Big Fork Cemetery

One of the Oldest Church Cemeteries in or Near White Co, TN - 200+ Years

Like so many old cemeteries, for years the Big Fork Cemetery was covered with broken tombstones, fallen trees, waist-high grass, shoulder-high bushes, active groundhog dens, and God-only-knows how many copperheads. 

After conducting an on-site study of the cemetery in March 1998, Hoyte Cook stated:

By my count, there are 236 graves in Big Fork.  Some of the graves are covered with slab rocks placed to form a sort of roof over the grave (tent or comb graves), some are covered with flat-lying slab rocks, some are marked with common field stones, and some are not marked at all.  Engraving on the grave markers is scarce, but thankfully some engraving does exist.

When I was a child, Big Fork was pointed out to me, complete with comments about what sad shape it was in.  I had never set foot in Big Fork until the mid-1990s, but had read information about some of the people who are believed to be buried there.

Contemplating some of the scenes that likely have unfolded there at Big Fork during the past 200+ years offers a feast for the imagination.  The view of the surrounding terrain would have made it a virtual certainty that Confederate pickets wandered this hill when Bragg’s Army camped nearby in 1862.  There were picnics, horses, buggies, ladies in long dresses, weddings, gospel singings, funerals, many tears, and old-time preachers, as Dolly Parton’s song says, “preaching hell so hot that you could feel the heat.”

Can you imagine the stories that could have been told by some of the people who have trod the grounds of Big Fork?  There would be first-hand accounts of the American Revolution, of long hunts into the wilderness, of bringing family from OLD Virginia or North Carolina to settle a strange land (with no TV), of the Battle of Perryville, of the 1865 retreat of Hood’s barefoot, bareheaded, hungry army in the freezing rain, after the Battle of Nashville, and of the times before airplanes, cars, and income tax.

Represented in those rows of graves are many fine families, the mere mention of some of their names…Shockley, Madewell, Haston, Mitchell, Cummings, Reedy, Denney, and others…often bringing us a fond association with home, with Old Van Buren County, with who we are, and from where we came.  This place is a treasure.  It would seem that anyone with an ancestral link to this place ought to be curious about it…and care for it.

For many years, cattle wandered through Big Fork Cemetery.  The slab roofs that cover some of the graves were designed with cattle in mind, some people even refer to those stone grave covers as “cattle rocks.”  I would say that Big Fork offers some excellent testimony to long-ago good planning when it comes to dealing with cattle in a graveyard.

Yes, Big Fork Cemetery was neglected for a long time.  The saddest disclosure of this neglect comes not from the lack of a fence, but from the fact that in those 236 graves are people who once lived, laughed, cried, loved, made a difference, and now we know who only a few of them were.  The small amount of effort required to chip a name and some dates on a rock was expended in precious few instances.  Valuable information has been erased by the passing of time, and the passing of people who took the information to their graves with them.

If you appreciated this article, please share it with others who might also enjoy it.

One thought on “Tour Stop #2 – Big Fork Cemetery

Leave a Reply