Monday, July 1, 2013

Cemetery Hopping

As I near the end of a book project on the Cane Creek Massacre, my trips have been dealing with the less obvious parts of the shooting; parts that satisfy my curiosity rather than meet the needs of an incomplete book. One of those is visiting the graves of people not central to the events that day.

Yesterdays trip was a short one, taking me to the grave of Orpha Virginia Talley Rivers. Orpha was born on 18 October 1870, probably in Hickman County, to James "Poole" Talley and Sarah Lancaster. Poole had several siblings who were members of the Church. His wife, Sarah did too. But the family had not decided to join. It wasn't surprising. Sarah had recently passed away, and James had remarried in April 1884 to Ruth Sanders. The turmoil in their lives was still settling down. But they obviously felt the draw to the Church.

Poole was at the Conder home on the morning of the shooting. He had just unhitched the horses from his wagon when the vigilantes arrived. They forced him to sit on the tongue of his wagon at gun point while some of the gunmen entered the home.

It is only guesswork, but since Poole brought his wagon, it is likely he brought at least a few members of his family, perhaps all of them. That would have included Orpha. She was only a 13 year old girl at the time. I don't think she would have been still in the wagon, but would have jumped off as soon they arrived and perhaps went to meet up with a friend.

I know the evidence for her even being there is circumstantial at best. But even so, I felt the need to track her down. Marriage records, census records and finally a death certificate (which included the cemetery name) created a trail so easy to follow that genealogists everywhere would be jealous. That journey ended yesterday, with a trip to the Spring Hill Garden Cemetery in Davidson County, Tennessee. Spring Hill Gardens is a large (thousands) cemetery dating back almost 200 years. It was fortunately still actively managed and I secured the help of the cemetery staff to help locate her.

Orpha Rivers was in Section 17, lot 68 grave 1. The map of that section is faded and the onsite section markers have long since deteriorated. And road signs in that area are missing too. So I followed the director in her golf cart to section 17. From the cemetery entryway gate we took a right, then a left, then straight through an intersection followed by a left and a right. We parked a hundred feet of so before the road ended in a "T". The section on our left(north) was section 17. Orpha's grave was approximately in the exact center of the section of standing stones. The inscription faces north. we came from the south making it hard to find from a distance.

There are two markers, a flat foot stone and an upright headstone which included her husband.

We discussed a little about the shooting, and she left me alone to pay my respects. I don't know if Orpha was at the shooting. But I know her family was touched by the tragedy. Generations later, they still talk about it.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Bruce! I am so excited for your new book, and for your cemetery adventures. I would love to be able to talk to you sometime about your research.

-Amy Oliver, Cemetery Program, Utah State History (

Amelie said...

This is cool!