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OPINION | RICHARD MASON: A volunteer can make a difference

by RICHARD MASON | December 13, 2020 at 9:03 a.m.

I can read a history book and enjoy it as if it were a top-selling novel. When taking a class in American history in college, I read the course book before going to the first class. By sophomore year, it was a toss-up whether I would major in history or geology.

Geology won out because I thought I would be pecking on rocks outdoors. After some 40-plus years as an oil and gas exploration geologist, I have spent two whole days in the field with my trusty rock hammer.

However, love of history has sent me to tramping through ruins from the jungles of Belize to the Colosseum in Rome. I have strained my wonderful marriage to the point where Vertis has literally yelled, “I’ve seen enough Roman ruins to last two lifetimes!”

Over decades of travel, certain examples of ancient history have remained very clear in my mind; the mosaics of Carthage, Tunisia, are some of the most vivid. We took a long weekend vacation to Carthage while living in Libya, where we prowled around the ruins of the ancient city.

In the Punic Wars, when the Romans defeated Hannibal of Carthage, they leveled the city, plowed the open ground, and poured salt on it.

The Romans rebuilt part of Carthage, and a portion of it has been restored. Later excavations uncovered a large number of floor mosaics, both Roman and from the original city. Although the columns and walls had been destroyed, most of the floor mosaics were not damaged.

That led to an uncovering of vast works of art depicting all aspects of life. During these excavations a group of women from Tunis started an organization to preserve the mosaics, and according to the site material, these women saved some valuable pieces of history that would have been lost if they hadn’t intervened. Those mosaics were the highlight of our trip.

My love of history has led me to do what I can to preserve the history where I live. We have worked to place a number of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and the core of downtown El Dorado is an historic district.

However, preserving history is sometimes just keeping a bit for the next generation. Recently I came across a small piece of old Union County that needs to be restored and protected. Neglect and Mother Nature have put it in a precarious situation. When I was out on my almost daily walk, I decided to take a little off-the-beaten-path detour to get a look at long abandoned Ingram-Reeves Cemetery.

It sits in the woods on a small rise where Calion Road ends at 167 Business, less than 50 yards up a dim, overgrown dirt road. This is probably the old road to Champagnolle, the first county seat of Union County.

Just guessing, I would say the cemetery is a rectangle about 35 yards wide by 45 yards long, and based on cemetery records from the Internet, at least 22 people are buried there. Since the most recent grave is from the 1930s, it ranks as one of the oldest in Union County. The local preservation society confirms several Civil War soldiers are buried there.

The headstones for the most part are weathered and illegible, but several have dates of deaths in the mid-1800s. I noted three men who were born in 1826, 1832, and 1810. They died in 1861, 1862, and 1866. Based on these dates, it seems these men were possibly the first burials in the cemetery.

On headstones that are still readable, the Smock, Ingram, and Reeves families are well represented, along with a number of small grave markers without any names. Years back a fence surrounded the cemetery, but today it’s in bad repair, and the grounds are overgrown with vines and small bushes. The Sons of Confederate Veterans cleaned up the cemetery years ago, but it’s obvious no one has taken care of it for a long time.

I realized this is part of the very early life of nearby residents, and probably predated most of the settlement of Union County. El Dorado was founded in 1843, and without a doubt many of the men and women buried here were living in Union County before El Dorado was settled.

It crossed my mind that a cemetery association should come in and take care of it, but with the small number of graves and the condition, it’s obvious this cemetery isn’t on anybody’s regular restoration list. If someone cleans up the weeds, vines, and bushes, it will be a volunteer.

Then I thought about how the women of Tunis had spearheaded the cleaning and recovery of lost mosaics, and that a lot of history is preserved by volunteers.

After another 15 minutes of looking around, I said out loud, “Maybe it’s me?” And the more I thought about it, the surer I was that I was going to be the one who at least would start cleaning up. So at 2 p.m. today I’ll be there with my bush cutter, cutting and trimming. It’s not that big of a job, and it won’t take long to remove most of the bushes.

If you would like to help, drive out Calion Road until you intersect 167 Business. You will see my red Navigator parked by a dim road. The cemetery is 50 yards up that road. Be sure and bring something to cut weeds, bushes, and vines.

Email Richard Mason at richard@ .

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