Past days, past ways
captured in Wewahitchka graveyard

(Photo: Like this one, many gravestones at the Jehu Cemetery tell tragic stories. News Herald Photos: Kevin Begos.)

The News Herald

The Jehu Cemetery in Wewahitchka provides a glimpse into a past filled with Indians and pioneers, into life in a small, closely knit community.

The Jehu Cemetery is named after Jehu Richards, a young boy who survived an Indian massacre in 1818.

The Richards were one of the most important families of settlers in North Florida in the early 1800s.

John H. Richards was a spy for Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Florida Indian wars, and his brother Stephen later joined him in the area around Wewa.

One day in 1818, while the men were away, Indians came into the small community and killed Stephen's wife and all but two of his children. A boy named Jehu and a young girl were later found hiding in the swamps, one at a spot near the cemetery and one at a spot called Jehu's Landing.

These days, such local historical tidbits can be found at the Wewa Public Library.

But but before there were libraries, legend and history were passed from generation to generation through storytelling.

As a boy, L.L. Lanier was the beneficiary of such stories. He continues the tradition today.

Driving up Canney Road to the intersection of Lake Grove Road, Lanier tells Jehu's tale, just as it happened on a recent spring day.

"Now right here is where the kids were playing, on the other side of the street" Lanier says. "And their folks were up yonder where that redbush is. See that big tree up on your left? The old Richards house was right there.

"The kids were playing right in here somewheres," he continues, "and they heard the screaming. And they went through the swamp, up close enough to see. There were no roads. They went up there and saw that Indians had killed their folks, and they had the presence of mind to go on across and save themselves, instead of going to the house."

Lanier says such storytelling is lost on some of the younger generation.

"A lot of young fellas today get bored with us old folks, because they think we're trying to impress them with what we know. But that's not the point," he says. "We trying to help 'em before some possible catastrophe in the future. You can't live alone. We all learn from our elders."

The Jehu Cemetery has a number of massive headstones carved as tree trucks, marking the spots where members of Woodmen of the World are buried. Back in the late 1800s, Lanier says, the timber and turpentine businesses were the lifeblood of the community.

The cemetery also reflects burial traditions of days past.

People often planted cedar trees on their family plots - not just for shade, but as a Biblical symbol of everlasting life.

Lanier remembers a particular cedar tree that a woman he knew had planted as a young girl.

He was looking for some additional wide-board cedar to finish his house, and a friend told him of a dead cedar at Jehu Cemetery.

"I knew immediately where it was," he says. "This lady's lot, next to my mother's daddy. Miss Edna Rish.

"So I called her. She said, `Lavernor, don't tell me that tree is dead.'

"I said, `Miss Edna, another one's gone.'

"She said, `I don't doubt your word, but will you come get me and let me see for myself?' "

Lanier took Miss Rish to the spot.

"She looks up at it and says, `Lavernor, cut it. It'll save me money. I had to pay $300 to have the last one cut.'

"Now, she'd planted that tree when she was a girl, 10 to 12 years old. And when I cut it, she must have been near 90."


1998 The News Herald