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Both life and death were serious concerns for the early settlers. Life spans were shorter, and life more perilous than today. Drug stores were nonexistent and doctors were few and far between. Children often died during their first year, and mothers often died in childbirth. It was only natural that churches would want to provide for the passing of their flock by establishing a cemetery near the church. The cemetery was often placed behind the church, but could also be on either side of the church, or across the road, depending on the size and situation of the church property.



The same fate of old churches has happened to many old cemeteries. When the church and the members were no longer there, the cemeteries become neglected or forgotten. Then, the area where the cemeteries were located was often plowed and planted with crops. Headstones become stepping stones, or were broken up and tossed away. This is a great loss for those who want to preserve history and locate the final resting place of their ancestors.


The picture below is the statue of Kate Tracy, a young woman who died in 1854 from cholera at the age of 17. She has a beautiful monument at Walnut Grove cemetery. Someone always puts flowers in her hand which are changed with the seasons. No one knows who does this. This statue was restored to its original beauty by the Hannah Cole Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, in 2019.


See the article from the 3/20/2021 “Missouri Life” magazine which tells the story of Kate Tracy and the monument.


Early photo of Walnut Grove Cemetery


Walnut Grove Cemetery, Oct. 31, 2018 by Wayne Lammers

Walnut Grove is the largest cemetery in Boonville and one of, if not the largest, in Cooper County. Some have referred to it as “the biggest city in Cooper County.” It began in the mid 1850’s as a Romantic-style cemetery and expanded in the 1880’s when the cypress trees were planted and the wrought iron fence was installed. Today Walnut Grove is a wildlife and plant sanctuary due to the planning of George Kessler, a famous landscape architect, who laid a master plan for the cemetery. Watch for the horse water troughs and horse rings that are scattered throughout. Walnut Grove has many impressive graves and monuments. A walk through the cemetery will not disappoint you.


Walnut Grove was designed to be a prestigious cemetery and that is reflected in the number of wealthy and famous residents who chose it for their final resting place. Some of the famous people buried there include: Civil War Confederate General R. McCullough; Lon Stephens, former Governor of Missouri and his wife; Educator Laura Speed Elliot; Steamboat Captain Joseph Kinney; and many members of the Leonard family who built Ravenswood and are large land holders in Cooper County; and David Barton, the first US Senator from Missouri who also wrote the Missouri State Constitution that allowed Missouri to become a state.




By Dr. Maryellen McVicker

In 1821 Missouri finally was admitted to the Union as the 23rd state. One of the main men involved in this process was David Barton who chaired the Constitutional Convention and who wrote the Constitution which was submitted to Congress for the admission of Missouri. He then became the first Senator and represented the new state in the U.S. Congress. When he died, he was buried in Boonville, Missouri.  The restoration of his tombstone, lot, and adjacent horse watering tough was an appropriate Missouri Bicentennial Project and was undertaken by the Walnut Grove Cemetery Board and the Hannah Cole Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. 

Barton died penniless on September 28, 1837. The Gibson family and the citizens of Boonville held a fund-raising drive to place a suitable tombstone over his grave after his burial in what was then called the City Cemetery. Today the name has been changed to Sunset Hills Cemetery. This was accomplished with the erection of an obelisk embellished with all his accomplishments.

In 1853 Boonville citizens established Walnut Grove Cemetery, a privately-owned rural park cemetery located on the east edge of town south of Cole’s Fort where David Barton had held court. The area contained a large grove of walnut trees and local promoters had obtained the ground where Cole’s Fort was located and were turning it into the First State Fair in Missouri. Cemeteries were the largest tourist attractions in the United States at the time and the founders of Walnut Grove realized they could capitalize on the cemetery location and attract large crowds if only they had somebody of national prominence buried on the ground. Thus, the remains of David Barton were moved from Sunset Hills to Walnut Grove Cemetery in March 1853. The cemetery investors decided a new tombstone was needed and so political strings were pulled. On December 8, 1855 the Missouri legislature authorized $400 to erect a new marble gravestone and build an iron fence around the circular lot. The inscription on this new stone repeated exactly the inscription on the earlier tombstone which was left in place in Sunset Hills Cemetery. The new tombstone was over 20 feet tall and was ornamented by an intricately carved torch shown being extinguished by being turned upside down. The dousing of an eternal flame was intended to symbolize how the death of Barton caused knowledge to be extinguished.  

The first gravestone remained in Sunset Hills Cemetery until 1899. The University of Missouri acquired the original Thomas Jefferson Tombstone and displayed it on the Frances Quadrangle near the recently completed Jesse Hall. A member of a MU fraternity was visiting family in Boonville and wondered about the Barton tombstone. When told the details, he determined his fraternity would move the stone to MU and place it near the Jefferson monument as a visible reminder of another person interested in Missouri education. The fraternity raised enough money to accomplish the goal and the tombstone is still on the Francis Quadrangle at the University of Missouri. 

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Original David Barton Tombstone previously located in Sunset Hills Cemetery—photo taken in the 1890’s

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Earliest known photo of David Barton Tombstone in Walnut Grove Cemetery shows fence posts for the iron fence around the lot and tombstone

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Original Tombstone now located on the Francis Quadrangle at the University of Missouri in Columbia

The State Fair was not a financial success in Boonville, and the honor was soon passed to Sedalia, Missouri. But the David Barton monument, fence, and lot graced by walnut trees remained in place. A horse watering trough was placed immediately to the north of the lot so that the horses pulling hearses in funeral processions could drink. In 1901 nationally known landscape architect, George Kessler, was hired to develop a landscaping scheme for the cemetery.


Suddenly it was the 21st century and the Missouri Bicentennial Commemoration was just around the corner. Although the Kessler plan was still in place, inevitable changes had occurred. The walnut trees on the Barton lot had died of old age. The iron fence was removed during a scrap metal drive. Horses no longer pulled hearses to the cemetery so the trough was dry. Not having any descendants, nothing had been done on the Barton lot since he was buried there so long ago. The Hannah Cole Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, wanted to commemorate the Missouri Bicentennial with a project that would have a lasting positive impact in the community. Restoration of the David Barton tombstone,  replacement of the fence, repair of the watering trough and replacing walnut trees became the goal. Happily, the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution has a competitive national competition for grants that are used for historic projects. The Hannah Cole Chapter DAR and Cole’s Fort Chapter Children of the American Revolution (CAR) applied for one of these grants. CAR members measured how much fence would be required and decided to undertake the watering trough as their project, intending to plant it with flowers each year. Needless to say, all were thrilled when this project was granted the entire amount of requested funds. 

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Cole’s Fort CAR member Abbie Wax looking at tape measure after measuring the size of a lot foundation stone at the David Barton tombstone (behind her)—Walnut Grove Cemetery, Boonville, Missouri, in November 2019

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The watering trough on the north side of the David Barton lot with his tombstone in the background behind CAR member Abbie Wax.  Stone, circular foundation blocks are visible.

The first thing done was to clean the tombstone with D/2 chemical solution. The entire stone was also checked from top to bottom for cracks and fissures. Amazingly. the stone was still perfectly level after 164 years. The watering trough was also thoroughly cleaned and all cracks were repaired.  Refilled with dirt, the trough was turned into a beautiful flower bed. Cole’s Fort members, Children of the American Revolution (CAR) planted the watering trough one Sunday evening just before Memorial Day weekend so it would look nice for that holiday.

Originally, the iron fence posts had been set in the circular foundation stones going around the lot. When the replacement fence arrived, the installation crew found the stones to be too fragile to withstand post holes drilled into them. With supervision from the cemetery superintendent,

the fence was placed in the grass in the lot in the best position for weed eating, creating a win-win project where the fence was replaced and the original stones were kept. 


The final phase is to plant walnut trees again on the lot. This was done in Fall 2020.  Hopefully, this lot and the items placed on it will survive and be in good condition when Missouri celebrates its Tricentennial in 2120.

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The finished product! August 2020

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Cole’s Fort CAR Members plant the watering trough—May 2020

Sunset Hills - If Walnut Grove was the place to be buried for Boonville’s rich and famous, Sunset Hills was the resting place for everyone else. Some of Boonville’s earliest settlers are buried there. The city of Franklin was the starting point of the Santa Fe Trail and travelers who died on their way west often ended up in Sunset Hills. The same held true for criminals – the first stone in Sunset Hills belongs to James West, who was hung for murder. Mrs. George Caleb Bingham, Sarah Elizabeth, is buried in Sunset Hills.


Sunset Hills was started by the Methodists as a Methodist church burial ground. Soon, there were too many burials, and the Methodists turned the cemetery over to the city. Many people think that Sunset Hills is the Black cemetery in Boonville, but the segregation was not intentional. After Walnut Grove was built, many of the wealthier families moved their family to Walnut Grove, leaving Sunset Hills de facto segregated. To date, there are no Black people buried in Walnut Grove. There are many African-American Civil War veterans buried in Sunset Hills who fought for the North. Perhaps they are near the mass grave for the Union soldiers.

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Photos courtesy of Sharon Dyer and Wayne Lammers

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With permission from Sharon Dyer 

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With permission from Sharon Dyer 


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Hannah Cole Head Stone


Dedication of Hannah Cole Grave Site, October 31, 1932

Hannah Cole, a widow with nine children, is believed to be the first white woman head of household to venture south of the Missouri River within the state of Missouri. Many historians have portrayed Hannah Cole and her family as courageous leaders in the pioneer days of Cooper County, Missouri. She came to what was to become Cooper County along with her sister Phoebe and her brother-in-law Stephen and their children, who were the first white people to settle in the present site of Boonville in early 1810.

She has been lauded as “Missouri’s greatest Pioneer Mother.”

The Briscoe Cemetery was deeded by William Briscoe to the people of the community in 1867. It was a family burying ground as early as 1825. The cemetery, which is one acre in size, is located on Highway 5 about 15 miles south of Boonville. 

The burial place of Hannah Cole and many of her family had long lain unattended for many years. Some of the headstones had fallen down and many were sunken into the ground.

Hannah’s grave was unmarked until the Pilot Grove Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) decided to mark her burial place in 1932. A huge red Granite boulder from southeast Missouri, was moved to the historical burial site as a gift from the highway Department. Circling the base of the boulder are cemented 13 large stones, each stone from one of the Cooper County townships.

The grave was formally dedicated on October 30,1932 with a bronze plaque set into the Granite. The inscription reads:

“Cooper County’s first white woman settler,

whose unfailing courage in facing the dangers

of the wilderness and a cruel Indian War

entitles her to be called a

Pioneer Mother of early Missouri Civilization


The fenced cemetery is located next to land which is now the Hannah Cole Wayside Park, maintained by the state of Missouri. The Briscoe Cemetery is maintained by the Cole Family Association.

This cemetery is a spot of historical interest for all Missourians.

Other Cooper County cemeteries on the map that follows are:

Saint Joseph, in Pilot Grove (#39) and Saints Peter and Paul (#42) in Boonville, are the two largest Catholic cemeteries in the Boonslick region.


Hannah Cole, the founding mother of Boonville, is buried in Briscoe (#6) cemetery. Pleasant Green (#31) features the graves of several Civil War era soldiers. Pisgah (#29) is also notable for Civil War burials, including the grave of one of the two Robert McCulloughs. The Robert McCulloughs were cousins, and both were Confederate soldiers.  General McCullough is buried in Walnut Grove. Concord (#10) is one of the oldest cemeteries in Cooper County and it’s the oldest Baptist cemetery in the region. Pleasant Grove Evangelical (#32) is a German cemetery where originally, they buried people in order of the date of death instead of in family groups, an old German custom. Today they are buried in family groupings.

Old Lamine (#26) is a typical country church cemetery.


At New Lebanon Cumberland Presbyterian Cemetery (#23) you will find all styles of graves, including the four wives of Mr. Mahan. Wives number 2, 3 and 4 have identical headstones. Wife #1’s stone has fallen over- perhaps because of too much grave rolling? Perhaps Mr. Mahan got a volume discount on tombstones. As for him, he’s buried on his own lot. Makes you wonder why.

Other Cooper County cemeteries on the map that follows are:

Saint Joseph, in Pilot Grove (#39) and Saints Peter and Paul (#42) in Boonville, are the two largest Catholic cemeteries in the Boonslick region.

Pleasant Green (#31) features the graves of several Civil War era soldiers. Pisgah (#29) is also notable for Civil War burials, including the grave of one of the two Robert McCulloughs. The Robert McCulloughs were cousins, and both were Confederate soldiers. General McCullough is buried in Walnut Grove. Concord (#10) is the oldest cemetery in Cooper County and it’s the oldest Baptist cemetery in the region. Pleasant Grove Evangelical (#32) is a German cemetery where originally, they buried people in order of the date of death instead of in family groups, an old German custom. Today they are buried in family groupings. Old Lamine (#26) is a typical country church cemetery.

“Corn” Taylor” moved to Cooper County in about 1817. He brought with him a number of slaves. He asked to be buried in a local cemetery and also have his slaves buried there beside him. When his request was denied, he chose a burial place on his own property, and his slaves were buried there also. It is thought that as many as sixteen or more slaves were buried there. There is one large marker with the Taylor data. About twenty-nine graves were counted here, but unknown, as the only markers are rocks.


Missouri Law 214.455 – Destruction or defacing any cemetery property, penalty: Every person who shall knowingly destroy, mutilate, disfigure, deface, injure, or remove any tomb, monument, or gravestone, or other structure placed in such cemetery or burial ground or place of burial of any human being, is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.

Terms Used in Missouri Laws 214.455

  • Misdemeanor: Usually a petty offense, a less serious crime than a felony, punishable by less than a year of confinement.

  • Person: may extend and be applied to bodies politic and corporate, and to partnerships and other unincorporated associations.

  • See Missouri Laws 1.020



The first two sites will help you locate the cemeteries and those who are buried there.


Cemetery References at CCHS:

Pleasant Green Underground by Florence Friedrichs – booklet detailing a brief history of the town of Pleasant Green and those who are buried there.  For sale at CCHS - price $9

Cemetery Records and file information for Cooper, Moniteau and Morgan Counties. 

  • Card File with Individual Burial Records

  • Cemetery Record Books with burials listed

  • Cemetery Locations – see end of Early Churches, listing churches by Township

    • Notebooks listing burials by cemetery

    • Cemetery map brochure with 52 cemeteries– free

    • Large cemetery wall map of 186 cemetery locations

  • Church Records in File Drawer

    • 104 different churches some with a great deal of information

    • See last portion of Church section for listing of some cemeteries by Township

  • Cooper County Missouri Genealogy good source of cemetery information

  • Cooper County Cemetery Records

Map of majority of the old Cooper County Cemeteries

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