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Stepping back in time at forest cemetery

More than just resting places for the dead or monuments to those who came before us, cemeteries tell the stories of the history of the place. Decades — and even centuries — later, descendants and historians track down the graves of those who lived long ago, using tombstones to stitch together the stories of years past.

Within the 125,000 acres purchased by the U.S. Government in the 1970s and incorporated into the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, there are more than four dozen known cemeteries — 58 in all. Some are simple burial places; family plots where fathers buried their children or their wives near the homestead. Others are more elaborate: formal cemeteries where communities — which we would’ve called neighborhoods today but which no longer exist — came together to bury their dead in a central location. 

One of the latter is the Chimney Rock Cemetery at Station Camp. Also known as Slaven Cemetery, it is perhaps the most ill-kept of the larger cemeteries that fall within the Big South Fork’s boundaries. Yet, it is accessible by car; in fact, it is only a stone’s throw from the main road.

Chimney Rocks Cemetery in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area | Photo: Ben Garrett

Chimney Rock Cemetery is fascinating for the history that it tells of this area long before it was a national park, when it was still being settled by the forefathers of many of the people of West Oneida and Scott County today. 

The history of the cemetery starts with its oldest grave — Angeline Moore, the 15-year-old orphan girl found beaten to death on Huckleberry Ridge on Jan. 6, 1872, was the first person to be buried at the cemetery. Moore’s story, which was featured in the Independent Herald’s March 2018 Forgotten Times installment, is as interesting as it is tragic. She was apparently indentured to a Huntsville family and turned up dead — her body badly beaten — on the old Monticello Road, which snaked through the nearby Big South Fork River gorge and connected Huntsville to Monticello, Ky. Indictments were handed down by a grand jury, naming two women as being responsible for her death. However, they were never convicted.

While Moore was the first person to be buried at Chimney Rock Cemetery, others soon followed. Daniel Pennington was the second person buried at the cemetery when he was killed by his brother-in-law that same year, at the age of 26.

Chimney Rock Cemetery takes its name from the photogenic, free-standing sandstone buttes that tower over the road like sentries just to the north of the burial plot. It’s also known as Slaven Cemetery for its founder, Pa Slaven, who was buried in 1887.

In all, there are 66 graves in the cemetery, most of them well over a century old. The original stones were quarried from sandstone a few hundred yards to the west, along Station Camp Road. Most of those original stones, if inscribed, have been rendered illegible by time. While commercial stones eventually began to appear on some of the graves, the originals of those are quickly weathering as well. Many of the early graves are simply marked with stones that were not inscribed.

With Moore’s grave the first to be located at the Chimney Rock Cemetery, the last was seven-month-old Shirley Fay Crabtree, who died 64 years later, in 1936. 

The Crabtree story is one of the most tragic of all the stories told by the cemetery. Lottie Blevins — the daughter of Harvey and Poppy Litton Blevins, and the granddaughter of John and Elvira Litton, who settled the Litton Farm across the river near Bandy Creek — was 19 years old when she married Claude Crabtree in 1931. Five years later, in the late winter of February 1936, the couple had their first child: a daughter, Shirley Fay.

But just four days later, on Feb. 23, 1936, Lottie died, presumably from complications of childbirth. Claude Crabtree was left alone to raise their daughter. That September, baby Shirley fell sick and died. She was buried a few feet away from her mother in the Chimney Rock Cemetery. 

In a span of just seven months, Crabtree had buried his wife and his only child. He remarried again in 1939 and eventually moved to Texas. But he never had another child.

Angeline Moore and Shirley Fay Crabtree are just two of the children buried at Chimney Rock. 

There are several others, including three-month-old Victoria Blevins, the daughter of Newton and Mandy Blevins, who died in 1905. One year later, her sister, Sarah, was born. She died in 1920 at the age of 14 and is buried nearby. Newton and Mandy Blevins had several other children. He was later shot and killed as he and Mandy rounded up cattle on their property. No one was ever charged in his death. (Blevins served a year in prison after shooting and killed 51-year-old William C. Hatfield in 1924. Hatfield’s father, William Riley Hatfield, had been shot and killed by a man during an argument along the Big South Fork River in 1894, at the age of 70. W.C. Hatfield was the second husband of Poppy Blevins, the mother of Lottie Blevins and grandmother of Shirley Fay Blevins.)

Other children buried at Chimney Rock include two-week-old Viscal Blevins, 10-month-old Lieuvada Miller and three Burke babies.

To access Chimney Rock Cemetery, take S.R. 297 west from Oneida, and continue on Station Camp Road into the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. 

Ben Garrett
Ben Garretthttp://gocumberlands.com
Ben Garrett is publisher of Go Cumberlands. He lives in Oneida, Tennessee with his wife, three kids and dog, Boone.

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