Cemetery cleanup reveals special surprise

(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - In a rural Craighead County cemetery, clean up volunteers unraveled a miracle for one woman and her family.

For more than 80 years the newly named Prairie Cemetery was a pile of junk. People dumping couches, televisions on resting grounds as weeds and grass covered it entirely.

That was until a Lake City native and her husband's vision came to life starting in February.

"It was an over-grown terrible mess if that's what you want to call it," Brenda Hutcheson, said. "I'm very passionate about this cemetery. If you were not from around here, you would have never known it was here. So first, we cleared the land."

Craighead County Judge Ed Hill helped with equipment and, volunteers hauled out several loads of the rubble.

Now two months later, and an overwhelming task behind them, they started finding things.

"We started searching and probing for any existing monuments," she said. "We were able to find three."

The findings thrilled Hutcheson because that's what the project was aimed towards, but it's when a local family took notice in her cleanup effort that started revealing more.

"Descendents of the Watkins Family helped us to secure the help of someone with sonar equipment, and they helped us locate the graves.

The equipment detected 15 additional graves," Hutcheson said.

Wilma Freeman, a family member of the Watkins, contacted Hutcheson the night Region 8 News aired the start of the cleanup effort in February.

"She contacted me and said her family; the Watkins Family was buried here," Hutcheson said.

A Region 8 News reporter spoke with Freeman over the phone on Wednesday. She said her great-grandfather, D.T Watkins Sr., and his four children were buried there in the period of 1892 to 1913.

She knew in her heart they were out there somewhere, but because of the recent conditions of the cemetery, she could not find them, until the sonar equipment detected a plot of five graves.

"I found three small graves that denote children, and two adult graves, and that's what they were looking for," Hutcheson said.

After years of wonder plotted together, Freeman's great-grandfather, and four children D. T Watkins Jr., Harrison Watkins, Liborn Watkins, and D. R. "Roy" Watkins were found buried under a tree.

Freeman called it a God-sent miracle.

"She's on cloud nine because she feels like she has been able to put her family at rest and now she's going to be able to mark their graves," Hutcheson said.

Hutcheson now plans to place small stones at each grave that will read, "soul at rest."

She's also looking for descendants of people who's possibly buried at Prairie Cemetery so she can place names to a larger monument.

A local company donated an iron arch that will have the cemetery's name on it. She is adding a bridge over a ditch in the cemetery and a bench where loved ones can sit and visit.

Anyone interested in donating to help fund Hutcheson's cleanup effort can call her at (870) 530-1426.

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

Watch Region 8 News On Demand: On your Desktop | On your Mobile device

Region 8 News App - Install or update on your: iPhone | Android