The Liberty pioneers were farmers and stockmen and they had come here to stay. Most believed that the desert would be an oasis if only the flow of the water in the Gila River could be controlled. In the meantime: Life must be lived. Babies were born the old, and not so old, died. Places must be found for each group.
In 1885 Clem Collins donated an acre of land next to the Free Methodist Church for a cemetery. The first burial (at least the oldest one now with a stone) was for John R. Beloat: 1863-1892. John's brother, William R. Beloat, appears to be the most elderly: 1861-1954, 92 years. These men were step-sons of Mr. Collins. Rev. James Harer's stone shows 1821 as the earliest birth date: 1821-1901. Actually, there are 78 stones showing dates before 1900.
For many years Liberty was the only cemetery in the entire Valley. There are over 500 names on record with about 400 graves located. There are 139 stones standing and readable. No burials have been made since 1962.
For a short time Maricopa County used the cemetery for burials. During the 1930's when people did not even have the $2.00 to pay for a grave site, a family might bring a loved one in the night and bury the body, leaving a record of the deceased only in the heart of the family.
Many of the early pioneers: T. M. and old Newt Clanton, the Collins, the Beloats and other families are buried here. Additional land was added and the task of upkeep of the cemetery began. One can read the records of the years of service and devotion given by a few people. Can you believe that one person could give 50 years to the office of sexton (caretaker)? Junius Brewster did. Others who gave varing terms to this thankless job were: William McDonald, Cleo Woody and Bill Meck. The church moved to a different locatiion, but a cemetery can't just pick up and move.
Customs change for cemeteries just as they do for other things. But for those who believe that life is a cycle, perhaps, rising in a spiral, but never the less, it seems that old ideas and old values are coming to the fore again. For years the grounds of the cemetery have been neglected for the usual reasons: tired workers, too few workers, workers have died or moved away. But now younger people seem to be taking a closer look and are willing to assume responsibility as they see their place in the eternal chain of life. Liberty Cemetery is a priceless heritage. It should and will be protected.
Judge's Main Hobby
Buckeye - Trying to solve a 77-year old mystery as a hobby has turned into a tedious job for Bill Meck, Buckeye's justice of the peace. The judge uses his idle time attempting to re-identify graves in an old cemetery near Liberty, a community 5 miles east of Buckeye.
Meck with two others, Mayor John Beloat of Buckeye and Cleo Woody of Phoenix comprise the trustees of Liberty Cemetery Association. I've already put in over two years on the plot map which I think will help establish just who is buried where." said Meck. Using data gathered from notebooks, ledgers, death certificates, burial permits and relatives, the persistent judge has drawn a plot map indicating the complete layout of the cemetery. He uses it to locate each grave.
The job of setting the record straight actually began back in 1885 when Junius Brewster, a local resident, took it upoon himself to be the sexton without pay. "For years brewster maintained the cemetery, but kept most of the data in his head" says Meck. When Brewster was unable to continue the work, his son-in-law, cleo woody, took over and had the foresight to compile a written record.
Old-timers in the area recall Brewster's complaints of eerie happenings at the cemetery in early years. People would steal into the place in the middle of the night and bury their dead to avoid buying the lots. Brewster would find freshly turned earth indicating new burials the following morning and upon further investigation would find bodies wrapped in blankets, old home made pine boxes and manufactured coffins beneath the newly turned soil.
This has hampered Meck in solving the mysteries of the old cemetery. Records also show where perhaps as many as three different bodies were buried in the sample plot. Some of the plots show nicknames or first names only, with no dates or other data. One such marker simple reads "Chicken Joe" with no other information to identify the body. Tres that have long since been dead and dragged away, obliterated many markers. "This all complicates the investigation, but we are making progress", said Meck.
The judge already has relocated 60 graves. According to his map, the cemetery originally had 540 plots, which indicates the job involved. Many of the plots which records show were filled by a flu epidemic in the early thirties, are stil to be located.
Meck envisions a beautiful memorial cemetery with the cooperation of local residents and relatives of the deceased buried at the site.
OLD CEMETERY CRUMBLING
But dad, friends remember; act on restoration
Liberty - The pioneer cemetery here deserves the simple dignity of restoration. Most of the families with relatives in the 84-year old cemetery, which has the Estrella Mountains and Buckeye Hills in the background, have moved on, forgotten or died. The cemetery lies along Tuthill Road, a quarter mile south of U. S. 80.
When Mrs. Addie Mae Brumley of Flagstaff visited the grave of a relative in the cemetery, she was appalled by its "stark ugliness." She paid tribute to efforts of Bill Meck, Buckeye Justice Of Peace, to keep out weeds and fill in graves, which sink during rainy seasons. "He has one little daughter buried there." Mrs. Brumley said, "yet tries to keep all the graves clean. With a few donations from outside people, he is able to hire some outside help."
Last week Meck and Buckeye pioneer John R. Beloat, both officers in the Liberty Cemetery Association, Inc. walked among the sagging crosses and crumbling tombstones, some with sand and salt eroded inscriptions. "That's the tombstone of John R. Beloat. I'm his namesake," the present-day Beloat said. "He died in 1892, the year I was born."
Beloat, whose father, William Bob Beloat, homesteaded in Buckeye in 1886, said it was his stepgrandfather, Clem Collins, who donated the acre of land for the cemetery, about 1885. The oldest burial in the cemetery dated that year, with the two Jones sisters sharing a common grave. There's many pioneers here, the Clanton family, T. M. and Old New, the Collins, the Beloats," Beloat continued. "Junius Brewster, the cemetery sexton for 50 years is here too".
Meck's daughter, Ethylene,five, was buried in the cemetery in 1941. For many years, Meck used his spare time to reidentify old graves in the cemetery. It was a tedious task, using burial certificates dating back to 1915, data from old notebook records and the world of relatives to map the cemetery plot.
Meck believes that graves of 450 of the 528 names on record in the cemetery now are identified. Some, like the one recorded for "Joe Chicken", will never be. Oldtimers recall another complication, occasionally, people stole into the cemetery at night to bury their dead. "Many were buried here during the depression years" Meck said, "They shopped around for grave lots and chose the ten dollar lots here. Long ago, many were buried without morticians".
Tamarisk trees were planted for shade. During the 1930's, families came to the cemetery with hoes, shovels and picnic lunches for cleanup days. The community effort ended during World War II. In time, the ragged trees were felled. Cattle scratched their sides on a huge old cement cross till the cross arm tumbled.
*Newspaper articles received from a family relative and were not dated.