By Robert Medley
There is a marker to pay respects to the unknown children who died in the 1891 diphtheria epidemic that swept across the nation and into what is now Canadian County.
Of the children, about a dozen or so, who died of diphtheria in May, of 1891, only two of their names are known.
Two of the children who died in May, 1891, were ancestors of Jane Moore, who is the current secretary for the Beecham Cemetery Association.
About 5 miles south and a mile east of Okarche, at the corner of Shepard Road and NW 178/Edmond Road, the cemetery was started the year the area children became sick and began to die. Pioneers of the area were also buried there in the decades to follow the epidemic. Those who still maintain the cemetery want to one day find the names of those other children who died 129 years ago.
“The only way we think the association feels like we can find relatives of these children is just by publicizing the Beecham Cemetery and that the unknown children are here and if anyone has any connections to them we’d love to hear from you,” Moore said.
Efforts to find their names are more difficult as the decades pass by, she said. But technology can help document records. The cemetery association was able to have an annual meeting by Zoom May 2.
Guy and Neti, two of the eight children of Nathan Levi Beecham and his wife Almira Beecham, died of diphtheria.
Guy Will Beecham lived 1886-1991. Neti Pearl Beecham was born in 1888.
“Apparently diphtheria was deadly to children , then. “ Moore said. “It affected the children in this area for some reason,” Moore said. “And in May of 1891, Nathan Beecham lost two children, Guy, was 5 and Neti Pearl who was 3,” Moore said.
Jane Moore, and the cemetery association treasurer Vonda Rice of Oklahoma City, are both Beecham descendants. Their great grandfather was Nathan Beecham.
Current members of the Beecham Cemetery Association have lost track of many of the families of those buried there.
“We’re trying to contact more of the families of people who are buried there,” Moore said.
Moore, who lives in Edmond, owns about 80 acres of land around the cemetery.
Nathan Beecham had been a Civil War veteran who bought land in Canadian County before the 1889 Land Run and moved there from Illinois.
She said the goal of the cemetery association is to “preserve the historic value of the cemetery and to provide perpetual care.”
A monument remains at the cemetery that was placed there in 1972 to remember the children. It reads, “In memory of the unknown children who died in the 1891 diphtheria epidemic.”
After his children died, Nathan Beecham buried them in what is now the northwest corner. He planted a cedar tree to keep the graves shaded on the treeless prairie. The cemetery is still lined with a few trees. Wheat fields surround it today in unincorporated Canadian County, off a dirt and gravel road, Shepard Road, south of Northwest Expressway. The cemetery has relatives of 45 families in it and is still open to relatives as a private, family cemetery. Barbed wire keeps the cattle around it and development has stayed miles away.
Moore showed the row of graves that are not marked, except for one monument to remember them all.
“And then we have a row of unknown children who were also buried during that year,” Moore said. “I don’t think they kept any records. We’ve never had any families come and say their children are buried here. We just know from passing on family history that it could be any where from 10 to 15 children,” Moore said.
She walked by the original cedar tree.
“The cedar tree was planted by Nathan Beecham when he buried his two children here, to keep the sun off of them,” she said, as a bird chirped as the wind blew on an overcast day.
The cemetery is about 6 miles southeast of Okarche.
Moore said the current pandemic from COVID-19 is much different than an epidemic of 1891.
“But there are many things that are the same,” Moore said.
The lack of medication at the time of the outbreak with no known cure makes the two deadly health events similar.
“The loss of life was great for this community in 1891,” Moore said. “As it is for the world during this pandemic.”
To contact Moore send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org