McKendree Chapel and Cemetery
By Ronny Richards
The following excerpt comes from an unpublished manuscript, “Twin Crickers,” by Ronny Richards, the two-time Congressional candidate, retired carpenter, and long-time resident of Upper Twin Creek. Ronny and his brother, Brian Richards, moved to the Shawnee State Forest region of southern Ohio in the early 1970s. They settled on Tucker’s Run, each building their own family homesteads. In this piece, which introduces his collection of stories, Ronny meditates upon death, the “outsider” status of the newcomer, and his role today, as a community elder in passing down the creek’s history to future generations. McKendree Chapel and Cemetery are located near the mouth of Upper Twin, at place marked as McGaw on some maps. Here are buried many of the men, women, and children who once called Forbidden Twin home.
My wife asked me a few years back, “Do you ever think about moving”?
I gestured southeast, “Yeh, one uh these days you can move me around the corner to the cemetery”.
Frank Cooper, Kinney Cooper, Everett Lewis and his wife, Jonas’ widow Sissy, are in the upper section of McKendree across Route 52. Ed Holsinger lies there as does Jule Henderson, Don Whisman, and at least a score of other I’ve known or worked with. My great uncle Tom Harrison and his wife Stell are there also. In early February as I gather sap from the ancient maples in the lower part of the cemetery the ground is spotted with snow.
The church is white, windows trimmed black with a faded grey metal roof, the tombstones, gray granite, brown sandstone, mottled marble attached with black lichen. Even the dull red granite markers are nearly devoid of color. John and Letty Elliot, Aunt Georgia’s in-laws, Am Cooper, and Clay’s widow Mary are buried under the maples. Everett Lewis’ grandpa Amaziah lies there, as does Ed Cooper in his unmarked bed.
The giant maples are a further study in black and white with their branches stretched silhouette against a leaden February sky, their roots anchored deep among the graves. I dump the collected sap, life force, into buckets to take home and boil off, turning it to syrup, life force.
This is good work and I have good company as I’ve talked to the dead here for years. Somehow, I’m sure they are aware of my presence and I sense they hear me. I’m older now, so these days I do more listening. I look at their graves through the mackled snow, through the patchy dormant grass and through the wet winter dirt, and wonder: Could I peer within would the moldering bones themselves divulge the events of their lives? At times in my life I’ve puzzled as to the existence of a Biblical God, but I have no doubt that I am surrounded by the spirits of the departed in this place, as thick as the fogs that shroud these hollows on a spring morning. The buds on the maples are swelling, tomorrow calls for peeking sun and warmer, green growth on the ground will appear. The soft breezes murmur their stories.
A year or two after I moved down on Twin I was up at Don Whisman’s place just before the iron bridge at the slate point. We were sitting at a picnic table in the yard drinking beer and maybe a sip or two of whiskey. After all, this is Twin Creek. Things weren’t going too well for me at the time, no job and not many prospects. I told Don that I was thinking about moving back to the tall timber in Washington State.
He looked at me and said, “Oh, you’ll come back”.
“I don’t know, I can always find work out there”.
He took a drink then laughed and said, “They say once yuh takeuh drinkuh water outta this crick, yuh always come back.”
When I moved down here on Twin in 1972 I had just turned twenty-four years old. My neighbor’s ages were; Jim Richardson, in his seventies, Kinney Cooper, darned near eighty. Everett Lewis, a few years younger than Kinney, and Nelson Roe, in his seventies. I also had a neighbor Bob Humble, who was a mere sprout of forty some years. I considered Jim and Kinney and Everett and Nels, ancient, and thought Bob was well on his way to old age. All have gone to their reward, (I always thought that was a heck of a reference to death) save Bob, who keeps plugging along, yet one wonders, for how many more years. All told me stories, but none more so than Everett and Kinney. They told me haunting tales of their youth on Upper Twin from the early part of the twentieth century.
I was talking to my brother about some of the tales the old timers used to tell us, and he accurately stated, “You know, we’re the old ones now”. So if someone doesn’t commit these tales to ink, in just a few years they are going to exist only in old news accounts and dead records files at the local county courthouses. There will be no one left that has even had as much as a first-hand account from the participants. The fact that this information is available in news reports from that bygone era means this is not folklore, although the descendants do sometimes argue about motive, exact locations of actions and other small details. These were actual events that had calamitous consequences on all the individuals involved.
But I feel a little uncomfortable telling this history as these weren’t my people. Although I’ve been here for nearly forty years, I still feel somewhat an “outsider”, even though I’m loosely connected to this place. I had some blood relatives and some shirttail cousins that either lived on Twin or nearby, but I was separated by two-hundred miles and forty odd years from these events. There are myriad relatives of the key players yet living and they know the history. But they haven’t committed it to ink, and at times act almost embarrassed by the tales of murder and mayhem that occurred on this creek. If they are, they shouldn’t be. They should no more feel responsible for the actions of their ancestors than I should feel responsible that my ancestors were slave holders in Kentucky in the 1850s. We can’t change what went on before; we can only attempt to do better in the future.
It is not my intent to step on any toes, or dig up bones that make anyone uncomfortable. To twist a modern phrase, “it was what it was”. This is history and history should never die, and I have no intention of letting it do so.