Concerns for Abandoned, Historic and Pioneer Cemeteries.
Recommendations for changes in cemetery laws of Oklahoma.
1. "Historic" or "Pioneer" cemetery shall refer to any cemetery or burial ground, whether on public or private land, that has human remains interred before the date of November 16, 1907, the date of Statehood for Oklahoma.
2. "Abandoned" shall refer to any cemetery or burial ground in which the interment of human remains has not been made for fifty years. This shall not mean any cemetery or burial ground in which grounds maintenance has not been performed or may be overgrown.
II. Proposed Amendments to existing Oklahoma Cemetery laws:
1. The Oklahoma Historical Society shall create and maintain a register for ALL Oklahoma cemeteries or burial grounds, with exact location, in which the earliest interred human remains are dated before November 16, 1907, whether on public or private land, whether known or unknown.
2. That responsible parties such as Historical, Archeological, School or Cemetery associations shall have the right, at reasonable times and upon request, enter private or public land for the purpose of registering or mapping the graves of the interred in Pioneer, Historical or Abandoned cemeteries.
3. That owners of private lands on which a Pioneer, Historical or Abandoned cemeteries, be forbidden from removing, or causing to be removed, any fence or part of a fence from around any cemetery or grave.
4. That no building may be erected within 100 feet of a Pioneer, Historical or Abandoned cemetery or grave, whether on public or private land, other than a building erected for the maintenance of such cemetery by a responsible party such as a government entity, cemetery association or historical society.
5. That no person shall intentionally, whether on private or public land, remove, injure or otherwise cause to be damaged, or through negligence, any tombstone, grave marker, fence, or monument, or to create any situation that would cause livestock, machinery or farm implements to injure said monuments or cemetery, in a Pioneer, Historical or Abandoned cemetery.
6. That any responsible group, individual or family member shall, upon request and at reasonable times and weather conditions, enter any Pioneer, Historical or Abandoned cemetery for the purpose of performing maintenance such as placing grave markers, repairing grave markers, removing brush, mending fences, installing fences, cutting grass and weeds or other necessary maintenance, and have the right to bring such equipment and supplies as needed by motor carrier across private or public land, by the most direct route, for the purpose of performing such maintenance.
7. That a paragraph shall be placed in the sales contract, and land abstract, by the seller, or of any land transferred by public or private sale, notifying the buyer that there exists a Pioneer, Historical or Abandoned cemetery on said property and that the laws of this section apply to said cemetery.
8. No part of this section shall have any reference to or be binding on any city, county or state cemetery that is currently maintained by said government bodies or any cemetery in which the earliest interment of the remains of human beings shall date after November 16, 1907.
9. Violation of any part of this section shall be punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $5,000, or a jail term of up to six months or both, for each offense.
Within the past 25 years, there has been a growing notion among some
people that our heritage, that is reflected in the old cemeteries and burial
grounds, no longer matter. It is their contention that if the land belongs to
them, they can do whatever they like with the land with total disregard to
previous generations that may have lived and died on the land.
In the last two years, I have become aware of three pioneer cemeteries that
have been desecrated by landowners. Some of this desecration is not even
done by landowners but by land tenants without the knowledge of the
landowner. Once the damage is done, there in NO repairing the destruction.
Here, we are referring to the term as "Historic" or "Pioneer Cemetery", as any
burial ground or cemetery, on public or private land, that has an interment of
human remains before the date November 16, 1907, the date of Statehood of
Oklahoma. The term "Abandoned" shall mean any cemetery or burial ground
in which human remains are interred, but, which burials have not taken place
for fifty years. "Abandoned" does not mean that the cemetery is not
maintained by any historical or cemetery society or family member of a
person interred in that cemetery. There are many cemeteries of Abandoned,
Historical and Pioneer designation in Oklahoma, that are maintained by such
The people who settled Oklahoma were a varied lot. They were wealthy
merchants, poor farmers, Texas cattlemen, circuit riding preachers,
freighters, desperados, outlaws, villains, African American Freedmen, as well
as the indigenous Native Americans and those Tribes that were removed from
other states to this area that later became Oklahoma.
Life was exceedingly difficult for these pioneers. They had to fight flood and
famine. Diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, smallpox and typhoid fever
would wipe out entire families as well as communities. Doctors were far and
few between. Pioneer families had to make their own homes, furniture,
clothing, wagons and farm implements. They went to the store once a year to
get supplies, if they had the money. These settlers had to fight the wild
Tribes for their livestock and their lives. They had to make their own
medicines from the roots and plants that grew in the woods. What was left to
them, they had to protect it from the tornados, whiskey peddlers, outlaws and
conmen that came into the Territory.
These were a hardy lot. They were tough as leather. They had to be, just to
stay alive. When they died, they were buried nearby for there were no towns.
There were no public cemeteries. Often these small cemeteries were on
some farmer or rancher's land where the nearby community would bury their
dead. There was no thought of someone scraping the earth bare someday to
plant wheat or build a barn. There was no thought that someday, people
would become so callous and greedy that they would need that small parcel of
land measuring one acre or five acres to graze their cattle or plant wheat.
We are not asking the landowners to do anything to preserve these old
historic and pioneer cemeteries. We are asking only that they refrain from
doing anything that would further cause damage to the old fragile stones or
destroy the dignity of these brave pioneers that made Oklahoma what it is
These are your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The people that
were tough enough to make the effort to settle a new land. They were tough
enough to achieve Statehood and make the place we live today the modern
and beautiful State of Oklahoma. We owe them that much. To remember
them with the dignity and sanctity of their final resting place, they would ask
no more. They were that kind of pioneer. They would be very proud of what
they started and of the State of Oklahoma.