By EMMA MILLS
Up until three years ago, most people in Hunt County who have driven past what is now known as the Davis-Rush cemetery have done so without ever noticing its existence.
And it’s no wonder. The small group of graves had long since been buried beneath the underbrush of time.
The tombstones had become weathered and broken and overgrown with weeds and grass, blending in with the large field surrounding it.
But when 14-year-old Jacob Rial needed to complete a community project in order to earn his Eagle Scout award, he wasn’t content to let the forgotten graves sit in the shadows any longer.
“I think grandpa missed a spot,” Jacob said, joking at his father as he opened the gate to the newly erected wrought iron fence surrounding the cemetery site.
As it currently stands, the county is only required to mow the site a few times a year, so Jacob and his grandfather take turns keeping the landscape groomed and healthy.
“My grandparents were actually the inspiration behind the project,” Jacob said. “When I was little, my grandparents lived right down the road from the cemetery, and so whenever I was with them and we’d drive past it, my grandma would always say ‘You know, I really wish someone would clean up those graves. It’s so sad to see them like that’. So some time later, when it came time for me to choose my Eagle Scout project, my grandmother suggested I look into what it would take to restore it.”
And so Jacob set out to begin what was to become a three-year-long project to restore not only the physical site itself, but also a bit of family history for the descendants of local Civil War leader Colonel Samuel Davis, who is buried there beside his wife and three of his five children.
“Honestly, in the beginning I thought it was going to be quick and simple, but the project wound up being incredibly research-heavy,” Jacob said. “We had to find the land deeds, get the land surveyed, find the family—that took the longest—all before we could even start the process.”
Jacob got in contact with a man by the name of John Bird, who has a history of doing cemetery restorations throughout the county. Bird mentored Jacob on the research process and helped him get into contact with Davis’ descendants.
“It was really awesome to get to work with the family,” Jacob said. “They were so excited when I called them. I thought maybe they were just going to give me permission to do the project and that would be it, but they actually became really involved. Most of them had never even known that there was a family cemetery out here, and a couple of the older ones had remembered visiting it as kids, but could never remember where it was, so this whole thing really meant a lot to them.”
Throughout those next two years, Jacob presented his project to the Golden Kiwanis Club of Greenville, and the Masonic Lodges located in Greenville, Caddo Mills, Lone Oak, Quinlan, and Wolfe City, in order to raise funds for the project. Both the family descendants and the local clubs responded in droves, quickly helping Jacob to raise the $3200 he needed to complete the restoration.
“As it turns out, Colonel Davis was a mason himself in his day, so one of the first speeches I gave was at the Masonic Lodge in Greenville,” Jacob said. “A man named Eddie Ball was there and took a very active interest in the project, and helped me get connected to the other local factions. He said ‘If he was a Mason, we take care of other Masons.’”
With the money raised, Jacob then set to work on restoring the site that Colonel Davis had originally envisioned for his family when he set the land aside in his trust so long ago. Jacob erected a fence with a black, wrought gate to border the land, repaired and polished the broken grave markers, put in a culvert, and planted flowers beside the headstones, as well as a tree and, crepe myrtles.
An application to designate the site as a “Texas Historical Cemetery” is also currently pending with the state.
“In started out as an Eagle Scout project, but it really became so much more,” the now 16-year-old Jacob said. “It’s so important to remember where we came from, and preserve the memory of those that came before.”