Trip to family cemetery well worth the wait

By Linda Emley

A few days ago, I went on a great adventure and didn’t even have to leave Ray County. It was a nice spring day and I was on a mission with a lady named Marilyn from Oklahoma and Dwight Pettis from Elkhorn.
The three of us had never met before, but we had a common goal of visiting our ancestors in the Pettus Cemetery.
Visiting this cemetery has been on my “bucket list” for many years, but since it’s in the middle of a cow pasture, it’s not something that I could just jump in my car and go see.
Marilyn visited Richmond this past summer and we made plans to visit the gravesite some time in the near future. When she called last week, we decided it was time to visit our forefathers at the Pettus Cemetery.
The next step was to contact Dwight Pettus, who still owns the Pettus farm with his brother and sister. He said he would be glad to take us to the cemetery and the countdown started.
Marilyn was visiting family in St Louis and she drove up to Richmond for the day. Soon after she arrived in town, we drove out to Dwight’s house and the adventure started.
The three of us jumped in Dwight’s diesel truck and headed off down the road. After a few gravel roads, three gates and several cow pastures, we were driving across a field heading toward the Pettus Cemetery. It was all I ever dreamed of and then some.
The three of us climbed over sticker bushes of all shapes and sizes looking for tombstones. I felt like we were on an Easter egg hunt or mushroom hunt because every few minutes someone would yell “found one over here.”
My goal was to take a picture of all the stones I could find and actually visit the grave of John and Amy Phillips, who were my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. Amy died in 1851 and John died in 1852. After 160 years, I was happy to find that their tombstones were still there.
Dwight had been here many times before, but you could tell he was proud of the family farm as he shared stories of its history. The family farmhouse had been in the middle of the field next to the cemetery, but it was moved to another location a few years ago.
Marilyn was not as lucky, because we were unable to locate the graves of her family, Henry and Hannah Craig, who were buried there in 1881. I felt bad that the person that had come the longest distance had to leave without finding her family, but she took it like a real trooper and said she would be back another day to look again. We know they are buried here because we have a record of the cemetery that has their names listed on it.
After visiting the Pettus farm, I wanted to know more about the Pettus family.
The 1881 Ray County History book told about the original Pettus who settled in Ray County. “JOSEPH PETTUS. Was born in the state of Virginia. When still a small boy, his parents removed to Lincoln County, Kentucky, and here Joseph grew up, working on his father’s farm. He was married in the month of October, 1829, to Miss Mary Ann Hamilton, daughter of Thomas Hamilton, Esq., now deceased. They became the parents of sixteen children, ten sons and six daughters, fourteen of them, nine sons and five daughters, still survive. In October, 1833, Mr. Pettus left Kentucky and came to Ray County, Missouri, settling one and a half miles southeast of Elkhorn, in the then almost unbroken wilderness, where he had entered three hundred and sixty acres of land. He afterward bought eighty acres more, making in all four hundred and forty acres of rich land. Here he lived until the time of his death, 1857. He was occupied with his business, and took no active part in politics. In religion, both himself and his wife were what have been termed Kellyites. Mr. Pettus’ remains were interred upon his farm. He was successful with his business, because he was industrious and economical. All that he acquired of wealth he made by his own indomitable pluck, perseverance, and unremitting labor. His efforts were accredited their due measure of approbation, and he was greatly respected by his neighbors.”
There are many other members of the Pettus family buried here along with several other family names. I have not pieced it all together yet, so we don’t know if they are all related or if the Pettus family was just nice enough to let their neighbors be buried there, too.
After a little more research, I found Walter Hamilton Pettus and Sarah E. Pettus who were buried there, but were not listed on the cemetery records. When I looked up their death certificates, their place of burial simply said, “Our Home place” for Sarah and “On Family Farm” for Walter.
I found their obituaries in the old newspapers and confirmed they were buried at the Pettus Cemetery.
The Richmond Missourian had this report on Aug 14, 1930: “W.H. Pettus, 95, a native of Ray County, passed away at his home near Orrick at 11:15 last night after a long illness. He was born May 18, 1835 at the Pettus homestead near Elkhorn, the son of Joseph and Mary Hamilton Pettus. The father a native of Virginia, entered the tract of 440 acres in 1833. W.H. Pettus’ early life was spent on the farm, and he continued his agriculture pursuit throughout his life. He was united in marriage with Sally Vaughn of Ray County in 1867. One child born to their union, died at the age of eight months. Mr. Pettus is survived by a brother, Marion Pettus of Richmond, and a sister, Mrs. W.N. Meredith of Nashville, Tenn. He was a member of the Richmond lodge No. 57, A.F.& A.M. and was active in the lodge earlier in life. Funeral services will be held Friday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock from the home north east of Orrick. Burial will be in the Pettis family Cemetery.”
His wife Sally was not as lucky with her obituary. On Dec. 23, 1926, the column “News From Orrick” only gave a short story about her. “Two pioneers of Southwest Ray County passed away Sunday and Monday morning. Andy Dunbar and Mrs. Walt Pettus. Mrs. Pettus had been very low for a few weeks. She owned property in Orrick but resided on the farm north east of Orrick.”
There is a Pettus Parlor at the Ray County Museum that has furniture donated by the Pettus family. You will also find a picture of their family farmhouse and a story about it. Now that I have finally visited the Pettus Cemetery, I am going to add a story about it to the Pettus Parlor for future generations to read.
This adventure reminded me once again that you always treasure the things you work the hardest for. This trip would not have been as much fun if we had been able to just drive over anytime to visit our ancestors buried in the Pettus Cemetery.

You can write Linda at or see her in person during business hours Wednesday through Saturday at Ray County Historical Museum.

One Response to Trip to family cemetery well worth the wait

  1. curtis gilliland

    September 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    A WH Pettus moved from Lincoln county, Kentucky back in the 1800s. He lived here in Somerset and across the road from my home here. The large two story home is still standingbut hasnt been occupied for over 60 years. WH was a state representative and also a county judge.also on two large stain glassed windows at our church are his and his daughters names. Thought you might want to know.

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