Hazelwood Cemetery (DS49)
permission of Libby Dady Alcorn - April 25, 2010
MEMORIES OF SUMMERTIME VISITS TO
OLD HAZELWOOD CEMETERY
by Libby Dady Alcorn
Louisiana had an abundance of fertile land, waterways, and a humid climate with enough rainfall to aid in the growing of corn, cotton and other crops. These natural resources in turn provided fish, wild game, and all the timber necessary to attract pioneers to Louisiana.
According to James M Williams’ biography, he traveled from Pickens County Alabama to DeSoto Parish Louisiana in a wagon train with a hundred or so people including adults, children, and slaves. They arrived in DeSoto Parish December 1847. It is believed James and Susanah Cowley traveled with them. At the time James M Williams was married to the Cowley’s oldest daughter Elizabeth. Isaac Joshua Best also traveled from Alabama to DeSoto Parish in 1847. According to his descendant Bettye Waldon, he and his family traveled to DeSoto Parish in a covered wagon pulled by a team of oxen. James M Williams, Elizabeth J Cowley Williams, James Cowley, Susanah Cowley, Isaac Joshua Best are all buried in Old Hazelwood Cemetery.
Old Hazelwood Cemetery was created out of necessity and dates back to the spring of 1848 when three young daughters of James and Susanah Cowley died and were buried there. Only a few short months after the James and Susanah Cowley family arrived in DeSoto Parish tragedy struck their family. Their seventeen-year-old daughter Margaret L Cowley died April 16th 1848. Their oldest daughter nineteen-year-old Elizabeth J Cowley Williams, wife of James M Williams, died several days later on April 20th. Emily H Cowley died May 6th 1848 on her sixteenth birthday. What a sad story. The burial of these three Cowley sisters was the beginning of Old Hazelwood Cemetery. James and Susanah Cowley had four additional children John L (b 1834), Mary Ann (b 1838), Thomas A (b 1846), and Middy P (b abt 1852).
Pioneer families in this area took an interest in education, civic affairs, and had a strong belief in God. In 1847 my great-great-great-Grandfather, Andrew Wyche Jackson arrived in DeSoto Parish from Perry County Alabama. That year he organized the Friendship Baptist Church where he preached for the next thirty-two years. In 1849 he aided in the formation of the Grand Cane Baptist Association for churches. In 1850 he founded the Hazelwood Baptist Church located on land adjacent to the cemetery. He served as the pastor at Hazelwood Baptist Church from its founding through 1856, in addition to continuing his ministry at the Friendship Baptist Church and the Mansfield Baptist Church. Between 1847 and 1852 he helped organize seven Baptist churches in DeSoto Parish. Some historians say he contributed more to Baptist growth in this area than any other person. The booklet, Minutes of the 56th Annual Grand Cane Baptist Association from1905 reports the association represented 26 local Baptist churches.
DeSoto Parish was formed from Caddo and Natchitoches parishes in 1843. That same year the DeSoto Parish Police Jury voted to create a new town for their parish seat and named it Mansfield. The stagecoach road that connected Mansfield and Shreveport ran alongside Old Hazelwood Cemetery and the Hazelwood Baptist Church. The church and cemetery were approximately 30 miles south of Shreveport, 9 miles northwest of Mansfield, and 4 miles northeast of Grand Cane. Hazelwood Baptist Church was on land donated by Richard Foster, Mary Williams, and F N Williams. The land deed from Richard Foster was filed and recorded on June 7, 1852 in DeSoto Parish and states: “Richard Foster, a resident of said Parish of DeSoto who declared that he had donated and does by these presents give, grant, and donate with full guaranty … unto James Cowley and John Ross, Deacons of the Missionary Baptist Church known as the Hazelwood Baptist Church and their successors in office for the use and benefit of said church the following described parcel of ground lying and being situated in the Parish of DeSoto aforesaid to wit: Commencing at the SW corner of the Lot given by Mary Williams and F N Williams to said church ...Section 3, Township 13, Range 14...”
These early pioneers brought their determination to provide for the education of their children. They soon established private schools in their homes where a teacher was employed and neighboring children could attend. As the population grew the need for public education grew. The Mansfield Female College opened its door in1855. This was believed to be the first school for women west of the Mississippi River. In Keatchie, a nearby community, The Keatchie Female College opened its doors in 1856 under the sponsorship of the Grand Cane Baptist Association. In October 1884 George Williamson, a pioneer from Shreveport, applied for a school to be built in Grand Cane and his request was granted. He established the school in a one-room building with more rooms added the following year. George Williamson and his wife were the first teachers. In 1885 the school became the first accredited public high school in Louisiana. In 1896 Grand Cane awarded diplomas to its first graduation class of consisting of three female students, May Cowley Wagley, Emma Goodwyn (Courtney), and Blanche Cook (Storey).
Here are a few mentions of the Hazelwood community and the Hazelwood Baptist Church found among the history of DeSoto Parish.
Inscriptions from gravestones in Hazelwood tell us of three men that fought in the Civil War and/or Mexican War: (1) John H Cowley enlisted the first year of the Civil War and served under O L Durham. He served until the war ended in 1865; (2) Charles Green Jackson’s gravestone notes he fought in both the Mexican War and the Civil War. His Civil War discharge papers note “Corporal Charles Green Jackson enlisted in Mansfield on March 1, 1863 and served in the Infantry, “B” Company under Captain A H Thigpen until the end of the war”. Further noted, “April 11, 1865 said soldier has one hundred twenty miles to travel to reach his home”; (3) W L Best’s gravestone inscription states he “died on April 28, 1864 as a result of wounds he received in the Battle of Mansfield”. He was 28 years old. The Battle of Mansfield was on April 8, 1864 and resulted in a victory for the Confederacy. Loss of life from this battle was estimated to be 4400 men (1500 Confederate). In December 2006 the W L Best headstone was found in Old Hazelwood Cemetery broken and leaning against a tree.
The actual “life” of the cemetery was between 1848 and 1934. There are approximately 80 people buried in Old Hazelwood Cemetery. Thirty-four were children under the age of 12. The cemetery was most active during the years 1848 and 1899 with only ten people buried there between 1900 and 1934. I do not know what happened to the Hazelwood Baptist Church and the community of Hazelwood except they disappeared through the years. Old Hazelwood Cemetery is all that remains.
James Cowley and Andrew Wyche Jackson’s great-grandson John Green Burford (1889-1971) grew up in DeSoto Parish near the community of Gloster. John would visit Old Hazelwood Cemetery when he was a young boy with his mother, Mollie S Jackson Buford. When Mollie died in 1905 she was buried in Old Hazelwood Cemetery. John loved and respected his family and returned through the years to maintain the graves of his mother and his ancestors. When he was older he would take his children and grandchildren to Old Hazelwood Cemetery to teach them to care for the family graves.
Today Old Hazelwood Cemetery is located on land privately owned by the Billy Franklin family. In December 2006 my cousin visited Old Hazelwood Cemetery and sent me some pictures. These pictures showed a cemetery lost and forgotten through time. The cemetery was covered with thick underbrush; huge rotten oak and pine trees littered the area; the once beautiful wrought iron fences were now rusted, with many sections twisted and crumbled on the ground; there were gaping holes; broken grave vaults; a majority of the gravestones were broken and toppled to the ground; and cattle roamed freely. Old Hazelwood Cemetery looked to be lost forever.
I had not been to Old Hazelwood Cemetery in 40 years, but those pictures jarred my memory. I thought back to those summertime visits with my Grandfather, John Green Burford. He would take my cousins and me to the cemetery to clean and weed his mother’s grave and the graves belonging to her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Looking at those pictures, I could not ignore the sad condition it faced. I made up my mind that I would try to restore Old Hazelwood Cemetery to the beautiful place it had once been. Thanks to the computer and online genealogy, it was my good fortune to locate Angela Wilburn, related through our ancestor James Cowley. In 2000 Angela had visited Old Hazelwood Cemetery and posted information about the cemetery online including her email address. I contacted her in January 2007 and we agreed to work together on the Old Hazelwood Cemetery restoration project.
I contacted Billy Franklin to tell him about our interest in cleaning the cemetery and to get his permission. He was very pleased. In February 2007 Angela and I hired Todd Kennedy to clear the property of the fallen trees and debris. Within a few weeks, Todd and his hard working crew were able to transform the cemetery. Todd Kennedy continues to maintain the property and without his dedication and hard work this restoration project would not be possible.
On March 21st and 22nd, 2007 a dozen volunteers worked to carefully wash and rinse each gravestone. Those two days gave me a feeling of history coming full circle. The lesson of caring for Old Hazelwood Cemetery that my Grandfather had taught my cousins and me was again being passed to the next generation. Among the volunteers were my cousin Jay Burford, pastor of the Fellowship Church and four teens from the church’s youth group. Ralph Dady, my brother, probed the cemetery grounds with a pitchfork and was able to locate many buried and broken gravestone pieces. He also found the buried gravestone of “Infant daughter of R & OE Best” that had been hidden for years, as it wasn’t on any previous inventory for Old Hazelwood Cemetery. During these two days we were able to clean each of the gravestones, compile a photo inventory, and transcribed each headstone inscription. My Grandfather John Green Burford would be pleased.
In March 2007 we opened the Old Hazelwood Cemetery Restoration Account at Grand Cane’s Capital One Bank. One of our first priorities was to build a fence to protect the area by keeping out the cattle. By April 2007 we had received enough in donations to hire Charley Young to build a fence enclosing the property. In April 2007 The Mansfield Enterprise and Toledo Bend Tribune newspapers each featured a full-page article about the cemetery restoration project. The Historic Grand Cane Association posted information about Old Hazelwood Cemetery on their webpage. The DeSoto Plume, published by the Desoto Historical Society, wrote a comprehensive story about Old Hazelwood Cemetery and our restoration project in their Spring 2007 issue. April 2007 I made a pictorial DVD showing the cemetery and our improvements and mailed about 40 copies to relatives and friends that had shown an interest in the project.
Generous donations made it possible in November 2007 to hire Earl Singer, with Central Monument, to level and fix 16 of the broken headstones in the cemetery. Included in the 16 we restored, were the gravestones belonging to the three Confederate soldiers, John H Cowley, Charles Green Jackson, and W L Best. In January 2008 the Toledo Tribune printed a full-page follow up article to update the progress. Also in January 2008 Angela completed writing her booklet, The Families In Old Hazelwood Cemetery, Desoto Parish, Louisiana. Her booklet has interesting information about the families buried in the cemetery, historical documents, family trees, and pictures. She is selling copies to raise money for the restoration project.
Angela and I know the future of Old Hazelwood Cemetery depends on finding others that share our interest. We continue to need financial support to reach our goals to level and restore the broken headstones; install a sign to mark the historical significance of Old Hazelwood Cemetery and Hazelwood Baptist Church; and to locate and contact more descendants of those buried in Old Hazelwood Cemetery. To date we have contacted and received donations from descendants of the Best, Burford, Cowley, Dubose, Jackson, Russell, Sample, and Yarbrough families. Already the 160-year-old cemetery has regained some of its beauty.
Old Hazelwood Cemetery Restoration
Libby Alcorn – firstname.lastname@example.org
Angela Wilburn - Angelawilburn@earthlink.net - If you wish to purchase a copy of The Families in Old Hazelwood Cemetery, Desoto Parish, Louisiana as a way to make a donation to the cemetery fund, please contact Angela.
References for this article include: article by J W Dorr in 1860 edition of the New Orleans Crescent; The Families In Old Hazelwood Cemetery Desoto Parish Louisiana by Angela Wilburn; A History of My Ancestors, by Angela Wilburn; A Welcome Hall, by Sally E. Lancaster; DeSoto Plume, by DeSoto Parish Historical Society, various dates; Minutes of the Grand Cane Baptist Association 1905 edition; History of the Gloster Baptist Church, by Minnie Hall Burford; Biography of Andrew Wyche Jackson, by Hugh LeBaron;
Pictures by: Libby Dady Alcorn and Jay Burford
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