CROSBYTON - The Mt. Zion Cemetery overlooks a vast West Texas landscape as it sits on the edge of the Caprock a mile east of Crosbyton.
Developed as a burial ground for the community's African-Americans in the early to mid-1900s, many of the stone grave markers have become chipped and broken. Pieces remain, but whole sections of names and dates of deaths are missing.
In some sections, rectangular sinkholes are the only indication of a burial plot, while more than a few graves have no identifying markers at all.
Provided by Dale Sedgwick, assistant Scoutmster for Troop 333 Doddrick Quincy uses a witching rod to locate possible graves in Mt. Zion Cemetery in Crosbyton. Quincy is leading a team of Scouts in repairing the cemetery as part of his Eagle Scout project.
For almost as many decades as it was in use for burying the dead, it has been slightly kept. Since the 1970s, it was hardly touched - until now.
Doddrick Quincy, a 16-year-old Boy Scout of the South Plains Council, is leading a crew of Troop 333 Scouts in restoring the cemetery as part of his Eagle Scout project.
Quincy and his crew hope to turn things around at the cemetery.
The work, however, includes more than routine cleaning up and mowing. The Scouts have to find unmarked graves and try to learn who is buried in each plot.
Though the project isn't complete, the cemetery looks different than it did months ago when grass and weeds cloaked rock and concrete headstones.
Provided by Dale Sedgwick, assistant scoutmaster for troop 333 Scouts Matthew Ashcraft, Spencer Sedgwick, Doddrick Quincy, Conner Wilmeth and David Jamerson, from left, take time out from work at the Mt. Zion Cemetery in Crosbyton. Quincy is leading the Scouts in repairing the cemetery as part of his Eagle Scout project.
"It's a lot better now than it's been out here at times," said Gary Mitchell, a former city manager, mayor, and council member of Crosbyton.
Eagle Scout project
To attain the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts, a Scout must earn a certain number of merit badges and complete his Eagle Scout project.
The city of Crosbyton sought a Scout to repair the cemetery as his project, said Quincy. In exchange, the city is providing supplies and resources. For example, the city supplied a backhoe to fill sunken spots where coffins collapsed.
"We have had the state haul some dirt out there so they could fill the graves in," said Crosbyton City Council member Charles Frater, whose grandparents, Elmer Frater and Texana Swanson Frater, and his brother, killed in a train accident in Post in 1974 at 19, are buried in Mt. Zion Cemetery.
"When I got on the City Council, I decided I was going to do something about (the cemetery)," said Frater.
Other supplies and equipment will be afforded for Quincy to complete a gateway and fencing, said Frater. The project represents the pinnacle of Quincy's scouting career that began in the second grade when he joined the Cub Scouts. He is currently balancing his time on weekends between the Ralls High School basketball team and at the cemetery overseeing the Scouts' work. He recently finished a season on the Ralls Jackrabbit football team, playing running back and linebacker. And when basketball ends, he'll strap on his spikes for the track team. He hopes to complete his Eagle Scout project after the Christmas holiday, he said. It's Quincy's job to oversee and manage the project, not to do the work of every detail, according to the project's scope. "Most of the guys I work with are willing to go out there," he said.
More than a compass
Quincy and Scouts of Troop 333 are uncovering graves by holding thin metal rods - one in each hand - at waist level. Pointing the rods' tips away from their bodies, the Scouts walk forward until the tips cross, indicating a change in formations beneath the brittle topsoil. It is known by the Scouts as "witching." The process, commonly used to locate water for wells, may detect changes in density several feet below ground.
"I was really surprised by it," said Quincy. "(The Scouts) like to do it. They think it's pretty cool. There's a couple that get pretty freaked out by it."
Whatever it is that makes it work, Quincy still has to use county records and older residents to find out just who is buried in each spot. That's no easy task when records are sparse and memories are growing old.
"There's a lot of graves that aren't marked," said Quincy. While many years have come and gone since burials were a regular occurrence at the cemetery, city officials sought out the assistance of someone who might know the lay of the land firsthand. On Nov. 5, 69 year-old Dorothy Terrell, who attended many burals there over the years, set out with the Scouts to help identify the graves she can remember. She can't mark them all though, she said. "Some of them was buried before I was born," said Terrell, able to recall graves here and there. "I've been telling (Frater) about the different ones that were buried out there." For those who can't be identified, Quincy plans to place a marker on the site.
"It's actually pleasing to a lot of people in Crosbyton, because they've been wanting it for a long time," said Quincy. Quincy said he thinks more remains may be located beneath a dirt road running along the cemetery's northern flank. The road leads to an old dumping ground in a crevice cutting into the South Plains plateau.
Although Quincy is solving mysteries long left in the cemetery, there are those that may never be identified. Along with those unidentified remains, so too does the mystery of the cemetery's true age remain.
Although Frater said the cemetery is more than 100 years old, the age cannot be confirmed. It's another mystery held in the heart of about one acre of land abutting vast fields of freshly harvested cotton.
A place for burial
The first known recorded burial at Mt. Zion is of Teressa Rosa Lewis, who died Jan. 26, 1942, at age 44, according to Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum and Civic Center officials. The cemetery was built by the Mt. Zion Church, an African-American church built in 1924, according to "A History of Black Families in Crosbyton, Texas 1921-2001." The account notes Fronie and Annie Mae as the first black family in Crosbyton. They gave birth to Lela Mae that same year. According to the book, the birth was the first known African- American birth in Crosby County. The cemetery was meant exclusively for blacks. Another cemetery was designated for whites, said Mitchell, Terrell and Frater. "It was by race. They (whites) didn't want the blacks to be buried with the whites," said Terrell. Frater said the white cemetery was integrated in the 1960s. Though some still insist on being buried with family members at Mt. Zion, visiting the cemetery and its upkeep fell to the wayside in recent decades.
"When we was younger, we kept it up ourselves, but after everybody started leaving and passing, we haven't been able to do anything about it," Terrell said, noting the local Mason chapter's efforts to tend to the property initially. "Since they passed, we just don't have anybody to do it."
Today, Quincy and his crew of Scouts armed with mowers, rakes, hoes and some questionable witching tools are there to pick up the pieces.
Mitchell perused the cemetery grounds Wednesday, examining the progress and sharing a recollection of a resident or two. He pointed to a chipped marker for Raymond Chatham and recalled one of his family members. "She was a hard worker and a good lady," said Mitchell, his tone somber though stiffed by a blistering wind. Mitchell said only one non-African-American is buried at the cemetery. "We buried him right over there, somewhere in that corner" said Mitchell, pointing to a southwest corner of the cemetery where a dirt farm road abuts the grounds. "I don't remember his name. He's been gone for a while." Like many of those lying beneath the surface, the Hispanic boy is gone, but thanks to what memory can be culled and the efforts of an industrious Scout, he and others won't be forgotten.