Hometown feature reprinted from July 2018
It was a bright sunny morning as I walked into the Joshua Creek Cemetery. The live oaks cast harsh shadows on the hundreds of gravestones. It was much larger than I had imagined, the gravemarkers seemed to stretch on forever. In the distance I spotted a small red car. Walking closer I was greeted by Donna McPherson, a pleasant lady just bursting with information to recount about her work in the Joshua Creek Cemetery.
Donna started this adventure as a volunteer for Find A Grave, which is a website for people looking for their ancestors. To date she has contributed 185,000 photos and 150,000 names to the organization from cemeteries throughout Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. The curious at this website can type in a name and it will search the database for photos of gravemarkers and names of people buried in cemeteries throughout the world.
Her work in DeSoto County at Joshua Creek Cemetery, with the help of the Eagle Scouts, has resulted in the identification of 155 previously unidentified graves over the past five years.
“We have 52 more yet to identify,” she said. “I use the ‘South Florida Pioneer’ books by Richard Livingston, which holds the old inventory of graves in the cemetery to find these sites.”
Once McPherson confirms the name of the person buried at a site, she has a metal marker made with the name and life dates of the individual. The markers are provided courtesy of the Ponger-Kays-Grady Funeral Home.
One day Donna got word that an Arcadia family was looking for ancestors, thinking they might be buried in the cemetery. So in true fashion, Donna got to work. She got out the old inventory and found the family’s name. Now for the hard work, to find out where they were buried among the hundreds of unmarked gravesites. After searching for some time she found a stonemarker with the letter “H” in the corner of the plot, which identified the site of the Higginbotham family.
McPherson has completed five books containing photographs of each gravesite and plat maps in Joshua Creek, so that everything can be identified in the future. Over the years people have sent pictures of the ancestors she has found, and these are also included in the books.
As we meandered through rows of tombstones, we came upon a name I had heard before—Bonaparte “Bone” Mizelle, 1853-1921. The aging stonemarker was decorated with a Confederate flag, a Union flag, some dried yellow flowers and two small bottles of moonshine. There’s a story on its own.
According to the plaque at the entrance to the cemetery, the area known as Joshua Creek was a testing station for the International Ocean Telegraph Co. connecting Gainesville and Punta Rassa (Fort Myers) and Havana, Cuba, in 1867. A two-story church was built on the site of the cemetery in 1870; the first floor was a school. The church and school were demolished by a storm in the late 1800s ... but the Joshua Creek Cemetery remains.
This has been Donna McPherson’s adventure for the past five years. I know very well she loves it, and gets great satisfaction from the lives, here and gone, that she has touched.
This resting place of Confederate soldier Stephen Boyd, 1838-1890, was identified by Donna McPherson. The marker is courtesy of Ponger-Kays-Grady Funeral Home.
Small bottles and flags honor the Joshua Creek gravesite of Bonaparte “Bone” Mizelle.
The Higginbotham family was identified by a stonemarker with the letter “H” in the corner of the plot.
The potter’s field at Joshua Creek holds the remains of DeSoto County’s poor. Donna McPherson has no idea how many are in this location.
ARCADIAN PHOTOS BY JIMMY PETERS
A more unique marker in Joshua Creek Cemetery belongs to Richard Pius Georges Sr., circa 1943-2002.
Reportedly a slave, Emma Hicks and five of her family members lie in rest at Joshua Creek.
Donna McPherson has published five guides on Joshua Creek, histories on those at rest in the historic grounds.
Donna’s ancestral plot at Joshua Creek holds J.N. Parker, 1851-1896, and Rhoda Crum Parker, 1851-1932, daughter of her third great-grandfather.