HISTORY OF THE RANKIN WRIGHT CEMETERY
By Peggy Smith Hake
Standing stark and alone on a southern Miller County prairie is an old cemetery that came into existence almost 150 years ago. For a certainty, one of Richwoods Township's early pioneering families buried a young daughter there in 1860. Martha Susan Watkins married Edmund Spearman in 1859 and the next year she died, perhaps in childbirth, at the age of 23 years. Hers is the earliest known grave in the Rankin Wright Cemetery (later called Spearman Cemetery).
Thomas W. and Nancy Spearman came to Miller County circa 1855 and settled on some prairie land of southwestern Richwoods Township. They were natives of South Carolina and Kentucky respectively. Thomas was born c/1800 and Nancy c/1812. They reared several children including: John W. Spearman, Sarah J. Spearman, F. J. Spearman, Edmund Spearman, Octavia C. Spearman, Cornelia B. Spearman, William K. Spearman, Zebedee Spearman, Martha Melinda Spearman, and Lucinda Ann Spearman.
Since the oldest known grave in the cemetery had the name Spearman engraved on it, researchers and those who inventoried old burial grounds gave it the name 'Spearman Cemetery' in the early 1970s. But over several generations, it was called Rankin Wright Cemetery and is still known by that name today.
William Rankin Wright owned many acres in the cemetery's locale and it was referred to by that name over the years to identify its location. William Rankin Wright was from Tennessee, born there 23 December 1830. His wife, the former Lucy Moon, was also from Tennessee, born 15 January 1823. They were married in McMinn County, TN on 6 April 1844, the marriage performed by Tapley Gregory, a Justice of the Peace. I have to wonder about the date of his birth and his marriage because if all these dates are correct, then William Rankin Wright would have been only 14 years old when he married Lucy Moon (she would have been 21 years old)...........
As far as I can determine from research, they had no children. They came to Miller County in the 1850s and settled near his older sister and her husband, Thomas L. and Elizabeth (Wright) Shelton. Thomas and Elizabeth Shelton were the parents of Dorcas Canzada Shelton who married Squire John Ferguson, a native of Dumfries, Soctland and they lived in the Madden community. Squire Ferguson was a colorful figure in the history of the Iberia region. He was a well-known Civil War soldier who served in the Union Army and spent the remainder of his life actively supporting the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) and its Miles Carroll Post No. 111 in Iberia.
William Rankin Wright was a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. Some of his neighbors were northern sympathizers, so it was only a matter of time until hatreds flared up and spread over the countryside. Family legend of the Whittle clan has been handed down through the generation....John Levi Whittle, born 1825 in Edmonson County, KY, was a neighbor to the Wrights for several years prior to the war. When the fighting reached Missouri, John Levi Whittle joined the Union forces while Rankin Wright joined the South. It has often been said that "neighbor fought neighbor" and evidently that is what happened between the Wright and Whittle soldiers. I do not know the real truth of my great, great grandfather's death (Levi Whittle) during the Civil War. The legend has been told to the newer generations that he died because of his betrayal by Rankin Wright, the Southern soldier. It was told he was severely beaten by a group of Rebels (led by Wright), but his Civil War records say he was killed in a battle on August 29, 1862 in Miller County at the "Elsey Farm Fight". That skirmish occurred about 3 miles east of Iberia on land owned today by the Perkins family. Perhaps the true account of his death will never be known.
During the Civil War, the old cemetery was called "Rankin Wright Cemetery" because when the Rebel soldiers captured Levi Whittle, his young wife, Nancy Keeth Whittle, and their 3 children fled from their home in fear and hid out in the cemetery, about a mile north of their homestead on Whittle Creek. This story was told by Levi's son, Josephus Whittle, a young child of 7 years when his mother took refuge in the cemetery. He repeated the story to his children and the story continued onward to my generation. I have heard the story told several times by the grandson of Levi Whittle and he always said that his grandmother, Nancy Whittle, ran to the "old Rankin Wright Cemetery" for protection from the soldiers when they took her husband away.
Almost 30 years ago, I trudged through two cornfields and over some fences to reach this old burial ground. It was my first visit there. It was early winter and much of the underbrush was dead, so I was able to find about 40 tombstones...there are many more people buried there in unknown graves. Several years ago, a group of descendants of those pioneers buried in Rankin Wright, gathered and organized an association to preserve the old cemetery, which had been neglected for many years. It has been cleaned up and is now accessible by automobile. Before Memorial Day each year, an effort is made to get the cemetery in a presentable shape so that any and all, who want to visit, can drive to the old gate and then walk through the cemetery.
The following are names of families who are buried in Rankin Wright/Spearman Cemetery. Perhaps you have an ancestor there and did not know about them! -----Allen, Bear, Cochran, Colvin, Dial, Keeth, Madden, Nichols, Smith, Spearman, Whittle, Workman, Long, Loveall, Lawless/Lollis....there are probably others who have been buried there, but known only to God.
William Rankin Wright and his wife, Lucy (Moon), sold their property, which adjoined the old cemetery and moved to Iberia in their elderly years. She died in January, 1890 and was buried at Iberia City Cemetery. Ten months later, in October 1890, William Rankin Wright married Mary E. Holloway. He lived until October 1906 and was buried beside his first wife, Lucy, at Iberia Cemetery. He left no descendants to carry his name forward to new generations.