by Martha Bernie
There are dozens of
old graveyards scattered throughout Laclede County. Many of them sit
where family homesteads originated more than a hundred and fifty years
ago, and many of them have been neglected and forgotten over the years.
However, some of them survive and have been carefully restored and
maintained by family members. An example of this is the old Union
Cemetery located in Union Township about two miles west of
Phillipsburg. It sits in an open field, a few hundred yards from the
gravel road, sheltered by trees on three sides. Cattle roam freely in
the surrounding field, and visitors have to remember to close the gate
behind them when driving in toward the little graveyard.
We donít know when
the Union Cemetery was first designated or put in use. Some of the
earliest graves were marked only with blank field stones. The
McFarland, McAdoo and McMenus families settled in the area in the
1840ís, and markers for their infants and children show burial dates as
early as l863. Other stones carry the names of pioneer families such
as Henderson, Schultz, McFall, Smith, Thomas, McDorris, Caudle,
Murphy, Robinson, and Wilkerson. Some families have three generations
buried in the cemetery, and legend has it that a black man, killed in a
brawl during a grain harvest, was buried somewhere along the fence.
However, the year and the manís identity are unknown.
The eighty acres
surrounding the little cemetery were owned by the Shank family for many
years, first by Ed Shank and then by his brother, Eli Shank. The
parents, grandparents, brothers and sister, and aunts, uncles and
cousins of Eliís first wife, Inez McMenus Shank, are buried in the
cemetery, and until her death in l921, she helped maintain it along with
friends and other relatives. Inezí nephew, Leo McMenus, came every
year to help clear the weeds and grass that invariably took over when
the spring rains came. Weed-pulling took the better part of a day to
complete, and the grass was mowed with a hand mower. Wild strawberries
were left to grow alongside the graves, and wild ďfox grapesĒ and hedge
apples grew along the fence. Some of the grapevines were so old and
sturdy that the local children used them to swing from the trees,
unknown to their parents, of course.
As Memorial Day drew
near, no one dared to pick any of the flowers in the yard at home
because they were all being saved for the cemetery. On Memorial Day
morning, flowers were gathered and the family went to the graveyard,
usually with a box lunch of fried chicken, potato salad and cake for the
noon meal. The families of those buried in the cemetery spent the day
tending individual graves and decorating them with flowers. The
graveyard had to be mowed and tended several more times during the
summer, but Memorial Day was the day when everyone gathered to make sure
the graves were well trimmed and groomed for the season.
The Union Cemetery
fell into a state of neglect during the middle of this century. For
years, little was done to maintain it, and it wasnít until l980, when
descendants decided to clean it up, that it was brought to its present
condition. Many stones were found under the grass and were cleaned up
and placed where they were found. Several graves were sunken and had to
be filled in with loads of dirt brought from other locations. Cedar
trees were growing up through graves and had to be cleared away, and
innumerable rocks were hauled off.
The cemetery has been
maintained on a voluntary basis by the Schultz and McMenus families for
over two decades. Relatives in distant locations are not able to help
with maintenance work but have assisted with donations, and today there
is hope that the Union Cemetery Maintenance Fund will eventually provide
perpetual care for this little rural graveyard.