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Descendant clearing 170-year-old cemetery
November 14, 2005
Beller-Jenkins Cemetery cleanupby Dwain Lair, Times Staff

The Ozarks was a network of prairies, savannas, glades, forests and streams in the 1830s and '40s when Europeans started settling in the region, according to historical diaries.

The Crooked Creek valley south of Harrison could have been a savanna, with sprawling trees widely sprinkled through the tall grass when William and Martha Lovina Wilburn Beller dug a grave on a south-facing hillside to bury their 12-year-old son, Eli S. Beller, after he died Feb. 22, 1843.
More than 160 years later, the Beller-Jenkins Cemetery contains almost 40 identified graves and an estimated 40 unidentified graves. But the cemetery hasn't been changed since O.L. Jenkins was buried in mid-September 1934, and that's the condition Robert Campbell faced when he first visited the cemetery.
"It was a jungle," Campbell said while resting Thursday morning in a chair at the cemetery.
Campbell was introduced to Beller-Jenkins Cemetery while researching his family's genealogy. He moved from Missouri to Arkansas in 2000 and retired a couple of years later.
Earlier this fall, he pledged to clear the historic cemetery that bears the remains of the area's first settlers. Standing in the pasture outside the cemetery, he thought the clearing project would take about two weeks.
He was wrong, even with assistance from his wife, Frances Campbell, neighbors Bill and Sharon Casey and their daughter, Teresa Casey, and a sister, Peggy Breedlove.
"This will take three to four weeks," he declared. "It was terrible."
When they started clearing the cemetery, most burial plots were overgrown with cedar trees, wild cherry and walnut trees, thick sprawling grape vines, and enough saw briars to scratch their arms and faces and tear their clothes.
Three chainsaws rested on the ground, and green cedar limbs poked out of big brush piles around the edges of the cemetery. Stumps more than a foot across are cut level with the surrounding ground, and piles of cedar poles are stacked across the cemetery.
Looking to the north, Campbell waved his arms at 60 more feet of overgrown cemetery that must be cleared. He already has spent $100 on chains for the saws and estimates the job will cost another $100 to $200 in blades.
When the cemetery is cleared, Campbell said he was going to fix the fence around the cemetery, will need two to three loads of dirt to fill in graves and level low spots, then hopes to straighten and repair stones lying on the ground.
Then he wants to issue a call for help. Campbell said an Arkansas preservation fund has been established, and a Beller descendant donated $2,500 to start the fund. If a fund isn't established to pay for upkeep of the cemetery, he knows future descendants of people buried in the cemetery won't be able to visit the graves.
Campbell can be reached at (870) 365-0853 for more information.
He encourages any descendant of the Baines, Beller, Carlton, Casey, Crump, Eoff, Guy, Ingram, Jenkins, Pugh, Robertson, Staples, Treadwell, Wilson and Wright families to take part in this vital effort.
He said descendants wanting to make a donation to the perpetual upkeep of the cemetery should contact Boone County Heritage Museum director Marilyn Smith. She pointed out that the historic Beller-Jenkins Cemetery is located near Highway 7 South at Caravan Spring, also known as Milum Spring. This historic area, called Beller Stand more than 100 years ago, saw the departure of a wagon train, made up of local families headed to California in April of 1857.
Smith invites descendants of anyone interested in preserving this endangered cemetery to "join in the clean-up of this hallowed ground."
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