Oh, the Irony!
How ironic. The photo above captures the motto inscribed on a small plaque embedded in the cement post of the Pioneer Cemetery in McDonough County, Illinois. Ironic because in May 2010, the cemetery was forested by a variety of large old trees and younger saplings, and a faulty fence has allowed this ground to be the abiding place of choice for a herd of colorful cows and a young, ornery bull.
"Erected in honor of the pioneers who cleared away the forests and destroyed the abiding places of the wild beasts so that civilization might occupy the ground."This cemetery is surrounded by privately-owned land with no direct access from the public road. An easement is granted to cross the owner’s field to gain access to the site which is "enclosed" by an unlocked, gated fence. There are more than 50 documented burials on this one acre tract.
Brief History of the Cemetery
I imagine my Great-great-great grandfather, Greenup McClure, must certainly have chosen the location for his family burial ground with care and thoughtful consideration for the future. After all, the people he loved best are laid to rest in that spot. I imagine that the historically-minded folks who chose the motto for the old gate post would be speechless at the droll paradox that now exists.
The acre Greenup McClure and his wife, Mary “Polly” (McComsey) McClure, set aside for the cemetery in 1835, not long after their family moved to Illinois from Kentucky, was centrally located on their homestead in Section 22, Bethel Township, McDonough County, Illinois. But that central location upon the farm has proven to be troublesome in maintaining and preserving this historic cemetery.
The first known burial in 1838 was that of Greenup McClure's baby grandson, George Brundage, son of his daughter Mary. More than 50 additional burials occurred over the subsequent 100 years, the latest, that of Sarah Norris, having occurred in 1943.
It is Very Hard to Find
The McClure homestead long ago passed out of the hands of Greenup McClure's descendents. Many of them moved away when the westward expansion popularized homesteading in Kansas and Missouri. Others who remained in Western Illinois have all but forgotten this old cemetery which is camouflaged by nature and located "way out in the boonies" well off the beaten track. Recently the historical society placed a very nice new sign at the gate of the cemetery. (Unfortunately, the sign is barely visible from the nearby country road--no ones fault, it's just that the cemetery is obscured by large trees).
A deep ravine provides a natural border to the western edge of the cemetery, while pastures and fields flank the three other sides. One must trek across the surrounding farm owner's land to enter the cemetery. On some occasions I've opened the gates and driven through the pasture to the cemetery (with permission and care not to disturb the grazing cows).
In the early 1990's a distant cousin and dedicated family researcher, Dan Venard, first guided my family to the cemetery. It was mid-summer and at that time a serious overgrowth of weeds, including poison ivy, and the thought of possibly encountering snakes in the brush while lacking boots, made it impossible to explore deeply within the enclosure. We were able to observe our mutual Venard ancestor's heavy monolith in an upright state and in good repair. Dan also provided me with an old photo of that stone he took when the cemetery was better maintained in the 1960's.
After many years away from Illinois, I still recalled the general location of the cemetery and tried to show it to my visiting cousin from Arizona a few years ago. We were frustrated when we couldn't find it, but we visited another old cemetery where others of our direct line were laid to rest instead. Still, I had it in my mind to find the Pioneer Cemetery, but even with map in hand and location plotted--it was still very difficult. It turned out my cousin and I had been within a few hundred yards as we traveled up and down that county road trying to find the place. A neighboring farmer proved essential in pointing out the hidden acre to me on my subsequent visit.
On that visit of three years ago, I found the cemetery in fair but deteriorating condition. As I photographed my family stones, it became obvious that it was important to photograph any and every stone I could find since the place was so inaccessible to the general public.
Family Connectons Could Help Save the Cemetery
When I later set about researching the photos I had taken that day, the family connections emerged. Most of 50-plus individuals were somehow related to Greenup McClure. His daughter's married surnames (Venard, Wilson and Thompson) dominate the cemetery. Some of those interred here, however, were neighbors in this township (for example, the Fugate and Osborn families) and others belonged to the family of subsequent owners of the property (Montee). (In a separate blog entry you'll find a relationship chart).
I'm making this blog to display the biographies of the individuals interred in this cemetery and share the photos that I have of the graves. I'm also including excerpts of the poor quality video that shows the conditions of the cemetery as of May 2010. The McDonough County historical society is aware of the current situation and we await their actions. I have also placed a call to the current owner of the surrounding farmland. However, so much damage has been done to the existing graves, I'm hoping we can encourage a broad range of interest in preserving and rehabilitating this historic cemetery.
Notes: This cemetery is officially named the Pioneer Cemetery, but it has also been referred to as the McClure Cemetery, Montee Cemetery, and Cost Cemetery.
I'd also like to point out that Gordana Rezab’s 2008 publication, “Place Names of McDonough County, Illinois: Past and Present,” seriously errs in reporting that the Pioneer Cemetery was vacated by the Freeman Coal Mine for strip mining purposes. Rezab incorrectly asserts that the remains in this cemetery were disinterred and buried in the Old Macomb Cemetery unless otherwise claimed by relatives. In fact, the author’s claims apply instead to the Gin Ridge (also called Irish or Gunning) Cemetery in Bethel Township which was, in fact, located on land purchased by the Freeman Company in Bethel County's Section 26. This event was well documented by Goldstein and Buikstra in their 2004 publication, “A Nineteenth Century Rural Irish Cemetery in McDonough County, Illinois” that appeared as Chapter 4 in the book, “An Upper Great Lakes Archaeological Odyssey.”
- Lester, D. (undated). Rural Cemeteries of McDonough County, Illinois, Volume II, Bethel-Industry.
- Clarke, S.J. (1878). History of McDonough County, Illinois, Its Cities, Towns and Villages. Springfield, Ill., 1878
- Cemeteries of McDonough County, Illinois. Retreived 3/21/2008 from www.macomb.com/mcgs/cemeteries/
- History of McDonough County, Illinois. (1885). Continental Historical Co., Springfield, Illinois Transcribed by Karl A. Petersen for McDonough County ILGenWeb. Retrieved 3/21/2008 from http://www.macomb.com/~ilmcdono/townships/Betheltpindex.html