I found a couple of good shots.

The first find was an old church which would be on the ground were it not for the Divine intervention of the trees surrounding the building. See a picture of this old church on our Weekly Grist Gallery. As I was preparing to shoot the church, back in the woods 25 yards or so from the highway, a truck pulled up behind my truck and a man got out and began to write down my license plate number.

When I saw him pull up, I reverted to a former life and stood still. Movement is usually what gives up your position. I finally hailed him and asked if he knew anything about the church, not mentioning his note taking procedure. He remembered the church and some animated revival services from his childhood, but not the church name.  Not surprising since the last services were probably in the fifties.

As our conversation continued, I noticed that he wearing a side-arm and his truck had blue lights embedded in the grill. Turns out he was a deputy in training, unusual for a guy with possum-blond hair like mine. Seems some miscreants have been raiding old home sites along the road and I suppose when he stopped he figured he would catch one. We parted on friendly terms.

The second find was the old fire tower you see at the right. At one time there was a large network of these towers spanning the forests of Arkansas which were manned by people you probably did not want to mess with since they regularly climbed what appeared to be a ten story building. Satellite imagery made these a thing of the past.

Before the towers there was a network of “Look-see” trees. These were tall trees on high points which afforded rangers a view nearly as good as the towers. And it was probably more fun to climb a tree than a tower. And – not nearly so far to climb.

There is more to discover.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

fire tower house

Weekly Grist Gallery - More pictures

See a close-up of the old tower-top “house,” another look at the flowers, and see the old church where the law and I had our friendly conversation. It’s all on our Weekly Grist Gallery. You’ll also see larger versions of the Corndancer pictures and the ones you’ve seen here, plus another old home site,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Maple Hill Cemetery and Points South


Eva B. Coolidge

The grave of Eva B. Coolidge in Maple Hill Cemetery, north of Helena, Arkansas.

Maple Hill Cemetery, north of Helena, Arkansas is impressive in its size, large; its terrain, hilly; its age, 164 years; its condition, excellent; and the art of its gravestones, very impressive. The monument you see above is inscribed  “Eva B. Daughter of C.R. and L. E. Coolidge  August 17, 1868 – August 24, 1871 Aged 3 years – 7 days.” The monument is correct in every detail and shows that a well-studied and experienced hand created the sculpture. Little Eva’s death reminds us of one of the bad old things about the good old days, high infant and child mortality.

Photo of the Week at Corndancer dot Com

Photo of the Week at Corndancer dot Com

There’s more of Maple Hill Cemetery on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com where this story started. Click here to see three more pictures from Maple Hill Cemetery including a larger version of the dog on the tombstone, and the story about how he got there.

Maple Hill Cemetery also has a Confederate cemetery inside its confines. Markers range from simple stones with a last name only to an impressive, monolith marking the grave of a brigadier general. In 2002 some confederate soldier remains were found in the Helena vicinity. Local civil war enthusiasts interred the remains and provided a marker.

Works of art and works of simplicity

Throughout the well-kept cemetery, you will see works of art in granite and alabaster. You will also see simple markers which are little more than small hewn stones.

The barlow family plot

The Barlow family plot is marked with a skillfully carved and detailed angel sculpture. Considering the age and exposure to the elements of the Delta, the quality is clear.

But at Maple Hill, regardless of size or provenance, everyone is equal and receives the same loving care. The cemetery is impressive in one more category, that being the condition of the older monuments, which for the most part are intact, a condition not necessarily in fact at all cemeteries of this age.

Bird seed

On the return trip, south of DeWitt, Arkansas, rice farmers, taking advantage of a non-liquid day, were harvesting rice in a big way. Some say, “harvesting,” some say “cuttin’ rice” and some of the older ones will still say “thrashin’ rice.” Regardless of the semantics, the combines are rolling and the rice is coming out of the fields.

combines and egrets

A few of the flock of egrets that were following the combines like gulls follow shrimp boats.

These behemoths take in rice at one end and spit chaff and stalks out the other and in the process will include some rice in the jetsam. On this one particular farm, what appeared to be several hundred egrets, a wading bird which depends on small fish, tadpoles, frogs and other small marine critters for its meals, could not resist the temptation of food they did not have to stalk.

A fire truck, but no lake and no swans

Next stop on the way home was the small community of Swan Lake, southeast of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, my headquarters. SWan Lake has an active volunteer fire department. It’s rolling stock is garaged, but they do have an old Howe-International Harvester R 185 fire truck on display for all the world to see.

fire teucks

A retired R185 Howe-International fire truck at Swan Lake, Arkansas.

Swan Lake is an old community and one presumes that at one time, perhaps there was a lake and mayhaps a few swans, but no more. But it’s still Swan Lake.

SWan Leke

Looking down the bore. If you saw this in your rear view mirror, it was time to get your duff out of the way.

Thanks for dropping by!

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

133 years and still counting


If you’ve arrived here from the Corndancer dot com photo of the week page, the story continues. If you haven’t been to the photo of the week page and want to be regaled with a couple of additional photos and the start of the story of a family that has kept it’s reunion going for 133 years, click here.

What you see here is southern potluck at it's finest. And you are seeing just a fraction of it. There are five more tables just like this one, brimming with mouthwatering cuisine from home kitchens. It's chow-time at the 133rd  Marks-Barnett Family Reunion in Cleveland County, Arkansas.

What you see here is southern potluck at it's finest. And you are seeing just a fraction of it. There are five more tables just like this one, brimming with mouthwatering cuisine from home kitchens. It's chow-time at the 133rd Marks-Barnett Family Reunion in Cleveland County, Arkansas, June 7, 2009. The total caloric value might power an aircraft carrier a respectable distance.

Remarkable people

The Marks family is truly a remarkable group in many ways. Their cemetery is the most visible evidence of their dogged determination to “do-right.” . In the early fifties, several of the family shook their heads in disgust and mused that their family cemetery, a horrible mess at best, deserved better. And that’s about all it took to spark a cemetery renaissance via no small amount of sweat equity.

Today the well kept cemetery not only is the final resting place for beloved relatives and ancestors, it is an evolving showplace of history and southern rural culture. The grounds around the cemetery are laced with nature trails, some of which follow small streams. While negotiating the trails, one will find several small, but sturdy foot bridges over gullies, and creeks where a stumble or splash might ruin an otherwise pleasant stroll through the woods.

 

Marks Cemetery, the site of the Marks Family Reunion is close enough to the site of the War Between the States Battle of Marks Mill, the creeks were red with blood during the battle. It was reported that “ ... so many horses and soldiers were killed or wounded that Salty Branch (above) ran red with blood.” Today, Salty Branch is a clear placid stream, a far cry from the violence of April 25, 1864. One of the hiking trails around the cemetery follows the trace of the stream.

Marks Cemetery, the site of the Marks Family Reunion is close enough to the site of the War Between the States Battle of Marks Mill, the creeks were red with blood during the battle. It was reported that “ ... so many horses and soldiers were killed or wounded that Salty Branch (above) ran red with blood.” Today, Salty Branch is a clear placid stream, a far cry from the violence of April 25, 1864. One of the hiking trails around the cemetery follows the trace of the stream.

A large number antique farm implements place around the grounds are visible evidence of the agrarian nature of the areas economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Plaques at every piece of equipment give evidence of  it use. This horse-drawn planter is a good example. The planter was donated to the cemetery collection in memory of  Tate “Uncle Bud” McGehee “Miss Vaughn” McGehee. Family member Edgar Colvin installed the planter at the cemetery, The plaque information, typical of the collection reveals a story. The planter was bought by Mr. McGehee in 1920. He always said, “ ... this planter is so accurate that if it drops two seeds in a hill, it will reach back and pick up one of them.”

A large number antique farm implements placed around the grounds are visible evidence of the agrarian nature of the areas economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Plaques at every piece of equipment give evidence of it use. This horse-drawn planter is a good example. The planter was donated to the cemetery collection in memory of Tate “Uncle Bud” McGehee “Miss Vaughn” McGehee. Family member Edgar Colvin installed the planter at the cemetery, The plaque information, typical of the collection, reveals a story. The planter was bought by Mr. McGehee in 1920. He always said, “ ... this planter is so accurate that if it drops two seeds in a hill, it will reach back and pick up one of them.”

James and James Boney, of New Edinburg bring their extensive collection of Civil War relics to the annual reunion. The elder James Boney found most of the collection on the battlefields of The Battle of Marks Mill. Younger James is a well-spring of Civil War information and Elder Boney is a respected source of information on the Battle of Marks Mill.

 

Left to right, (and vice-versa) James Stoney and James Stoney and their Civil War relic collection.

Left to right, (and vice-versa) James Boney and James Boney and their Civil War relic collection

I would be remiss if I did not make mention Spears Country Store, not far from Marks Cemetery. Not having been to the cemetery site before, I decided that a reconnaissance trip on Saturday before the reunion on Sunday would be a good idea. After my visit to and a few shots on the grounds, I meandered to nearby New Edinburg and dropped into Spears Country Store for what is known in southern parlance as a “cole drank.” (It is my understanding that some misguided souls call the refreshment a “soda.”) I was delighted to discover that the store offered sandwiches. I ordered a ham and turkey sandwich. It was so fine! And a hand full. Jerry Clowers would have probably said you could “ … eat one of those suckers and work all day at the saw mill.”

Spears Country Store

Spears Country Store, New Edinburg, Arkansas

Folks, there is a lot of goodness left in our world. From families to stores and sandwiches, this ol’ boy found ‘em this weekend.

Thanks for dropping by,
Joe Dempsey

 

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