by Bill O'Donnell and Linda Chandler
"An honest man is the noblest work of God" reads a tombstone in the Alley Cemetery. Cemeteries have much to teach us about the values and lives of those who went before us. Ozark Riverways is dotted with cemeteries, some just family plots of one or two graves, others large affairs where villages and hamlets once were.
A wonderful way to imagine the past is to wander through a graveyard while letting your imagination wander through the mists of time. Mary Lynch was the "sunshine of our home," while another stone tells us that T.M. Ellis' "last rational act was reading 15 Chapter of 1st Corinthians." What are the stories of these early Ozarkers' lives? Some we know from the memories of elder residents, others from old newspapers and books, some we guess about from the tombstones and most we just don't know.
The original Alley Cemetery is located near Horse Camp. Follow the dirt road off of State Route 106 (about 3 miles east of Alley) and turn right at the first intersection. The cemetery is about another mile, on your left. This is the cemetery where John Alley is buried, the man Alley Spring is named after. At one time, a tornado struck the cemetery, scattering the tombstones. Local residents returned the tombstones as best they could to where they belonged. When Senator Danny Staples was a boy, he remembers helping to dig graves there and finding bones already in the spot they had chosen. The cemetery is now considered full.
Frank Bell is laid to rest in Alley Cemetery. He was a bachelor with a long white beard and everyone called him Uncle Frank. He had gone to California with hopes of finding gold. No one knows if he did or not, but he always seemed to have money. People would go to his cabin to borrow money and he would say "Well, I don't have it today, but if you come back tomorrow I will." When they came back, Frank would have the money. He did not have a bank account and apparently never left his home. After he died, the family that inherited the house searched for the hidden cache. They never told anyone if they had found it or not.
Anna Boyd, age six, and Grace Crider and Cora Birge, both seven, died in a Diphtheria outbreak in 1911. Times were hard on the Ozarks frontier, sanitation was poor, nutrition was often poor and many children died in childhood. Any walk through a cemetery will show tombstones of infants and small children. Imagine for a moment the scene as a family gathers round and lays a beloved child to rest, each person adding the traditional handful of dirt to the grave. A poignant reminder of the benefits of modern life.
The stories are carved in stone and in the memories of community elders. Take a quiet respectful walk through any of the many cemeteries around the area. Ponder their stories and the story you too will one day leave behind.
"His toils are past his work is done,
He fought the fight, the victory won."