During October 2012, a historic cemetery in White County was destroyed during construction of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority project.
Little Cypress Cemetery also known as Killough Cemetery is located on a small knoll north of Little Cypress Bayou. It was used by pioneers traveling from Missouri to Texas on the Southwest Trail or Old Military Road.
Born and raised in a neighboring community, Sam Holloway, vice president of the White County Historical Society, has known about the cemetery since the early 50s. "Everybody knew it was here," he said.
Four rows of graves were marked with rocks and handmade bricks shaded by several oak trees whose dense shade prevented underbrush from covering the grave markers.
Holloway estimates there are about 30 graves in the cemetery. He detects a grave by "witching" for bodies in the ground. The same principle as dowsing, or water witching, using two L-shaped, metal rods to detect a disturbance in the ground through earth radiation.
It is believed that William Killough is buried in this cemetery. Killough died in 1874. According to census records, Killough and his wife Elizabeth moved to the area in the 1850s. Some of their descendants still live in the area.
The White County Historical Society and Arkansas Archeological Survey recognized the cemetery as a historical site in 2005.
Records are available online and several newspapers have written articles about it, Holloway said.
The cemetery is located approximately 1.5 miles off Highway 64 on a farm owned by Jimmy Austin. Austin bought the land in 1971, and discovered the cemetery soon thereafter.
The Lonoke-White Public Water Authority has commissioned a $50 million project to lay 72 miles of pipeline from the Cove Creek intake and treatment plant at Greers Ferry Lake to as far as Furlow bringing much needed water to towns in White and Lonoke Counties.
Woody Bryant, project manager for the water authority, met with the land owner and was made aware of the cemetery in February 2012. Austin was assured the cemetery would not be disturbed.
In August 2012, Bond Engineering, Inc. designed the site plans for the waterline with the historic cemetery in mind.
Paladino Construction of Conway, called Austin in October 2012 and told him they would start construction on his property in two weeks, and they would call him before crossing his property line.
Mid-October of 2012, Austin was on the other side of his property feeding his cows when he heard a commotion. When he arrived at the cemetery’s location, he discovered all the trees, bricks and rocks had been removed, the knoll had been leveled and the water line had been installed through the center of the cemetery.
"I was out on my land and I thought I heard some machinery, so i went out there and they had dug about 100 yards past the cemetery," he said.
Once Paladino Construction was informed they had destroyed a historic cemetery, they returned two days later to dig the water line back up, and construct it around the cemetery.
"It cost several thousand, but I made that call that day that it didn’t need to be left there," Bryant said. "It’s a cost that we all have to pay for."
The project is being funded through a $24.5 million federal loan from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development and up to $30.9 million from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.
Loans will be repaid through water rates charged by members of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority.
Scott Akridge, past president of the Arkansas Archeological Society, said there are lots of cemeteries in the surrounding counties, and this could very easily happen again.
"Recording them on state sites is supposed to protect them against projects using federal money," he said.
Bryant said the miscommunication occurred because property lines weren’t where they thought they were. The cemetery was identified on the opposite side of the property line on the map that was used to determine the water line’s location, he said.
"If there is a historical site it needs to be identified with historical markers," he said. "It shows up in some drawings but there was nothing at the site."
Holloway put a sign up about ten years ago, but deer hunters shot it down.
"They don’t have no respect," Holloway said.
Upon the desecration of Little Cypress Cemetery, Akridge went to survey the area for evidence of human skeletal remains and casket hardware such as nails.
"We could not find any bone or casket hardware anywhere," Akridge said. "Either they missed it, or the acidic nature of the soil dissolved what was there."
Holloway said the construction crew could have dug between a row of graves.
State Archeologist Ann Early said in the absence of hardware or bone, there was no evidence of desecrating burial grounds, a class D felony on the first offense and a class C felony on the second, so no legal action was taken.
The county judge said the only legal action that could be taken at this point is a lawsuit filed by the landowner.
"It’s my opinion when you see 15 to 20 rocks sticking upright, it’s a clue, but these guys claim they didn’t have a clue," Akridge said.
Bryant said if it weren’t for the land owners claims or maps showing a historical cemetery, you’d think the rocks and bricks were the remains of an old house.
Paladino Construction recovered what grave markers they could, but the bricks broke apart during construction and could not be salvaged. The majority of the stones were saved.
Holloway wants Paladino Construction to bring the ground up to grade, plant some grass and put something across the road to block traffic on both sides.
Deer hunters are now using the cleared area from the pipeline as a dirt path.
"There’s no reason for people to walk across a cemetery," Holloway said.
Bryant said the water authority has done all it can to restore the cemetery, pointing out that there’s no access to it as it is a mile from the nearest road.
"We’ve put up fences in some areas to slow [hunters] down," he said.
Holloway said Paladino Construction made a verbal commitment to bring up the knoll the day they moved the pipeline, but they have yet to bring in enough dirt.
"If they will come back, I’ll put the stones back because I’m the only one who knows about where they’re at," he said.
The water authority has five miles of waterline to lay before that stage of the project is complete.
"We’re certainly sorry it happened, but the benefit is to everyone in central Arkansas," Bryant said. "It’s a dual source for most of us to make sure we have water for a long time."
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)