The Heritage of Daniel Haston


Big Fork Cemetery - General Information

Big Fork Cemetery
Van Buren County Historical Society Journal Article
By Hoyte Cook

Note:  Since this article was written in 1998, a lot of work has been done to clear the cemetery of weeds and brush and a good fence has been erected around it.  However, there is more that could be done.  If you would like to contribute to the cause, contact Hoyte Cook or send funds to:  Big Fork Cemetery Fund, c/o Hoyte Cook, 15824 Fairfield Drive, Matthews, NC  28104.

Last week (March, 1998) , for a few precious days, I escaped the computer and the ringing telephone and conducted an on-site study of Big Fork Cemetery in Van Buren County, Tennessee.  My brother and I counted the graves, recorded the approximate locations of the graves, and measured the perimeter of the site.  The accompanying map shows our findings.

Big Fork lies on a quiet hill beside a dead-end road, near the place where Cane Creek flows into the Caney Fork River.  To get to it, you need to park your car on the shoulder of the road, open the gap in the fence, and walk up the hill through the field.

By my count, there are 236 graves in Big Fork.  Some of the graves are covered with slab rocks placed to form a sort of roof over the grave, some are covered with flat-lying slab rocks, some are marked with common field stones, and some are not marked at all.  Engraving on the grave markers is scarce, but thankfully some engraving does exist.

When I was a child, Big Fork was pointed out to me, complete with comments about what sad shape it was in.  I had never set foot in Big Fork until the mid-1990s.  I had, however, read information about some of the people that are believed to be buried there.

Until last week (March 16, 1998) I was totally unaware of the fact that a church once stood at the edge of Big Fork Cemetery.  Documents have now come to my attention proving that the church (Big Fork Baptist Church) was there as early as 1808 and indicating that it likely ceased having services around 1856.  Records show Big Fork Baptist Church to have been affiliated with at least two Baptist Associations, Stockton Valley Association and Caney Fork Association of Old Baptists.

Contemplating some of the scenes that likely have unfolded there at Big Fork during the past 200 years offers a feast for the imagination.  The view of the surrounding terrain would have made it a virtual certainty that Confederate pickets wandered this hill when Bragg's Army camped nearby in 1862.  There were picnics, horses, buggies, ladies in long dresses, weddings, gospel singings, funerals, many many tears, and old-time preachers, as Dolly's song says, "preaching hell so hot that you could feel the heat."

Can you imagine the stories that could have been told by some of the people who have trod the grounds of Big Fork?  There would be first-hand accounts of the American Revolution, of long hunts into the wilderness, of bringing family from OLD Virginia or North Carolina to settle a strange land (with no TV), of the Battle of Perryville, of the 1865 retreat of Hood's barefoot, bareheaded, hungry army in the freezing rain, after the Battle of Nashville, and of the times before airplanes, cars, and income tax.

Represented in those rows of graves are many fine families, the mere mention of some of their names...Shockley, Madewell, Haston, Mitchell, Cummings, Reedy, Denney, and others...often bringing us a fond association with home, with Old Van Buren County, with who we are, and from where we came.  This place is a treasure.  It would seem that anyone with an ancestral link to this place ought to be curious about it...and care for it.

A few cattle presently wander through Big Fork Cemetery, but they have been doing it for decades, or perhaps a century.  The slab roofs that cover some of the graves were designed with cattle in mind, some people even refer to those stone grave covers as "cattle rocks."  I would say that Big Fork offers some excellent testimony to long-ago good planning, when it comes to dealing with cattle in a graveyard.

Big Fork has been neglected.  The saddest disclosure of this neglect comes not from the lack of a fence, but from the fact that in those 236 graves are people who once lived, laughed, cried, loved, made a difference, and now we know who only a few of them were.  The small amount of effort required to chip a name and some dates on a rock was expended in precious few instances.  Valuable information has been erased by the passing of time, and the passing of people who took the information to their graves with them.

Is it possible to recover some of the lost information?  Is it possible to tell which families are buried in those rows of unmarked graves?  I believe the answer to be YES.  I believe that we can construct a reasonably clear picture, if we can get the attention of enough people who have pieces of the puzzle.  If you know anything at all about people who may be buried in Big Fork Cemetery, please share the information with us.  We plan to create an information file on Big Fork and update it as we learn.  The updated information will be published from time to time.

And we would like to build a fence around Big Fork.  This will make it possible to do some landscaping, maybe plant a few boxwoods or roses, or something, set three or four concrete benches, put down some gravel walking paths, etc.  The style of fence and landscaping details have not yet been decided, but will naturally be dictated by the funds available.  Our thinking here is that this might encourage people to visit the place and that the added exposure might cause more information to come forth.  It would also help to assure that Big Fork will be preserved for visiting by future generations.  We view this as our responsibility.  And, yes, we would be grateful if you would give us a donation to help pay for the fencing and landscaping.  

We look forward to hearing from you.

Hoyte Cook

Miscellaneous Remarks

"There is talk that sometimes on a cold clear night the sounds of group singing can be heard coming from the hill where Big Fork Church stood.  I personally have never heard it, but then I haven't done any coon hunting in that neighborhood."  -Hoyte Cook

"I can't prove it, but I have heard that my great grandparents, William Mitchell and Margaret Cummings, got married in that building (the Big Fork Baptist Church) in 1869."  -Hoyte Cook

"We have a few projects in mind for Big Fork, such as adding some dirt to sunken graves and straightening up some knocked over stones.  When we can get a few folks together, we will do this.  A long time ago, we used to have annual 'graveyard-cleaning-off' at various cemeteries.  Lots of people would come and bring their weed cutters and rakes.  We would then have dinner on the grounds.  It was great.  I wish we could organize such an event for Big Fork.  Wouldn't it be great to get all those Hastons, Shockleys, Cummingses, Denneys, and the other folks together?  It would even be worth calling out a bagpipe band and having a few speeches!" -Hoyte Cook

Big Fork Cemetery Intro General Information on the Big Fork Cemetery Cemetery Plat and List of Graves Pictures of the Big Fork Cemetery Directions and Maps to the Big Fork Cemetery