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Rural Marion County cemetery older than Hannibal itself

At right: Lillie Turner, the 4-year-old daughter of Charles and Harriet Turner, was buried at the Old Turner Cemetery in 1869. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


For the Courier-Post

Deep in the thickets of rural Marion County, where blooming violets are peaking out from under the winter canopy of fallen leaves and rotting tree limbs, there exists a gated cemetery – an area hardly as large as a tool shed. Contained within this area surrounded by iron fencing exists the long-ago buried bones of members of one of the very earliest white families to settle in the county, and most likely – on the outside parameter of the fence - their slaves.

The Old Turner Cemetery, named in recognition of the 1875 landowner, J.P. Turner, lies in the west half of the Southeast Quarter Section 28, township 57N, Range 5 West. Located on a high bank above a creek meandering through the county, a portion of the cemetery’s soil has given way to erosion, pulling with it a few stones to the creek bed below. But the fenced portion of the tiny cemetery, while covered with weeds and twigs, has successfully withstood the trials of man and nature for a hundred and a half years.

Phoebe Griffin Turner, born in 1797, wife of the Rev. Charles Leche Turner (1792-1864) was buried at Turner Cemetery in 1823. Their 4-year-old daughter, Anna Turner, was laid to rest the year following her mother’s death.

The Palmyra Weekly Whig ( on March 8, 1849, carried the marriage notice of Charles Turner and Harriet Eliza McReynolds, both of Marion County. Lillie, their daughter, was born in 1865, and died 1869. She is buried at the Turner Cemetery.

The Palmyra Weekly Whig ( on Jan. 1, 1846, notified its readers of the marriage of O.H.P. Lear of Hannibal, to Miss Eliza, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel Turner of Marion County. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. C.S. Turner. Mr. Lear’s grave is among those at the cemetery.

The Palmyra Weekly Whig ( on Aug. 9, 1849, announced the wedding performed by Elder Charles L. Turner uniting in marriage of Reuben Turner to Miss Mary Elvira, eldest daughter of Mr. John McReynolds of Marion County. Elder Turner is buried at the Old Turner Cemetery.

Tedious work

Much work on documenting the burials at this cemetery has been undertaken over the years by history buffs and descendants alike. Gary L. Maize, who has photographed stones at a number of cemeteries in the county, ventured off the well-worn path of Route MM a decade ago in order to preserve historical records. His photos of the cemetery, along with those taken by descendants of the Turner family, can be found on

Now, a decade later, during his second trek to the historic cemetery, Maize notes that one of the first hints that an old cemetery is nearby is the presence of cedar trees, because families traditionally planted these trees as memorials to their loved ones. His prediction accurately describes the old cemetery, which remains surrounded by cedars.

Patty Lear Scott of Hannibal first became familiar with this mostly hidden cemetery years ago when she learned that Oliver Hazard Perry Lear, born in 1835, and Thomas M. Lear, who died in 1833, were among the burials at the cemetery. She first visited the cemetery with her brother, Donley Lear, and her nephew, Todd Lear. Up until that time, she didn’t know that members of the Lear family had ventured to Northeast Missouri. “Most of the Lears lived in Shelby County,” she said. “My dad (Andrew Perry Lear) was raised in Shelbina. He first moved to Hannibal with bridge construction.”

Russell Beatty, who has owned Bear Creek Acres for the last 50 years, is well familiar with the remotely located cemetery. In fact, he owns an adjoining eight acres to the east of the cemetery. He said that the Kaiser family owns the land that once served as the Turner homestead. “I could have bought all this land,” he said, waiving his hand to encompass property along the Route MM corridor, “for $16,000 fifty years ago,” he said. “But I didn’t have the money. So I bought 12 acres.”

Burials at the cemetery, as recorded on, are as follows:

Mary E. Dunbar, 1858-1863

William C. Dunbar, 1863-1864

Mary “Polly” Lear, 1821-1832

Mary Nancy “Polly” Fagan Lear, 1777-1865

Thomas More Lear, 1769-1833

Mary E. Johnson Scott, 1841-1869

Fanny Lear Thrasher, Born 1804

Anna Turner, 1820-1824

Rev. Charles Leche Turner, 1792-1864

Charles Luke Turner, 1822-1865

Elizabeth Turner, 1805-1848

Homer Turner, died 1854

James Turner, died 1845

John P. Turner, 1805-1878

Lillie Turner, 1865-1869

Mary J. Turner, 1827-1839

Mittie Turner, died 1863

Phebe Turner, died 1844

Phoebe Griffin Turner, 1797-1823

Rachel Turner

Robert Turner, 1833-1836

Ruth Turner, 1812-1858

Susan Frances Turner

Elisha Webb, died 1867

Iron fence

The now-rusting fence that surrounds the Old Turner Cemetery has markings designating the manufacturer as W.T. Barbee Fence Works, Chicago, Ill., and Lafayette, Ind.

The company was in business as early as 1882, when George K. Rix was named general manager. W.T. Barbee died circa 1910, and George Rix died five years later, in 1915. In 1927 Walter B. Rix was president of the Barbee Wire and Iron Works.

It is not known when the fence was installed at the rural Marion County cemetery.

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