Historic cemetery provides an educational walk into Glenpool area's past

Three headstones in a row, all topped with stone lambs, tell a family’s sad story, a reminder of the harsh life without modern medicine and vaccines.

A few steps away lies a World War I Army private who returned home after serving only to be mowed down by a car while walking across the street.

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That solemn spot is not far from where the graveyard’s founder pitched a tent during the 1920s oil boom to protect the land from drillers swarming the area. B.F. “Uncle Dump” Berryhill held his ground for four days with a rifle in his arms.

Across the property lies a murder mystery. A 29-year-old decorated veteran of the Spanish-American War and one of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders was found dead along with a woman who had spurned his marriage proposals. It’s unknown whether it was a double murder or a murder-suicide.

This is just a snapshot of what is learned while walking through the Twin Mounds Pioneer Cemetery, established southwest of Glenpool before statehood.

Telling the stories: A caller notifying a Tulsa World editor of the cemetery’s 10 a.m. Monday Memorial Day services suggested a visit. It is one of the first graveyards in the Tulsa area, and one with documentation on its grounds.

The cemetery is located at 16701 S. 33rd West Ave., which is about a half-mile north of 171st Street west of U.S. 75. Throughout the five acres are signs detailing the stories and family lineage of those buried there.

A bit of information scattered on signs through the cemetery:

  • Mary Horner was killed when gasoline exploded and set her house on fire.
  • A woman who died in 1918 was a step-grandmother to a man who delivered newspapers in town for 35 years.
  • A man was killed when lightning struck a tree. He was cutting a hickory pole to use as a piece of equipment. He was making the item because the $4 price of a similar board at the store was too high.
  • The owner of a popular hotel in Mounds, during its oil-boom heyday, arrived in Oklahoma from Virginia after persuading his mother to let him and two brothers go to Indian Territory after their father was killed in the Civil War.
  • R.T. Barber, a U.S. marshal in Indian Territory, took prisoners to “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Barber had four daughters, and many descendants still live in the area.
  • When the old town of Mounds was relocated closer to a railroad stop, a steam tractor was used to pull a store building to the new location. A Bixby man named Lee Newlin said he placed a $25 bet that the steam tractor had enough power to do the job.
  • Three months after giving birth to her third child, a woman died in 1912 from an infection that developed from picking a blemish on her face with a pin.
  • The murder mystery is about the deaths of Joe Bewley and 27-year-old Margarita Lindsay. She had refused to marry him. Bewley was distraught and threatened to kill her and himself if she didn’t. They were found dead at night in the middle of the road in front of the school where Lindsay taught. She was shot once in the heart, and Bewley was shot three times in the chest and had his throat cut. The knife was found at the scene. A dead rattlesnake tied to the bumper of Bewley’s car was believed by his family to be a threat. An inquest determined it to be a murder-suicide, but defenders of Bewley argue that he could not have shot and knifed himself.
  • J.W. and Cora Allen buried three babies in a short time: A 6-month-old daughter in 1902, an 8-month-old daughter in 1904 and a 3-month-old son in 1909. Nearby, two sons of W.D. and Mattie Sherrill are buried, a 22-day-old in 1898 and a 2-day-old in 1900. Many headstones note child deaths in an era before vaccinations and easy access to doctors and medications.
  • Sadly, nothing is known about the first grave in the cemetery. The deceased is believed to have been buried in 1891.

Preserving history: By the late 1980s, the cemetery had fallen into neglect and became a popular spot for drunken teenagers and vandals. A sign states: “Missing, broken and damaged stones have been vandalized. We call for the curse of God to fall upon anyone who desecrates this cemetery.”

I second that sentiment. Leave the dead to rest in peace with respect.

In 1991, a fundraising effort began to restore the property and determine its history. Installation of the signs began in 1992, and donations keep the upkeep of the property ongoing.

A 1997 Tulsa World story credits Gene Sivadon as organizing the revitalization.

“If we’d waited 10 years later, we wouldn’t have half the information we do now,” he said then.

The graveyard was founded in 1890 by Berryhill, who was a member of the Creek tribe and a Pentecostal preacher. A man had died in town, and burial could not wait for a mortician or to find family. Berryhill donated the land to serve as the community’s cemetery.

The town was originally called Posey after Alex Posey, a poet and Creek tribal member. It changed into Twin Mounds to reflect its two large hilly landmarks. The discovery of oil on the nearby Glenn farm brought a boom from about 1905 to the 1920s. With many newcomers, having a burial spot was a necessity.

But the boom eventually settled down, and a railroad was built to bypass the town. Trains stopped at Mounds, about three miles away.

Sivadon explained in 1997 why it was important to provide the stories behind the graves: “I believe that history ought to be preserved.” He died in 2003.

The historic cemetery is worth visiting, even if all those buried are strangers. By the time you leave, those who are resting there will no longer be unknown.

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