A History of the Gibson Bayou Church & Cemetery
A look at the historic site as annual Homecoming approaches
Special to the Times
They came searching for gold, the beginning of the Great River and for new opportunities. Regardless of why they came, they all came in hopes of a better life. What they found was anything but better.
The great Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to enter into Arkansas. His expedition with his army of some six hundred soldiers, accompanied by horses, armored war dogs, and an emergency food larder in the form of droves of live hogs, had a devastating impact on the region.
On May 8, 1541 de Soto and his army crossed the Mississippi River and stepped onto the Arkansas soil.
Soon after, de Soto arrived in what would become Parkin, Arkansas, to one of the main cities of the Casqui Indians. At first only a few ventured into Arkansas but then the slow trickle of people became an overwhelming flood of people. It was not until the late 1680's when Arkansas had its first official settlement, called the Arkansas Post.
To the right is the monument at Helena-West Helena commemorating the expedition of Hernando de Soto: 2012. The inscription reads, “June 25, 1541.
Cross erected and first Christian service held west of the Mississippi River.”
In 1811 and 1812, one of the greatest earthquakes to occur anywhere in the world and the worst to hit North America, the New Madrid earthquake began with a severe shock at approximately 2:00 am on 16 December 1811. The first shock was followed five hours later by an even more powerful one which destroyed the few brick building in New Madrid, MO and knocked down log and frame houses throughout the earthquake zone.
Two additional severe shocks occurred on January 23 and on February 7, 1812.
The quake was felt all the way to Boston and created the Arkansas “sunk lands,” an area which became swampy and subject to complete inundation every spring. Those who owned land in the “sunk lands” had to abandon their efforts but after Arkansas officially became a state, land was designated around the state for those who had lost their land due to the earthquake.
Parts of Crittenden, Craighead, Mississippi Counties and all of Poinsett County make up the “sunken lands.” Rivers changed their course of flow, Reel Foot Lake in Tennessee was created along with many other smaller lakes in eastern Arkansas. High ground was at a premium until modern irrigation and levy's drained the vast swamps of Arkansas.
Gibson Bayou Church and Cemetery was very important due to its higher elevation than most of the surrounding land.
As the forests were cleared and the wood milled in lumber mills in Earle, Parkin and beyond the land quickly became some of the most productive soil in the United States. The growth of Crittenden County and Earle was yoked with clearing the land of its timber and transitioning into farmland. Timber and logging lasted for about 50 years (1860-1910).
Dr. James C. Throgmorton wrote of the first house built in Earle; “When I first landed upon this spot of ground 47 years ago, it was a dense forest, inhabited by bear, wolf, panther, etc. With the exception of ten or twelve acres of cleared land, on which stood one rude log cabin, surrounded with five or six peach trees, the only house this side of Black Fish bridge stood near the place where Joe Moss now lives.
This spot of ground remained principally in this condition until the year of 1888. Then it was that Earle was born into this beautiful world of sunshine and flowers. The writer happened to be present, and, in company with our present State Senator, Hon. J. F. Rhodes, we two cleared the ground for the first house in Earle.
…Now I close this article by dedicating a few lines to the memory of the good citizens or pioneers of former days, the greater part of whom have cast aside their earthly mantle and gone to live with friends in the verdant summer land, leaving nothing in the way of tombstone or monuments to their memory. But their spotless record while here on earth will grow brighter as the years go by.”
The “Bio” Just a two minutes north of Earle on state highway 149, lies one of the most idyllic locations in eastern Arkansas.
The “Bio” is more formerly known as Gibson Bayou Church and Cemetery.
The cemetery is divided in two by a highway but it wasn't always so.
The oldest part lies to the west of Arkansas of highway 149. Tradition says that there are people still resting under the blacktop having never been exhumed when the road was “modernized” in the early 1950's.
It has been the authors humble honor and duty to lay a few folks down into the “high ground” of Gibson Bayou. For the last 150 years, this part of the land was the high ground during many floods. Some floods reportedly were so high and waters so swift that it washed a few departed souls bodies down the river.
Only a few people know the history of events that has taken place between the towns of Earle, Twist and Marked Tree that highway 149 connects. Fewer people know the history of Gibson Bayou church and cemetery.
This is a humble attempt to keep alive the history, mystery and memory of those now residing in the “high ground” and the many who have worked and continue to work diligently to preserve and protect this historical landmark.
This effort uses the work of so many others who have toiled to beautify, preserve and protect this historic place. Thanks to the many who continue to keep this “Bio” alive and well.
In the Evening Times
newspaper, Cliff Chisum, one time custodian of the cemetery provides many details about the early history.
“W.W. Fulkerson, built the church building, which Chisum estimates to be “100, maybe 110 years old. He hewed those sills with a broad axe,” he said, gesturing toward the white frame building, “and they're just as straight and true as any you see.”
Mr. Fulkerson's wife, Mrs. Mary J. Fulkerson was at one time the oldest citizen of Crittenden County. She went to school in Memphis when Court Square was fenced in with split rails and grown up with red clover. During the Civil War the little town of Hopefield was burned by the Yankees and Mrs.
Fulkerson's home went up in flames. She then moved to Crawfordsville, and in 1872 came to Tyronza Township, in the vicinity of Earle where Mr. Brown died three years later (her first husband). In the year of 1880 Mrs. Fulkerson married Mr. W.W.
Fulkerson who died in 1916.”
Gibson Bayou Church has been constructed four times. The first Church was located immediately to the north of the present location. Built in 1865 it burned to the ground in 1886. A frame building replaced it but was later blown away by a storm.
The third building was erected in 1898 or 1899.
The current church was constructed in 2004 to replace the old one that was destroyed by termites and wood rot. The current church is built to the specifications taken from the third church. Jack Stepp (1943-2015) headed the construction efforts for the current church building.
Jack now resides in the “high ground” he faithfully toiled to restore and keep.
According to Bishop D.G. Daniels who was born and raised in Earle, “Gibson Bayou church was in existence at the time of the Civil War between the north and south in the 1860's. It was just a log church and cemetery that sat on a high ridge in a lowland flood plane that seldom, if ever was underwater.” Bishop Daniels passed in 2009 and is buried in Gibson Bayou cemetery along with his many friends and family members.
In 1919, Dr. Throgmorton wrote about his experiences since arriving in Crittenden County and more specifically Tyronza Township. “Forty-seven years on the upper deck of an Arkansas pony armed with a pill bag, battling not only against disease, but also buffalo gnats and mosquitoes, trudging through mud and slush both day and night, often plunging my horse through dense forest, swimming rivers and lakes to alleviate suffering humanity has given me an advantage of observing many things that I couldn't otherwise have seen. This was so discouraging to me that had it not been for the unbounded hospitalities of Tryonza people I no doubt would have abandoned my outfit and struck for parts unknown.”
Prior to being officially recognized with its own city charter in 1905, much of Earle and the surrounding area was known as Tyronza Township.
Dr. Throgmorton, wrote concerning the Gibson Bayou Church and Cemetery, “This house was located on the north bank of Gibson Bayou, near where the present house now stands. It was about 20 x 40 feet, constructed of huge logs, covered with clapboards, having at each end a dirt and stick chimney. This house was used for various purposes, such as church, school, Sunday School and also a voting precinct for elections.”
Dr. Throgmorton continued, “The pulpit or rostrum was constructed of rough boards and furnished a place for the Doctor of Divinity to stand while dispensing his circumlocutions as an antidote for sin.
The benches consisted of split logs with the split surface neatly polished, and holes bored in the convexed part of the log with wooden pins inserted for legs. This is where the good people quietly seated themselves and swallowed the doctor's medicine as he issued it.”
Dr. Throgmorton passed in 1925 and is buried in Gibson Bayou. As a result of Dr. Throgmorton being a renowned doctor and local historian of sorts, the history he wrote is often quoted in many articles and updates in newspapers and in a particular series of newspaper articles written by W. H. Phelps regarding the history of Crittenden County and the city of Earle; “The first church in the territory was built on the banks of Gibson Bayou, near where the present church now stands. The church was about 20×40 feet, constructed of huge logs, covered with clapboard, with a chimney at each end made of sticks and clay. The church was used for various purposes.
It also served as a schoolhouse. The benches were made of split logs with the split surface neatly polished.”
There are many family cemeteries and small burial plots scattered throughout Crittenden County than are on record. Drive through the country roads and look out into the near and distant fields for the small clump of trees seemingly popping out of nowhere these often form the boundaries of no longer existing homes and covering old family burial plots.
Thankfully, Deborah Lunsford Yates has surveyed all of the known cemeteries around Earle and Parkin and leaves a gift of love in the list and history of these cemeteries. In Crittenden County these family and farm cemeteries fell out of favor when Crittenden Memorial Park Cemetery opened in the 1950s. With state laws governing burial locations the use of larger city and county “Memorial Cemetery's and Parks” caused small country and family burial grounds to cease being used.
Unfortunately, family cemeteries are lost to the plow, expansion or decay of towns and falling prey to the ravages time.
Directly in front of the old Assembly of God Church building which presently serves as the Earle School District office was the burial location for the Thomas J. Cloar, Sr. family.
Mr. Cloar married Amanda Aycock and had 11 boys and two girls.
Several of the children died during infancy and early youth, and Amanda died three days after the birth of their youngest son, Charles Wesley Cloar, in 1864. She was/is buried in front of the old Earle Assembly of God (This is behind the new grade school presently under construction).
Because Mr. Cloar's farmland was very low and had no means of drainage, he sold it to Mr. N.W. Brown Sr., Mr. N.W. Brown Jr., and Mr. B.F. Garratt. He then bought high ground north of Earle. Mr. Cloar died of blood poisoning as a result of an accident in his one-horse gin. He was buried beside his wife.
Originally, Mrs. Cloar and other members were buried in their family cemetery on the original homestead just off state highway 149 and on Cloar Road, but she and others were exhumed and buried on “higher ground” in the city of Earle.
Floods – The Force of Nature
Floods have shaped the landscape of the Delta region for hundreds if not thousands of years. The floods of Crittenden County were caused by the Mississippi River overflowing its banks on a regular
It was this constant flooding of the low lands surrounding Gibson Bayou that lead to the creation of and the extensive use of Gibson Bayou Church and Cemetery. Over the years Gibson Bayou Church and Cemetery has been in existence, constant flooding caused a great many country and city folks to bury their family members and even strangers in Gibson Bayou Cemetery.
Though there have been no Mississippi River levee breaks since 1927, the floods of 1927 and 1937 rendered hundreds of families in Crittenden County homeless because of backwaters from the St. Francis River. Because natural drains were blocked by the levee, Crittenden County landowners have been forced to rely on the creation of drainage districts.
Since 1899, bonds have been issued to raise money for drainage districts throughout the county.
In a letter dated May 11, 1912, Mrs. C. D. Turner wrote a letter to her friend, Mrs. John Allinen, who lived in Richmond, Kentucky reporting on the great flood of 1912 in Earle: I presume Maude has told you how the water got one and one half feet deep in our house, and Dorsey and I left for five days, came back as soon as it began falling, went from stairway in a boat to the steps of smoke house. How we cooked up there on heater until water got out of oven of cook stove and Charlie could get into kitchen in knee boots and do the cooking.
The crest of wave reached Memphis Thursday, so we don't see why this don't begin to fall. We lost all garden, most of fruit trees, flowers, grass, three heads of cattle, two litters of pigs, and if this water don't go down soon, may lose crop, and yet our lot is easy compared to those nearer levee.
… it happened in the South, and most of the sufferers were poor whites and negroes, their tales of woo go un told. Why Charlie and Mr. Cook, with a negro man, rescued one family of whites, man, wife and eight children, who had lived for days with water several inches on floor, and when rescued lacked six inches of reaching bedrails. The man was lying flat on his back with a knee split open, and too lazy to have anything if he had been well. The woman came to me a few days later begging flour, meat and lard, saying her children were hungry, also milk for a two-months old baby which they were raising on canned milk, and it (the baby) hadn't any for twenty-four hours. 1 had one of her children for days and took another.
From the Bluff at St.
Louis to the Gulf, 150,000 people are homeless, many of them having lost practically everything they had.
The crying need of the South is Men! Men, who won't sell out and are seeking the good of the man instead of the individual.
Shall I tell you what has helped sustain me in this reconstruction period which is worse than overflow? It is from a play, 'The Chanticleer.' The cock when he found that the day dawned without his crowing, said: 'Well, the soul needs a faith, however, oft that faith is slain.' 'But, how will you find new courage now that you doubt your work?'
asked the pheasant hen, 'By working,' replied the cock.
So it is by working, faith in our work is restored and we begin again to repair damages and erect on the graves of buried hopes. A new hope and a new faith in this great devastated land.
It was only a few short years later that Mr. and Mrs. Turner, tired of the flooding, extreme difficulties and struggling to make a living around Earle moved farther west in Arkansas and took up raising chickens.
Hardly a year passes without some overflow.
Between 1718 and 1828, at least fifteen major floods deluged the Delta. Other major floods have been recorded in 1844, 1849, 1850 and 1858. Three out of five years has seen medium flooding. From 1858 to the formation of the St. Francis Levee District in 1897, there were eight major floods: averaging one major overflow every five years. After the Levee Districts and until 1927, there were 33 overflows, though not all were major floods. Three years the river rose, and receded, only to flood again. High water broke the levees in 1897, 1903, 1912, 1917 and 1927.
The flood of 1927 was so great that it was thought to be possible that one could travel from Missouri to New Orleans without entering the Mississippi River proper.
Because of the nearly ideal growing conditions, the trees can reach huge proportions, and in a mature forest with closed canopy that allows little penetration of light and maintains high humidity, the bottomland forest has a primeval character approaching that of the jungle. With its snakes, mosquitoes, and dank gloom, the forest achieves an impersonal grandeur that is many people's emotional
concept of wilderness.
This description unquestionably described most of the land around Gibson Bayou Church and Cemetery as well as Earle and Eastern Arkansas in general.
These bottoms were not friendly places. Friedrich Gerstäcker, a German sportsman who lived in the Arkansas Delta in the late 1830's hunted deer, turkey, bear, bison, panthers, and wolves and was repeatedly incapacitated by bouts of malaria. After he moved west to the Ouachitas and Ozarks, saying, “…another attack of ague-I decided on bidding adieu to the unhealthy swamps, and trying the hills…” It was Doctor Throgmorton who observed, “Blessed is the man who has the every third day chills instead of the every other day chills.” The “chills” were caused by malaria transmitted by mosquitoes. As everyone knows living in the Arkansas Delta, mosquitoes are the unofficial state bird of Arkansas.
All of Crittenden County was carved out of what was in 1850 called Swamp Land. In fact, the U.S.
Congress in 1850 established the Swamp Land Act “which gave Arkansas the right to identify and sell millions of acres of overflowed and swamp lands.” Earle, Parkin and the surrounding areas were all considered Swamp Land. The “Bio” in the middle of Swamp Land and was not free from flooding but it did flood less than the lower areas around it.
The Cloar Family
It was during these times of flood that Gibson Bayou best served the people surrounding the “high ground.” In his famous painting, “Gibson Bayou Anthology,” Carroll Cloar wrote, “When I was a boy I used to wander through Gibson Bayou Cemetery picking dewberries.
I got acquainted with all the people buried there and had known some of them in life.”
“Gabe Smith, (front center) whom I never saw, was a favorite because he had died violently in a gunfight. Sister Ida Funkhouser, the lady on the left was a dear friend of my mother. She was a very devout Christian and I think the key to her faith lay in the fact that she thought she was ugly, but would be beautiful in heaven. But Sister Funkhouser was really such a delightful person that no one ever thought of her as ugly.
The girl the on the right, in back, is Odor Hayes, who died young. I caught small pox from her. Just back of her is my greathalf- uncle Ike, who was not quite close enough kin to be buried in our family graveyard over on the home place.”
The monument for Gabe Smith was erected by Woodmen of the World with an iron fence around the grave. He was the son of Elizabeth Smith. Cabe was killed on George Carter's place. He was shot by Bill Deruch during an argument over a girlfriend.
(Caleb Smith, 19 born Oct 1880? in TX, was found on the 1900 census living in Tyronza Twp, Cross Co as a boarder. He and three other men living there list their occupation as rafting.
The age is not quite the same but could be Cabe.) Sec. C.
Cloar's mother, Evvy David Cloar, never missed a Sunday at church and her favorite hymn, which she often sang to her small son, was “In the Golden By and By.” “Grandma David,” said Carroll, “wanted Evvy to marry a circuit-riding preacher, but she chose instead one of the hard-drinking Cloar's.”
Cloar continued, “Grandpaw and Grandmaw David named my mother Eva, but they thought it was pronounced Evvy, and that was what she was always called.
Evvy was a shy, backwoods girl and possessed a gentle beauty that brought many suitors to her door.
Her admirers included farmers and farm hands, loggers, a hack driver, a carpenter, and a circuit rider. Those who could read and write wrote letters to Evvy, except the circuit rider, who is, somehow, not included in her dusty, brown packet of old letters. “Charley Cloar was a logger, farmer of thirty-three when he began courting Evvy David. He was not exactly handsome, but he had a moustache in two colors, red and dark brown, a well- brushed forelock, and clear blue eyes. He had the equivalent of a sixth grade education, which was all you could get at Gibson Bayou school, but he knew a lot about land, timber and men.
He did not, however, know so much about women. Ten years earlier he had been disappointed in love. He had sworn off women, and taken to drinking. When he met Evvy David he changed his mind about women, but not about liquor. It was 1916 before he ever stopped drinking.”
In 1940 Carroll Cloar glorified the impact “preachers” had upon him, his family and those who came from near and far to Gibson Bayou Church.
With “The Preacher,” lithograph of 1940, Cloar wrote, “Mama had originally been a Methodist, a shouting Methodist, but as time went by the Methodists became a little too liberal minded to suit her, and she became a member of the General-Free-Will Baptists at Gibson Bayou, who later changed to Pentecostals.
The only extracurricular activities during the year were the occasional praying for the sick and afflicted after preaching, taking of the sacrament, and footwashing. About twice a year Brother Ed stretched a
tent at one side of the
church and all of the benches were moved out and put under it.
The big meeting usually ran from three weeks or a month, and on the final Sunday all of the new converts were baptized in Tyronza River. Those to be immersed came dressed in white and after a few songs and a brief sermon they were led out into the water until they were about breast deep.”
Life and death were never easy in the swamps of Tyronza Township, (Earle). What follows is Carroll Cloar's testimony about his family.
When Thomas Jefferson Cloar (Carroll Cloar's grandfather) arrived in Arkansas he found land lying about in great abundance, unused and unwanted by anyone, except the water moccasins who joyed in it and prospered in it. “My grandfather picked out a 100-acre tract where cuckleburs vied with dog fennel in the splendor of their growth. It had, however, a sweet alluvial feel to the handful, and my grandfather applied to the land agent in Marion, the county seat, for purchase. The land agent said he could make a down payment of $10 dollars in gold or silver coins, or ten coon hides, and my grandfather said he could offer 5 dollars in silver coins, 1 mink and 3 coon hides. The land agent said done, you just got yo'self the finest patch of cuckleburs in this here county.”
Thomas Jefferson Cloar married Amanda Martin and in time they had a child that died of whooping cough. Altogether, Thomas Jefferson and Amanda Cloar had 13 children. Luther died of smallpox; Ary died of diphtheria; Sylvester was bitten by a water moccasin; Georgy Lee choked to death on a grain of corn; Evaleander and Sam Houston died of whooping cough in infancy; Ruby Jewell and Sharon Rose died of causes uncertain.
Amanda died giving birth to her 13th child, my father Charles Wesley Cloar.
George Berry Washington, Jr.,
Very little is written about the history of the American-African history in Crittenden County or for that fact, the state of Arkansas. There is very little history of the agricultural and less information on the logging industry of the early years of Crittenden County and Arkansas. George Berry Washington, Jr., was experienced in logging and farming.
George Berry Washington, Jr. was born on Christmas Day in 1864. He was born in Arkansas with his father born in Kentucky and his mother born in South Carolina according to the 1870 census of Arkansas.
It is recorded on 23 December of 1919 that Mr. Washington deeded four acres in S21, T8N, R6E to the Gibson Bayou Cemetery and Pentecostal Church Association and recorded in Deed Record Book 103: 545-546.
Washington and his wife Lula sold one acre of land to the Gibson Bayou Cemetery and Pentecostal Church Association for $500 and the contract was signed by S.A Shannon,, J.R. Abbott and Lyman McCoy representing the Church Association. All three men are buried in Gibson Bayou Cemetery.
History cannot and must not be judged by the cultural rules and social mores of today, rather history must be viewed through the lens of the status quo of the times. Thus, the fact that George Berry Washington, Jr. became one of the largest landowners in Crittenden County was and is an amazing accomplishment. In 1880 only 10% of the land in Crittenden County was under cultivation and by 1910 37% of the land was under cultivation.
The fact that Mr.
Washington, (A planter, ginner, store owner and minister) had the opportunity to and did donate a portion of his land that adjoined the Gibson-Bayou Church and Cemetery is an example of humility, grace and generosity of George Berry Washington, Jr. to the community of Earle and surrounding people.
Carroll Cloar forever immortalized George Berry Washington, Jr. and all the good he accomplished and exemplified during his life in his world famous painting “The Angel In A Thorn Patch”.
In 2000, Bryan Speed penned a poem about the church:
“Gibson Bayou Church”
They came so many years ago O'er trails unmarked and scarcely trod And cleared this spot in wooded fields To build themselves – a house of God They felled the trees and hewed the logs To make its structure strong and stout They sawed the boards an framed the walls To keep the rain and weather out They came each week on Sunday morn To worship God and meet with friends They sang their hymns of love divine And prayed to God – His peace to find The years have passed and all are gone Save just a few who linger still To keep the mission of the church Ever true and faithful to God's will The trees still stand along the way To guard this hallowed plot of land And who is wise enough to say What good this church has brought to man
By Clayton Adams