By John Balch
UMPIRE – When the keepers of the Old Brown-Ralls Lost Cemetery arrived on the cemetery grounds following the April 13 tornado, they “just stood there with their mouths open,” according to Ken Ralls, who has family members buried in the nearly-forgotten clip of land.
The twister that rumbled through laid down trees, tore down fencing and destroyed a newly-installed port-a-potty built for two and donated to the cemetery by the Umpire High School shop students and teacher Joey Morris. No headstones or graves were damaged.
The cemetery is located in the northern part of Howard County off the Mineola Road which travels north of Highway 84 about midway between Umpire and Athens.
Among the cemetery, which was rediscovered in 1975 by Ken Ralls’ late brother, Bill, are headstones for veterans of the Civil War and the Black Hawk Indian War. The Ralls’ great-great grandfather is buried in one of the eight known grave sites.
The first Decoration Day was held March 29, 2006 for the cemetery following a rededication and has been a tradition ever since. The Decoration Day went on as planned this year two days after the twister touched down.
Since the cemetery, which sits on Weyerhaeuser land, is managed by such a small group of people, family members are seeking some southern hospitality in the form of monetary and labor donations to get the trees removed and the plot of land back in shape. Ken Ralls said a fencing company might be required to fix the chainlink that encircles the cemetery.
“We’d appreciate just about anything we can get to help out,” Ralls said.
Persons wishing to make donations to the cause can contact Ken Ralls at (775) 450-6397 or Glen Pate at (479) 216-8698.
A special account has been set up at the Bear State Bank branch in Dierks for monetary donations.
The story of the Old Brown-Ralls Lost Cemetery began in 1975 when Bill Ralls, who had travelled to Arkansas from Texas for almost 50 years to gain knowledge about his ancestors, was spurred on to learn more about the plot of land.
Ralls’ cousin, O.D. Tipton, first took him to the cemetery. It was a trek through heavy underbrush, across a running stream, and uphill. There were no roads or paths but the search party recognized an old wagon trail that appeared to encircle the burial grounds.
Bill Ralls was disheartened by the condition of the grounds, which apparently last saw a burial in 1930 of William “Peter” Ralls.
The tombstones found dated back to the Civil War but not all the graves were marked.
“Being in the cemetery among the old and shattered tombstones made me feel part of the past and I knew instantaneously what I had to do,” said Bill Ralls in a 2006 interview.
Ralls didn’t return until 1979 but when he did he and family members began clearing and cleaning the site, which was initially donated as a community cemetery by a “Mr. Brown.”
The cemetery is now recognized by Weyerhaeuser, who assisted in the preservation with road improvements, and is included on its maps and “will be forever preserved and will not be disturbed,” according to the 2006 interview.
In March 2005, Ralls had a fence built and another brother, John, brought in sonar/radar equipment that is normally used to locate buried pipelines in an attempt to further locate any “missing” graves.