PBCI historic department needs help with info on unmarked graves

Published 7:41 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, it stated the PCBI Tribal Historic Preservation Department Specialist’s Billy Bailey’s great-great grandfather was buried in the Huxford Indian Cemetery. That’s not correct. His great-great grandmother was buried in the cemetery. We were happy to set the record straight.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indian’s (PBCI) Tribal Historic Preservation Department recently discovered unmarked graves at Huxford Indian Cemetery, and department officials need help with any information available about the graves.

The closed cemetery is adjacent to Renovation Ministries Church on Huxford Road. A fence borders the perimeter of the cemetery, which was founded in 1800.

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PBCI Tribal Historic Preservation Specialist Billy Bailey said the origin of the cemetery preservation project began back in 2017 when a Tribal member passed away.

“They went to lay her body to rest, and where they dug, they uncovered a concrete slab it was right on top of somebody that was already there (at another Tribal cemetery),” Bailey said. “They began digging where she wanted to be buried, but had to find another location.”

Bailey said the idea then started to find all of the graves before any further digging was completed and possibly disturbing an ancestor.

“This cemetery, at Huxford, was a closed cemetery,” he said. “Before I started working with the PBCI Preservation Office, this was all grown up. The headstones weren’t there. There were only a few markings. We were like, why don’t we try and find them out here instead, that way these people can be honored, too.”

Bailey said the department then hired someone to run ground-penetrating radar (GPR) over the cemetery. He added that 227 unmarked graves were located within the cemetery.

“Most of these headstones aren’t in their correct places,” Bailey added.

Bailey said the radar works like sonar.

“What it does is it shoots a radar wave into the ground, and an antenna picks up the wave’s echo and it measures the return rate,” he said. “If it goes through undisturbed soil it has a consistent return, a disturbance in the soil will produce a different signal return. ”

Bailey said the GPR Specialist ran the device in short, approximately 10 inch, transects over the property by walking back and forth.

“Once it passes back and forth over an area, it takes all of that information and puts it in a computer program,” he said. “The program compiles the data and produces a map of the transect data. You can see the burial shafts by that time because it reads multiple spots.”

Bailey said the GPR shows horizontal disturbances and grave shafts often show up as vertical breaks in the soil, adding that tree roots are visible as well.

Bailey said they aren’t able to tell who is in the unmarked graves, and that’s where the public’s help is encouraged.

“There’s no real way to tell who is here,” he said. “Even if you dug down into the burial sites you would not be able to find out who the people are, and we’re not going to disturb those already interned.”

PBCI Tribal Historic Preservation Specialist Brandy Chunn is leading the effort to contact funeral homes and county officials to find as much family data as they can to learn who is buried in the cemetery.

“We may not know who is buried here, but we want to create a memorial once we complete the project saying we know these families are here,” Chunn said.

Bailey said there are Tribal remains buried in multiple cemeteries in the area. Some cemeteries have more Tribal remains than others.

“This one has a lot,” he said about the Huxford Indian Cemetery.

Bailey said there’s a possibility they’ll move to another cemetery to continue this work in the future.

Chunn said the project is a good way to create ties with the Tribe’s past by protecting and preserving these historical sites.

“It helps create ties we might have lost for a short period of time, but creates an awareness for members who can say, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s my great-great grandfather,’” Chunn said.

Bailey added that he found out his great-great grandmother was buried in the cemetery.

“For us, our job is to preserve PBCI history, and anything that ties to that history, physical or in any other way,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the next step is working with a local funeral home to make markers for the graves.

Bailey said hopefully this year, the markers will be placed, adding that each marker will have the PBCI Tribal emblem on it along with the grave site and number.

Chunn said it’s been quite rewarding to find the unmarked graves.

“Everybody out here are family members to us,” she said. “We get to help connect to our past as our job.”

Those with information about the unmarked graves in the Huxford Indian Cemetery are encouraged to contact Bailey at 251-368-9136 ext. 2075.