MOKANE — Nature had begun to overtake Pioneer Smith Cemetery in Mokane.
Crumbling, moss-covered headstones of marble and granite bearing the names of those a century-dead stood hidden in tall, unmowed grass and covered by brush and fallen trees.
More people have visited the old cemetery nestled behind Mokane Christian Church over the past two weekends than in the past few years combined. During a cleanup organized by South Callaway High School senior August Cross, dozens of local residents have volunteered their time to help revitalize the cemetery, clearing brush, removing fallen trees and cutting grass over the past two weekends.
"I expected 10 people to show up, and 23 did," Cross said.
Some areas were too overgrown to mow. One headstone was found overturned, blocked from view by a low-hanging tree branch.
"The cemetery was just way overgrown," Cross said. "We've just been hacking, sledging and weed-eating."
When the volunteers, who began work July 25, checked with the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society, they found the name on the headstone, 10-month-old Vane Ferguson who died in 1823, wasn't currently listed in their cemetery roster.
The cemetery is named after Thomas Smith, an early settler. Others buried in the cemetery include two individuals believed to have been born as slaves before the Civil War.
Cross lives near the cemetery. Though it isn't clearly visible from the main road through Mokane, he'd noticed it when driving around town.
His aunt, Tamara Clardy, also remembers noticing the cemetery. One day, Clardy and her mother decided to go up and see it. They found many old headstones. They also noticed the cemetery wasn't in great shape.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the cemetery's age, it doesn't get much attention.
When Cross was looking for a Eagle Scout project, he looked at other ideas, his mother, Leslie Cross, said.
"But we just didn't have anything invested in those areas," she said.
The old cemetery, located in the center of the town the family has lived in for ages, felt more like a personal project. Supposedly, the family has relatives buried there, though the headstones might not be still standing, Clardy and Leslie Cross said.
By Saturday, Cross' volunteers had cleared most of the cemetery.
The city of Mokane has been supportive of the effort, posting about it on Facebook and providing lunch for the workers.
In a recent post, the city said it would continue caring for the grounds and look into restoring headstones.