Oklahoma brothers discover their Barry County roots

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Brothers Bob Burnett, left, and Ed Burnett, stop for a minute to visit at their great-great-grandfather Felix Grundy Burnett's grave, and ponder their family's history. Both live in Tulsa, Okla., but after discovering the family cemetery, which had been forgotten for decades, the two began researching and making trips here over the last year and a half to completely renovate it, along with the help of neighbors. Julia Kilmer reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Forgotten cemetery brings family together

After learning about an old family cemetery in Seligman that had been forgotten for decades, brothers Ed Burnett and Bob Burnett, of Tulsa, Okla., took it upon themselves to renovate and care for the cemetery as a family project, to teach their children about their roots.

Bob Burnett, who owns and operates All Star Therapy Group, a horse-riding ranch near Tulsa, Okla., looks at some of the children's graves at his family cemetery in Seligman he and his brothers learned about and began restoring about a year and a half ago. Both brothers have brought their sons and even grandchildren to see the cemetery and involved the family in its care, and even neighbors have taken an interest and pitched in on the restoration. Julia Kilmer reporter@cassville-democrat.com

"There was a family reunion in Monett in 1983, and there was a bus tour of all of the Barry County cemeteries that had Burnetts in them," said Bob Burnett, who owns and operates All Star Therapy Group, a horse-riding therapy ranch near Tulsa, Okla. "From there, I took my boys. We all took a tour to see where our roots were.

"The particular family cemetery is made up of 12 or 13 graves. The first person to be buried there was our great-great grandfather Felix Grundy Burnett, in 1883. Felix was a Civil War veteran in the 40th infantry. The last grave was one of his granddaughters, in 1917. I assumed cousins who lived in that area knew about it [the cemetery], but they didn't."

Felix Burnett established the cemetery in the 1880s, and a 1910 deed to survivors on file at the Barry County Courthouse, proved ownership.

Land eventually led Felix Burnett to move to Arkansas, but he kept his farm in Barry County.

"Holiday Island was settled by the Bandys and Burnetts," Bob Burnett said. "They all moved into that area just before and after the Civil War. Some migrated there to hide. There were women, children and men living in camps along the White River on the Arkansas side of the river. That was a hot spot at the time."

When Felix Burnett's father-in-law Hugh Bandy was murdered at the Arkansas homestead by thieves looking for silver, he moved Bandy's widow, Susan Bandy, to the homestead in Barry County, which stood until about three years ago. But, after she died in the early 1900s, and his son moved to Washington state, the cemetery was forgotten.

Shown is how the Burnett family cemetery, which is located in Seligman, before being restored by brothers Ed and Bob Burnett, who live in Tulsa, Okla., but have made several trips here to care for the cemetery. Contributed photo

The brothers had known about a cemetery in Beaver, but not this one.

"It's just not something that was brought to our attention," Burnett said.

It wasn't until a fishing trip to Eureka Springs, Ark., in 2014 that Ed Burnett learned about the little cemetery, which is located in a quiet corner in Seligman on Farm Road 1062.

Ed Burnett said he couldn't even find the cemetery.

"I had to call my brother," he said. "It was in such disarray I was ashamed. It was nothing but a weed patch for years and years. There were a lot of yucca plants, and you couldn't even see the stones. I began a restoration project with my brother a year and half ago.

"We have it restored like it was originally now, and I'm proud to say it's in great shape. There's a lot of history there in our family."

According to the public records, Felix Burnett arrived in Barry County around 1858 with his brothers.

"I don't know what drew them to Barry County," Bob Burnett said. "They originally came from Tennessee and the Carolinas. There were like nine kids in the Burnett family, and no dad. He had passed. The mom, two oldest sons and a daughter stayed in Tennessee, and the third oldest son Stephen had his brothers, Jefferson, Felix and Jim, and Stephen's wife and daughter make that trip in a wagon, by oxen with a milk cow, and settled on the edge of Roaring River in Seligman in 1858.

"Stephen and Jefferson went off to the Civil War, and Jefferson was killed. After the war, they moved to the Washburn prairie, what the settler's called that area."

They also learned about the family's history from a family Bible given to Bob Burnett by his father.

"I had Susan Bandy's family Bible, and have since passed it on to a Bandy cousin, a genealogist," he said. "A lot of the names, birthdays and deaths were in that Bible. I've also researched land patents and data from the federal census."

Bob Burnett, left, and Ed Burnett stand in front of their family cemetery in Seligman they discovered and restored. After family members passed away in the early 1900s, and others moved away, the little cemetery was forgotten about for decades, and the brothers almost didn't find it because it was so grown up with weeds, the headstones couldn't be seen and had fallen over. Their great-great-grandfather Felix Grundy Burnett is buried there, who arrived in Barry County in 1858, was a Civil War veteran, and established homes in Barry County and Holiday Island, Ark. Felix Grundy's original rock homestead stood across from the cemetery for over 100 years until about three years ago. Julia Kilmer reporter@cassville-democrat.com

While renovating the cemetery, Ed Burnett befriended locals, who even got on board with the project.

"I've got to give the neighbors credit," Bob Burnett said. "They just flocked there with tractors and chainsaws to to help. Ed developed friendships with people around there. He re-leveled graves, took out brush and put in a fence. And about six months ago, we put our mom's remains there. She makes the 14th grave."

Since discovering the cemetery, both brothers have taken their sons to visit the sacred plot of land that was almost lost to time.

"I'm 68, and I took my boys there when they were teenagers to show them where it was, and we cleaned it up from time to time, but we live in Tulsa," Bob Burnett said. My father didn't even know about it until the family reunion. I took one of my grandchildren there this summer and showed him so he would know where to come and find it."

"It's a very interesting story, and just the fact that our ancestors were a part of something that is still there. They settled wild country that is named after them. It gives us a sense of pride. We love to visit that area."

Last summer, Burnett spoke to the Holiday Island Rotary Club and about his family.

"I spent about 45 minutes telling them about the story of the settlement of Holiday Island and Beaver, Ark., that they didn't even know," he said. "It's just interesting to know where you came from, and where your property came from. When you get online, it starts one lead and opens the door to another, and these stories pop up."

"It's a very peaceful feeling to come there," Ed Burnett said.

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