Saw this article on the Indiana Pioneer Cemeteries Restoration Project website and it really touched my heart.
_By Levi Hill_ (mip://03fb8be0/cgi-bin/email_reporter.pl?staff=no)
Hidden among the prairie grass and mesquite bushes a few miles east of Jal, an old barbed-wire fence and wooden cross were the only evidence that four nameless children lost their lives at that spot more than a century ago.
On Oct. 25, 103 years after the children were laid to rest, the names and faces almost lost to history have been returned to Violet, William, Newton and Earl Sparks. For their nephews, Jack and Frank Sparks, the story began on March 16, 1957.
According to the Sparks family's oral histories and research by local historian David Minton, that was the day the four children's mother, Effie Sparks, broke down crying and told a niece she had four children buried
somewhere in New Mexico or Texas but had no idea where.
The revelation set Effie's grandchildren, Frank and Jack, on a quest that would take them more than 50 years. "It means closure in a sense," said Jack Sparks, looking across the site where his uncles and aunt were buried. "Our great hope is when we walk through those pearly gates, those children are going to meet us there. If they know what we did now, they are certainly rejoicing. In the hereafter we will certainly be able to share the story."
The brothers, along with Frank's son, Joe Bill Sparks, and family members Bobbie Sparks and Marc Bradberry placed a four-foot headstone to honor their long-lost relatives.
Minton, who has placed headstones on unmarked graves across Lea County for years, joined the family in cleaning up the site. "To me, it is just a great thing that these children are no longer lost to history," Minton said. "They have been found and remembered."
The search for his long-buried relatives drew Jack Sparks into the Lea County Assessor's Office one day in 2008 in search of records on the homestead his grandfather, James Monroe Sparks, claimed near Nadine in 1902. It was perhaps fate that Sparks told one of the staff the story of the Sparks family just as David Minton walked into the office. The words, "lost graves" sparked Minton's curiosity and the two began to talk.
It came to Minton's mind a Jal resident had told him years ago about an unmarked grave east of the small town that was the final resting place of four children who died of scarlet fever on their way to the doctor.
The story fit with what Spark's father, Cecil, had told him and a search began.
"It was just so lucky I had walked in the door when he had said that," Minton said. "It never would have happened otherwise."
As the story goes, and as Minton writes it, it was 1907 and all six of the Sparks children ? Cecil, Violet, William, Newton, Earl and infant Eva Mae became ill with either diphtheria or scarlet fever.
The family loaded them into a wagon and started for Midland, Texas, the closest and best medical help at the time. A rider was sent ahead to get medicine and meet the family on the trail, but along the way four of the children died.
They were buried, and the wagon, bedding and other items were burned to prevent the spread of the disease.
James and Effie Sparks returned to Nadine with their surviving children, Cecil and Eva Mae, where they lived until about 1915, when the family returned to Coke County, Texas, along with two new children, Relia and Vera, who had been born in Nadine.
Minton, with the help of Jal area ranchers who still remembered the story passed down from their fathers, found the family grave.
It is unknown who put the barbed-wire fence or a more recent pipe-fence around the site and the marker, a wooden cross tied with barbed-wire, was also added by some unknown Samaritan.
Around the site, pieces of crockery and shards of glass bottles aged by the sun until they have turned purple are still evident. A single nut and bolt, possibly from the burned wagon, was found not far from the grave.
The headstone reads, "In memory of four children lost to scarlet fever in 1907 along this trail trying to get to a doctor."On the other side are lyrics from a song Effie Sparks was believed to have sung to her children as they lay dying ? "Dear mother, put my little shoes away."