Photo Above: Front Doors of Hickory Springs Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Bradley County, Arkansas
It’s time for another installment of Crestleaf’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds! As I mentioned in a previous post, Searching for Mary Jane, her husband Major Brown Garison was my second great grandfather. On a recent trip to Bradley County, Arkansas, I had three goals. First, to locate Mary Jane’s grave as she was not buried with her husband. Second, to find the graves of her parents James and Violet Simrel (or Simril as some records indicate), who followed their daughter and son-in-law to Bradley County. Third, was to visit the Bradley County Courthouse to see what information they might have in their archives regarding Major Brown and Mary Jane.
After contacting the local funeral home to determine the location of her grave, I didn’t get very far. They didn’t seem overly inclined to help. That was pretty disappointing, but these things can happen in research I am discovering. Thankfully, the power of social media came to the rescue! Posting on some Facebook pages, I came in contact with a distant Garrison cousin who happened to descend from Major Brown’s brother, Richard Gillespie Garrison. This distant cousin informed me that Mary Jane was buried with her daughter, Eula Garison Hurley, in the Hurley family plot in Oakland Cemetery and gave me an approximate location.
Scouring the cemetery in the vicinity we were told to look, we finally found Mary Jane! Her tombstone was an obelisk style, and her epitaph read: Mary J., Wife of MB Garison, Born June 8, 1846-Died August 25, 1874.
Located on the side of the tombstone was a list of her children, Howard, Ed (my great grandfather) and Eula, who was buried next to her in the Hurley plot.
As Mary Jane died at the age of 28 in 1874, one could assume that perhaps Major Brown had not purchased his plots yet, and that is why they ultimately didn’t end up being buried together. Perhaps I will never know for sure. I am pleased that she is buried with her daughter and her family. Eula was a little more than a year old when Mary Jane passed. Having a young daughter myself, it breaks my heart that Eula didn’t grow up knowing her mother. My great grandfather, Ed, was born in 1870, and was only four years old at the time of her death. This is also the year that Mary Jane and Major Brown made their journey to Arkansas.
Major Brown was buried with his second wife Susan Scoby Garrison in the Garrison plot across the central road going through the cemetery. A few children of their union are buried with them in this plot.
It is interesting to note that Mary Jane’s tombstone has Garison spelled with one “r”, while Major Brown’s and Susan Scoby’s spell Garrison with two letter “r’s”. The mystery around the spelling occured in previous Garrison generations as well, and is not unique to this immediate family. This is why you will often see me interchange the spelling, though I have always used the Garison version of the spelling.
After finding Mary Jane, we set out to find her parents at a nearby cemetery. James and Violet Simrel were buried at the Hickory Springs Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The history I found online regarding the church is especially interesting to me as initial church organizers came to Bradley County in 1852 from York County, South Carolina, where the Garrison’s and Simril’s originated from. Indeed, two of the early pastors listed, Reverend Brown and Reverend Neely, are York County surnames that also pepper branches of the extended Garrison family tree. An interesting personal story on the church’s official website states, “A group of 14 or 15 families had left York County in South Carolina around Thanksgiving Day in 1852. They spent 99 nights on the way, arriving in March 1853.” While Mary Jane and Major Brown did not leave for Arkansas until 1870, this gives me an idea of how long and arduous their journey may have been, especially if they had my infant great-grandfather along on the journey.
I was able to track down the caretaker for this cemetery, a much smaller one than Oakland, and he gave me the approximate location, “by the cedar trees.” The tombstones in this cemetery seemed to be older than the ones at Oakland, and many, including James and Violet’s, proved difficult to read. Some had fallen over, broken into pieces. Others were close to falling, the sinking ground underneath causing their instability.
The church, while rebuilt in 1952 and not the original one that James and Violet attended, was charming and looked every bit the quaint southern country church. The exterior was clad in white aluminum siding, and the interior that I could see from peeking in the windows (don’t judge), had been updated in the 1970’s when dark wood paneling was popular. Despite these more “modern” updates, the doors into the church (close up pictured at the top of the post) looked to be very old. Perhaps the doors and hardware used on the original church that James and Violet would have attended. I really would like to think so.
The visit to the courthouse was not as productive as I had hoped it would be given I had to bring my three year old daughter who has a very short attention span! Still, it turned out to be a great experience over all, and as I mentioned in To Arkansas I Must Go, the “vault” was a a beautiful treat to explore! In my next post, I will share my discovery at the courthouse, and some other great finds that have given me a glimpse into Major Brown’s life.
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