News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 31, 2013

Roberts Cemetery links 1800s Vigo County to today

Bowen Roberts’ reports of Terre Haute spurred families to move to area

TERRE HAUTE — In the 1820s, when Bowen Roberts, a free black man from North Carolina, arrived on horseback in west-central Indiana a few miles east of Terre Haute, the American republic was still in its infancy.

John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, was leaving office, to be followed by Andrew Jackson after a bitter election battle. Slavery still existed in the South and legal racial discrimination of all sorts still existed in the North and would only intensify in later decades.

Roberts was a scout sent north by other free black people living in North Carolina to find a new place for them to live. His travels took him through the Lost Creek area of eastern Vigo County. When he returned to North Carolina, he gave a glowing report about what he had seen there.

“Fat hogs are roaming the forest with knives and forks sticking in their backs,” Roberts is widely reported to have told folks back in North Carolina.

“What he meant was, this was a good place to live,” explained Dorothy Ross, who has lived amid the expansive farmlands of Lost Creek Township for most of the past eight decades.

Based on Bowen Roberts’ scouting report, six free black families moved north to Indiana. They were the Anderson, Archer, Chavis, Roberts, Stewart and Trevan families. After arriving, they farmed the land and created a thriving community with churches and schools.

Much of the original Lost Creek settlement is gone now, but one of its oldest relics still exists – the Roberts Cemetery, a little-known five-acre graveyard north of Old Fort Harrison Avenue a couple of miles north-west of Seelyville.

A beautiful setting

“It’s probably the nicest [historic] cemetery in the township,” said Rick Long, Lost Creek Trustee. The peaceful cemetery sits far from any roads on a gently sloping piece of ground amid tall trees and, most strikingly, overlooking a picturesque, manmade lake.

Roberts Cemetery was established in 1832, according to a sign at its gated entrance. However, there are graves in the cemetery older than that, said Ross, who can see the graveyard from the kitchen window of her farmhouse less than a mile away., a history and genealogy website, lists more than 400 interments in Roberts Cemetery. Among the first was a Thomas Stewart, whose date of death was 1830, according to the website. Other early burials included Nathaniel Weathers, 1833, Mary Jo Roberts, 1842, and Elizabeth Stewart, who died in 1848, according to the website.

Elizabeth Stewart’s 1848 grave marker still stands in the cemetery, one of the oldest remaining.

A history of the cemetery written in 1999 in celebration of the 75th anniversary of nearby Stewart Lawn Cemetery, states original settlers Kinchen and Nancy Roberts came to Lost Creek in 1832 and buried their oldest son, Bannister, a victim of “grim reapers disease,” on part of their farmland that same year. That same piece of land later became the Roberts Cemetery and would continue to be the final resting place for black Lost Creek settlers for generations to come. The Kinchen Roberts’ grave marker, about five feet tall, still stands in the lower part of the cemetery near the lake.

Like looking at gold

Today, Roberts Cemetery, which is surrounded by private property, is owned by the Roberts Cemetery Association and is maintained by a group of volunteers from the nearby Lost Creek Missionary Baptist Church, whose small congregation is made up of descendants of the original black settlers.

When old cemeteries are abandoned, it falls to the Township Trustee to maintain them, said Lost Creek’s Long. But the Roberts Cemetery has not been abandoned and most of the maintenance is paid for by the association. There are about 10 abandoned cemeteries in Lost Creek, Long said.

The full beauty of Roberts Cemetery is most visible in the fall, Ross said. The mature trees create beautiful colors amid the historic tombstones.

“You should see it in the fall,” agreed Molly Wadsworth, a life-long resident of Lost Creek who lives near the cemetery. “It’s just like looking at gold.”

In many places inside the cemetery, there are no grave markers at all, but Ross said the burial ground is full. The markers have just deteriorated or been lost over the years.

“My grandmother is out here somewhere, but I don’t know where,” said Ross looking out over the cemetery on a recent cool but sunny spring day. Before the cemetery was fenced, farm animals and wild animals would sometimes damage the grave markers, she said.

Staying in touch with the past

Over the generations, most of the black families that settled in Lost Creek have moved away. Younger people moved to cities and farms were sold off. But the number of people with family roots in the settlement is large and impressive. And many have not forgotten the former homestead.

“It’s beautiful back there,” said Linda Harris, now of Indianapolis, whose parents lived in Lost Creek all their lives. Harris is part of the small group of volunteers trying to care for and preserve the history of Roberts Cemetery. She remembers her mom taking her through the cemetery, looking at the old graves, when she was a child.

“She always went to put flowers on the graves,” Harris said of her mother, Cleta Harris.

Most of the burials in Roberts Cemetery took place in the last quarter of the 19th century, according to The last burial took place there in 1941.

Dawn Ross, a systems analyst in Atlanta for Macy’s, is also working from afar to preserve the old burial ground and the history of Lost Creek. Her late father, James Elroy Ross, better known as “Buster,” grew up in Lost Creek and had a encyclopedic memory for the families in the settlement and how they were related to each other, she said.

“We hated it when we were kids,” Ross said of being taken out to old cemeteries after church by her dad. But that was how family histories were passed down in those days, she said.

“Not everybody had headstones, but my father knew everybody” and where they were buried in the cemetery, she said.

Dawn Ross, now in her 50s, is working hard to preserve the stories of the people buried in Roberts Cemetery and also the Stewart and Stewart Lawn cemeteries in Lost Creek. “The younger generations are not hearing these stories,” she said of the pioneer past of some of Indiana’s earliest black settlers. “I think it really should be preserved.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or


Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local & Bistate
  • MET 070914 GARDEN 01LARI.jpg Plentiful harvest

    Along the southern bank of Otter Creek near Clinton Street, across the street from North Terre Haute Christian Church, some rocky soil has proven to be fertile ground for new seeds.

    July 12, 2014 4 Photos 1 Story

  • MET 071014 GARDEN 01DIEMER.jpg Meeting need for fresh foods

    There’s something about watching a zucchini go from seedling to soup that is satisfying for Jean Diemer.

    July 12, 2014 3 Photos 1 Story

  • MET 071214 60 YEARS.jpg Celebrating 60 years of pride at Hulman Field

    The buildings may have changed, and the mission has certainly changed, but the pride remains the same when those celebrating the 60th anniversary of the 181st Intelligence Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard came together Saturday at Hulman Field.

    July 12, 2014 5 Photos

  • MET071214 treasure sign.jpg Treasure-hunters forced in doors

    Rain on a Saturday morning can be a big bummer for yard sales.

    July 12, 2014 5 Photos

  • Tank wiring said to be cause of oil-field fire

    An electrical short has been blamed for a Friday night fire at the Pinnacle Exploration oil field on Fruitridge Avenue south of Hulman Street.

    July 12, 2014

  • MET071114  St bens ellis.jpg Annual St. Ben’s community festival kicks off

    The St. Ben's Community Festival kicked off Friday night and continues from 5 p.m. until midnight today.

    July 11, 2014 4 Photos

  • MET 071114 DELISH GREENE.jpg Adding to the mix

    The mix of local food choices will get a fresh stir in the near future, as a café opens a second location, a pizza place moves downtown and a national chain sprouts in two more spots.

    July 11, 2014 4 Photos

  • MET071114 guard bennett.jpg Shift from jets to intelligence

    Loud, impressive fighter jets once zoomed regularly across the sky in Terre Haute, their roars drowning out the sounds of televisions and telephones all around the area.

    July 11, 2014 4 Photos 2 Stories

  • MET 071114 MANN P.C..jpg Candidates’ views clash over more education testing, vouchers

    Indiana needs to change direction to improve education, said Democrat Jim Mann, who will face incumbent Rep. Robert Heaton, R-Terre Haute, in a rematch race for Indiana House District 46.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET071114bad check.jpg Fraudulent checks with an extra ‘t’

    A Terre Haute woman who received a large check in the mail this week wants to warn others that though the check looks legitimate, it is a scam.

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Truck, van collide, stopping some U.S. 41 lanes for an hour

    Northbound traffic on U.S. 41 south of Terre Haute was blocked for about one hour Friday because of a two vehicle crash.

    July 11, 2014

  • Indianapolis closing nightlife street on weekends

    Indianapolis officials will close the main street through a nightlife district to motor vehicles on Friday and Saturday nights to reduce violence there.

    July 11, 2014

  • Man revives 3-year-old who was face down in pool

    Authorities in central Indiana say a man revived his 3-year-old son after spotting the boy face down in an apartment complex pool.

    July 11, 2014

  • Vigo County Jail Log: July 11, 2014

    The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Thursday and Friday, based on jail records.

    July 11, 2014

  • New exhibits set to open at Red Skelton museum

    VINCENNES (AP) — Events are being planned for the opening of new exhibits at the museum celebrating the career of the late comedian Red Skelton in his southwestern Indiana hometown.

    July 11, 2014

  • Solar Roadways_Morg.jpg 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

    July 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • council mtg 013.JPG Mayor: City will not file bankruptcy

    The Terre Haute City Council took well more than  an hour to ask questions and discuss the health of the city’s finances with top city officials in a special meeting Thursday night. A few councilmen expressed grave concern about the financial picture, while Mayor Duke Bennett said things were improving.

    July 10, 2014 2 Photos 1 Story

  • State official threatens prosecution of city leaders who talk about audit

    A state official has threatened to pursue the prosecution of city officials if they violate a confidentiality agreement signed last month.

    July 10, 2014

  • MET 071014 181 02EXPO.jpg ISU, 181st Intelligence Wing show off capabilities at expo

    Communication and getting unmanned eyes in the sky can be vital parts of responding to a natural or man-made disaster.

    July 10, 2014 3 Photos 1 Story

  • Feds relent: Military to restore equipment program for fire departments

    An agreement has been reached to keep surplus military equipment rolling into rural fire department bays in Indiana and 47 other states.

    July 10, 2014

  • united way.jpg UW kicks off pilot campaign

    Dottie King remembers the day she saw a young man leaving St. Ann’s Dental Clinic after having 17 teeth pulled. He had not received sufficient dental care before that day so his need was dramatic. That was unlike King, who had visited the dentist regularly since childhood, but still found getting a tooth filled not on her list of fun things to do. “I thought to myself, ‘I never have thought about the blessing of dental care,’” King recalled, sharing that story on Thursday morning with other volunteers for the United Way of the Wabash Valley.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET 071014 181 HILL.jpg Indiana’s director of homeland security sees unmanned systems’ potential

    Integrating unmanned flight systems into use for domestic surveillance can provide first responders with key information in responding to fires, earthquakes and man-made disasters, said John Hill, director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Stunt performer scheduled to be at Wigwam

    A celebrity stunt man named Jim “Crash” Moreau is scheduled to perform at Terre Haute’s Wigwam Skate and Event Center on Saturday.

    July 10, 2014

  • Rain barrels offered for sale

    The Vigo County Soil and Water Conservation District is taking orders for 55-gallon rain barrels.

    July 10, 2014

  • Ash.jpg Tips lead to meth lab bust

    Two people were arrested after police busted a clandestine methamphetamine lab Thursday in the 2200 block of Fourth Avenue in Terre Haute.

    July 10, 2014 2 Photos

  • 071014 meth lab items.jpg Police bust meth lab in Terre Haute

    Police busted a clandestine methamphetamine lab today in the 2200 block of Fourth Avenue in Terre Haute.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • UPDATE: Ethics panel approves $5K fine against Bennett

    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s State Ethics Commission has approved a $5,000 fine against former state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett for using state resources in his 2012 campaign.

    July 10, 2014

  • Vigo County Jail Log: July 10, 2014

    The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Wednesday and Thursday, based on jail records.

    July 10, 2014

  • Group: 5,000 same-sex marriages in Illinois

    A survey indicates thousands of same-sex couples are marrying in Illinois.

    July 10, 2014

  • Study: Hunting restores forests in state parks

    A study by a Purdue University research team has found that regulated deer hunts in Indiana state parks have helped restore forests damaged by too many white-tailed deer.

    July 10, 2014

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Joy Fills Streets of Cleveland As LeBron Returns Raw: Stunning Timelapse of WC Final Host City Raw: Militants, Israelis Exchange Rocket Fire Raw: Israel, Gaza Exchange Rocket Fire Israel Widens Attack As Gaza Death Toll Rises Raw: Airstrike Creates Chaos on Gaza Streets Texas Shooting Suspect Collapses in Court Raw: Airstrike Creates Chaos on Gaza Streets LeBron: Move Back to Cleveland 'Exciting' Netherlands Beats Host Brazil 3-0 to Finish 3rd Raw: Sirens Blare Over Jerusalem Diaz and Segel Strip Off for 'Sex Tape' World Cup Final Pits Argentina Against Germany Ana Ortiz on 'Devious Maids' Finale WH: LeBron's Move a 'Powerful Statement' Raw: Rebel Leader Weds in Eastern Ukraine Proposed Bill to Regulate NY Costumed Characters Death Toll Tops 100 As Israel Offense Continues FIFA Rejects Suarez Appeal Against Biting Ban Arizona Mom of Missing Baby Released From Prison
NDN Video
Tracy Morgan released from rehab month after crash LeBron: Move Back to Cleveland 'Exciting' Cleveland welcomes home LeBron Houston Killer Collapses in Court When Read Capital Murder Charges for Allegedly Killing Family of Six Worst Valet Ever Wrecks $500K Lamborghini Glee Star Becca Tobin's Boyfriend Matt Bendik Found Dead in Hotel Aerial fish restocking in Utah ScarJo Channels Marilyn Monroe Obama Responds to Hecklers on Immigration Tiny Hamsters Who Ate Burritos are Back for a Tiny Hedgehog's Party Watch Kelly Ripa Get Soaked! 'Referee' Hands Out Yellow Cards for Social Faux Pas in NYC 2014 Emmy Nominees: 8 Snub Shockers Emma Watson Is Va-Va-Voom in Valentino 7 Infamous Sports Blowouts Argentina tops Holland in World Cup semifinals News flush: Japanese toilet exhibition making a splash Emmy Nominations: What to Watch For 'Game of Thrones' Leads 66th Emmy Awards Nominations Photographic 'Proof' That LeBron Is Leaving Miami - @TheBuzzeronFOX

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010