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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cemetery

In my last post I described the land at Stony Fork.  In this one I would like to go a step further in the description by telling about the family cemetery plot that is located there.
During my first visit to Stony Fork with my cousins, one cousin (CALT) told about her mother, Flora West Lowe, visiting the homeland sometime prior to her death in 1993.  According to the story, Flora took her cousin, Edna Triplett Coder, with her, and the two of them cleaned up the family plot and put a split rail fence around it. The farmhouse where Thomas Harvey and America Ann McNeil West had lived was still standing on the site across and down the road from the cemetery on Mt. Zion Road just before Stony Fork Road branches to the right off Mt. Zion Road.  Land records indicate that the Wests owned land on both sides of Stony Creek.  An assumption can be made that their land must have been on both sides of Mt. Zion Road, also.
In our efforts to locate the land, we talked with several individuals in the area, one of whom identified the family plot and said that the owners kept a path mowed up to it.  The plot is located adjacent to a barn and corral on a knoll in a well-maintained field or pasture.   We drove to the location and walked up the knoll to the plot.  We found the fence rotting and falling down and the ground within the fence covered with thick, high grass which was taller than our heads.  Even though CALT ventured into the thicket of grass, she didn’t stay very long and said that she saw no evidence of any grave markers.  I, being afraid of poison ivy and snakes, didn’t risk going in.  Out of respect and desire to preserve the cemetery, both of us felt that we would like to clean it up.
The farmer who helped us identify the land and cemetery said that it was owned by a Jesse Horton and that “he planned to do something with it.”  We didn’t know exactly what this meant.  Did he mean the development of a subdivision or some other type of development? 
For almost a year, I have been trying to find out who owned the land on which this family cemetery is located and to get in touch with this owner.  Even though I searched the White Pages and Yellow Pages on the Internet, called directory assistance for phone numbers, made phone calls, and wrote a letter, I was unable to find the owner.  In February 2011, I received a phone call from the one who received my letter.  He had been the mail carrier on the Stony Fork/Mt. Zion mail route and had known the Wellborn family very well.  He described the nickname that Mr. Wellborn had given him.  Of course, these Wellborn heirs would have been a much later generation of Wellborns than those who originally took ownership of the farm.  He was extremely helpful in confirming that we had found the location of the farm and that we had identified the site where the farmhouse had been.   He described the farmhouse, which burned sometime after 1993, as being a very nice, well-kept, two-story white house.  He thought the present owner, Mr. Jesse Horton, who had lived for some time in a double-wide home on the site of the farmhouse, lived in Wilkesboro.  I still didn’t know how to reach him!  
Oh my!  I have gotten sidetracked again, but some additional knowledge about the farm is important to understanding the context of the cemetery.  And now, back to the cemetery!
Of course, we assumed that this cemetery plot was the West Family Plot about which CALT had learned from her mother.  Recently, with the help of a 4th cousin whom I have met on the Internet (JJL) and Wilkes County cemetery research completed by a 5th cousin 1x removed (GFM),  I have learned that this cemetery is the Thomas Land Family Cemetery.   William Thomas and Nancy Jane Carlton Land (my 3rd great grandparents) were the parents of Nancy Land West who was the wife of Alexander Balus West and mother of Thomas Harvey West.   Many thanks go to JJL and GFM for your help in solving this piece of the puzzle.
As I have researched land documents and, more recently, minutes of church proceedings, I have found that the Wests, Swansons, Witherspoons, Lands, Carltons, McNeils, Fergusons, and Barlows, apparently all lived within close proximity to each other, often owning adjacent properties.  As a widow, Nancy Land West bought land from her parents which, of course, went to her only child, Thomas Harvey West. 
Likewise, Thomas Harvey’s father, Alexander Balus West, had purchased some of his father’s land (John Balus West).  Moreover, Franklin West had purchased some land from his father, John Balus West.  Other children of John Balus West may have purchased land from him, also.  I just haven’t delved that deeply into the records of Alexander Balus West’s siblings.  Therefore, determining who originally owned which parcels of land is extremely difficult. 
In retrospect, remember that the parcels of land in this area that belonged to Alexander Balus West/Nancy Land West and their only child, Thomas Harvey West/America Ann McNeil, were traded by Thomas Harvey West for the land in Banner Elk, North Carolina, owned by the G. W. Wellborn family, about 1902.
Furthermore, one may easily see why recent generations thought that the cemetery was the West family plot.  In fact, two “known” West children, A. J. West and Willard A. West who were the young children of Thomas Harvey and Nancy Land West, are buried in the Thomas Land Family Cemetery. 
According to the Wilkes County Cemetery Database[i] maintained by GFM and JDM, the plot is 75’X50’ with 8 marked graves and approximately 10 unmarked graves.   At the time of the verification of the cemetery and graves in 1989, identifiable graves were those of the following:  Jane Carlton Land, T. C. “Tommy” Land, Thomas Land, Jim Pennell, Robinett Infant, Molly Land Robinett, A. J. West, and Willard A. West.  Some of these tombstones were turned over and/or broken.
During my last visit to Wilkesboro, North Carolina on June 16 and 17, 2011, I was able to determine the present owners of the property on which this cemetery is located.  Currently, nearly 5,000 acres of land in the Stony Fork/Mt. Zion community, which likely includes all of the land formerly owned many years ago by the Wests, Swansons, Witherspoons, Lands, Carltons, McNeils, Fergusons, and Barlows, are currently owned by the Tuscarora Ranch, LLC, the grantee, with the grantors being the trustees of the Mingo Tribal Preservation Trust.  The trustees are listed as Jesse W. Horton, Jr., Mark R. Ricks, and George R. Wilson. 
I have written the Tuscarora Ranch asking permission to repair the fence around the plot and possibly cut back some of the tall grass that covers it.  Also, I have asked permission to make periodic visits to the cemetery and to do some minimal maintenance.   Cutting back the grass and repairing the fence, along with occasional visits, would indicate that the cemetery has not been forgotten and abandoned.  If we are granted this permission, I hope to find some “cousins” who would be willing to help!
Regarding the tall grass – I have recently learned from cousin GFM that the tall grass found on the plot was planted by the owners as, I presume, a means of protection.  Cutting the grass only makes it come back thicker.  Digging it up would only disturb the graves.  Therefore, the best thing to do at the end of winter weather before new growth begins would be to cut it back enough in order to reveal the markers and provide the appearance of being maintained.
Note:  In legal documents, the name Wellborn is spelled several different ways (Welborn, Wellborn, Wellborne,  Welborne, and Wellbourne).  I am using the spelling found in a family historical article written by Homer C. Wellborn, G. W. Wellborn’s son.

[i] McNeil, George F. and Joyce D. McNeil. “Wilkes County Database.” Wilkesboro, NC, 2009.

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