Do you remember the old TV game show “Beat the Clock”? That’s what I was doing when I visited Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, Ark.
After visiting three different cemeteries and having a late lunch in Helena, we had a two-hour drive to Little Rock. That didn’t leave me much time to visit Mount Holly Cemetery. But when you see a sign like this, you can’t NOT visit. Right?
Sarah wanted to visit the Clinton Presidential Library (something I would have liked to have done as well but cemeteries come first) so she let me drive her car to nearby Mount Holly after I dropped her off. After looking online, I realized I had about only an hour to explore before they locked the gates. Thus the game of “Beat the Clock” began.
According to Mount Holly’s web site:
Mount Holly has been referred to as the “Westminster of Arkansas” because of the number of famous Arkansans buried here. Arkansas governors, state Supreme Court Justices, United States senators, Confederate generals, mayors, and Pulitzer Prize winners share Mount Holly with slaves, businessmen, farmers, artists, children, doctors, church leaders, and suffragettes.
On February 23, 1843, prominent Little Rock businessmen Roswell Beebe and Chester Ashley deeded four blocks to the young city of Little Rock for use as a cemetery. Before then, the dead were buried in private family cemeteries or in a small cemetery where the Federal Building now stands on Capitol Avenue and Gaines Street.
Mount Holly is not a large cemetery but it is chock full of interesting graves and is beautifully maintained. Find a Grave lists about 5,100 memorials. There are likely several unmarked that are not recorded. The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by the Mount Holly Cemetery Association.
Death of a Cherkokee Chief’s Wife
That “small cemetery” mentioned earlier was where the first person I want to talk about was buried first. She was later moved to Mount Holly. Not only is Elizabeth “Quatie” Brown Ross historically important, she and her husband have ties to Georgia.
Quatie, an anglicized version of her Cherokee name, was the first wife of Cherokee Chief John Ross. There’s much more written about John Ross than Quatie but here’s what we know. Born 1791 in the Old Cherokee Nation in modern-day Georgia to Thomas Brown and Elizabeth Martin Brown, Quatie was a widow when she wed Ross in 1813. She had one daughter from her previous marriage. She and Ross had five children over the course of their marriage, the sixth being stillborn.
Born in 1790 to a Scottish father and a Cherokee mother in Alabama’s Cherokee territory, Ross’ Cherokee name means Mysterious Little White Bird. I have seen so many versions of what that word is in Cherokee, I’m not going to list them all. Ross was raised to identify as Cherokee, while also learning about colonial British society. He was bilingual and bi-cultural. His formal schooling took place at institutions that served other mixed-race Cherokee.
By 1810, John Ross was acting as an Indian agent for the Cherokee people on behalf of the United States. Soon after, Ross served as a military officer in the War of 1812 then the Creek War in 1813, under Andrew Jackson.
According to Quatie’s bio on Find a Grave, the Ross family owned one of the richest farms in North Georgia, some 200 acres, and other businesses. They were largely assimilated and owned a number of slaves.
In 1828, Ross became principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, headquartered at New Echota, Ga., under a constitution he helped draft. His defense of Cherokee freedom and property used every means short of war. As a result, he was imprisoned for a time and the Ross home was confiscated. His petitions to now-President Andrew Jackson fell on deaf ears, and in May 1830 the Indian Removal Act forced the tribes to give up their traditional lands for an unknown western home.
John Ross, Quatie, and their children were among the last Trail of Tears group of about 228 Cherokees to leave Georgia, traveling on the steamship Victoria. Legend has it that Quatie gave up her blanket to a sick child. She died of pneumonia shortly before they arrived in Arkansas on Feb. 1, 1839. Quatie was about 47 years old at the time.
Quatie’s grave at Mount Holly is marked with her original stone and another erected in 1935 by Gen. George Izard Chapter of the United States Daughters of 1812.
John Ross married again in 1844 to Mary Bryan Stapler, a Quaker from Wilmington, Del. whose religious beliefs warred with slavery. She encouraged Ross to free their slaves, which he finally did in 1856. Mary died in July 1865 at age 39 and is buried in Wilmington & Brandywine Cemetery in Delaware. When John Ross died in August 1866 at age 75, he was originally buried with her. Later, he was moved to Ross Cemetery in Park Hill, Okla. Their two children are buried there, as are three of his children with Quatie.
The Brooks-Baxter War
One of the first plots I noticed when I drove into Mount Holly Cemetery was that of the Basham family. That’s reason enough to feature them but George Leftridge Basham took part in a little-known Arkansas skirmish that I only recently learned about.
Born in 1848 in Arkansas, George Leftridge Basham’s parents were Oliver Basham (I have seen it spelled Olinver in some places) and Martha Patrick Basham. Oliver served in the state legislature twice before being chosen by President Benjamin Pierce to act as registrar of the land office of the United States. He was reappointed by President James Buchanan, serving until 1860 when he became the treasurer of the State of Arkansas.
George Basham joined the Confederacy as a teen, becoming a “private in Captain McComb’s company of the regiment of which his father (a lieutenant colonel) was second in command”. He served in the Battles of Poison Spring and Marks’ Mill. Oliver Basham was killed in action on Sept. 23, 1864 at age 44 in Pilot Knob, Mo.
After the war, George graduated from St. John’s College in Little Rock in 1870. He studied law, eventually passing the bar in 1873. It was soon after that the 30-day Brooks-Baxter War took place in 1874.
The struggle had its roots in the ratification of the 1868 Arkansas Constitution, rewritten to allow Arkansas to rejoin the Union. The Reconstruction Acts required former Confederate states to accept the 14th Amendment (establishing civil rights for freedmen) and enact new constitutions providing suffrage to freedmen while temporarily disenfranchising former Confederates. Some conservatives and Democrats refused to participate in the writing of the constitution and ceased participation in government.
Minstrels and Brindle-Tails
The 1872 gubernatorial election resulted in a narrow victory for “Minstrel” Elisha Baxter over “Brindle-tail” Joseph Brooks in an election marked by fraud and intimidation. Brooks challenged the result, initially without success, but Baxter alienated much of his base by re-enfranchising former Confederates.
In 1874, Brooks was declared governor by a county judge who declared the election results to be fraudulent. As a result, the “war” ensued between April 15 and May 15 as Brooks took control of the government by force, but Baxter refused to resign. Each side was supported by its own militia and a number of bloody battles ensued between them. Finally, President Ulysses S. Grant intervened and supported Baxter, bringing the affair to an end. George Basham had supported Baxter and was a member of his militia.
Two Little Girls
On Oct. 1, 1879, George Basham married Julia Parma Beall. He continued rising up the ladder as an attorney and invested in real estate. Their first child, Pearl Read Basham, was born on July 22, 1880. She died on Nov. 7, 1886 at the age of six. Martha Parma Basham was born on Dec. 3, 1882 and died on Aug. 10, 1887. Both George and Julia were so ill themselves, they could not attend her funeral.
You might recognize the open style of the ovals from recent posts I’ve written. Both are “cradle” graves with decorative urns on at the foot. Doug Keister’s book “Forever Dixie” describes the monuments for Pearl and Martha like this:
The Basham family plot features the two little Basham girls dressed in the clothing they would have worn at the time. The sculptures were carved in Italy for the local monument company owned by William L. Funston. When the sculptures arrived, the family wasn’t pleased with the likeness and had them sent back to Italy for a better rendering.
I didn’t know when I was visiting in May 2019 that both of these monuments and the statue to the left of it were vandalized in 2016. Apparently repairs were made to put them back in good condition.
George and Julia’s son, George Leftridge Basham, was born on July 27, 1887. That’s only two weeks before Martha died. It had to have been such a difficult time for this family. Welcoming a new baby son, mourning the loss of yet another daughter…
Julia died after having a stroke in 1911 at the age of 54. George, by then a judge, died in 1916 at age 66. Leftridge married twice, dying in 1929 at age 42 from a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Hot Springs, Ark.
Please join me next time for more stories from Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.