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Beulah Baptist Church famous for ‘Western saga’ cemeterycomment (0)

May 19, 2011

By Lindsey Robinson

The most famous story from Beulah Baptist Church, Sterrett, and its cemetery reads like a Western saga.

A handful of Christian pioneers forms a church and rescues a Kewahatchie chief’s young daughter after her village is slaughtered. She grows up with a pioneer family, loses her first husband in the Civil War and remarries a man from the very family who rescued her as a child. She gives birth to five children before dying of tuberculosis and being buried in the cemetery.

Stories like this and Old Sterrett Cemetery’s 170-year history have won the attention of the Alabama Historical Commission, which added it to the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register.

The afternoon of April 9, about 80 people gathered at the Shelby Baptist Association church to witness the unveiling of a plaque recognizing its cemetery as a historic landmark.  

The event began inside the church’s sanctuary with refreshments and an invocation from Pastor Earl Hardy and included speakers from the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance (ACPA), Shelby County Historical Society (SCHS) and Alabama Historical Commission.

Glenn Nivens, SCHS recording secretary, and Rachel Clinkscale, ACPA secretary, were the event’s main organizers. Clinkscale is a member of Beulah Baptist and photographed every headstone in the cemetery for Nivens to catalog. The oldest stone — from 1841 — marks the grave of the daughter of church founder Henley Webster, Clinkscale said.

Since Old Sterrett Cemetery is about a third of a mile down a dirt road from Beulah, the congregation set off on foot to visit the site right after the sweet tea was drunk and meatballs and deviled eggs were eaten. Leading the trek were five Civil War re-enactors, who performed a musket salute inside the graveyard.

Dan Acker, whose great-grandmother was Fadora Cloud Falkner, the girl who survived her village’s massacre, stood at her grave and gave a history of the Falkner family. The Falkners were among Beulah’s original members and fill many of the graves in its cemetery.

Acker said he didn’t take much of an interest in his family history until just a few years ago. But once he and other church members decided to preserve their cemetery’s history, they realized it needed a little spit and polish. So they cleared out the weeds and spiders and uncovered a few graves they’d never seen before.

The cemetery is dotted with small cream-colored headstones that look like polished porcelain. Members of the Falkner family carved these stones out of pottery when the cemetery was first constructed and they are found in just one other cemetery in Mississippi, church member Shannon Burrell said.

As a child, Burrell rode her bike over the train tracks into the cemetery so she and her friends could look at the graves and muse about who was inside them. “We were always kind of in awe of the ‘Indian graves,’” Burrell said. She had heard the story of the “Indian princess,” the chief’s daughter who was buried there, but said hearing it from Acker was probably the best part of the event for her.

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