- Associated Press - Monday, April 16, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - In a cedar-dotted field, where housing additions are just beginning to encroach into what was once prairie, sits a limestone tablet bearing the name of a 4-year-old girl.

Mamie, Dau of Green & Alice Smith,” the headstone reads. “Born Oct. 1, 1885, Died Nov. 11, 1889.”

Next to Mamie’s grave is the grave of her father. The engraved words on the marker read: “Green Smith, June 7, 1843, June 14, 1914.” And next to his grave is that of his wife and Mamie’s mother, Alice Smith: “June 4, 1852, to Sept. 30, 1918,” her headstone reads.

Like most of the people buried at Spring Creek Memorial Cemetery, not much is known about the Smith family apart from the few facts etched into their gravestones. But David Emmerson, owner and manager of the cemetery, hopes to see that change.

“It’s important to remember, preserve, chronicle and archive the heritage of Oklahoma families who established this state,” he said.

Emmerson, 51, has owned and managed Spring Creek Memorial Cemetery since 2013. It has been in his family since 1973. Emmerson is taking on a project to learn more about the pioneer families like the Smiths and preserve records of their lives, the Oklahoman reported .

Emmerson has used records from ledgers dating back to 1962 to build a database. Next, he plans to do the same with the few records he has from the early days of the cemetery in the hopes of finding descendants of the pioneer families buried there. He hopes to locate anyone with stories of those families’ lives before statehood, and particularly of the Land Rush of April 22, 1889.

Originally known as the 89er Cemetery, Spring Creek Memorial Cemetery is one of the oldest Oklahoma City cemeteries where people are still buried today. It sits just off County Line Road in far northwestern Oklahoma City.

At the cemetery’s entrance, a cast-iron black arch bearing its name stretches between two poles. The headstones bear names such as Eades, Enterline, Couch, Casto, Ramsey, Siler, Snode and McGubbin. In 1991, Emmerson received a letter in the mail from a relative who had traced the McGubbin family to Scotland in the 1600s, but he has not had contact with other descendants of the early Oklahoma County settlers since.

When Mamie Smith was buried at 89er Cemetery, it was just seven months after the Oklahoma Land Rush. It would be years before the Oklahoma Territory would become a part of the state of Oklahoma, and decades more before the land where the cemetery sits would become a part of Oklahoma City.

Today, that land is a part of the city where development is beginning to appear. Housing additions are already standing to the east and south of the cemetery, and a new housing addition, Savannah Estates, is being built on the west side, just across the Canadian County line.

Still, the area just around the cemetery is tranquil. On the eastern side of the cemetery sits a pond lined with cedar trees and red dirt banks that wind along the border of the 26-acre cemetery. The land is mostly flat, as it was in 1889, with the same wide-open skies. On a recent, windy day, a killdeer could be heard chirping out its staccato song.

There are records of about 250 burials at the original section of the cemetery, Emmerson said, but today there are only about 160 markers remaining in original sections. Emmerson has created an electronic database with all of the information about burials over the past 60 years. But there is less known about the graves of those who died from 1889 to 1920.

Jan Beattie of Edmond, the president of the Oklahoma Home & Community Education Genealogy Group, has helped document the graves in the cemetery’s northwest corner. She has helped make transcriptions, or maps of every grave at the cemetery with names, dates and locations, including the epitaphs such as “Lead Lightly Light,” ”Gone But Not Forgotten” and “Asleep in Jesus.” The group has written books that document cemeteries in every county of the state, 77 separate books. The group is soon to publish a book about all the known cemeteries in the state.

“It’s important to preserve our history, and that is what a tombstone is,” Beattie said. “It is history, and it preserves the heritage of our ancestors.”

There are a number of pioneer cemeteries in central Oklahoma with graves that date back to 1889, Beattie said. But headstones from the past are not always permanent, she said. They sometimes disappear, and there are many unmarked graves in older cemeteries that have to be located, she said.

Many times, graves of settlers were marked with a fieldstone or were engraved with words that have faded over 130 years of time. Markers erode in the wind and sun.

“Every day that passes, those monuments deteriorate and can get harder to read,” Beattie said. “This is history that needs to be preserved, and we want to help people find their ancestors and where they are buried in their final resting places.”


Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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