Pioneers’ progeny gather at historic cemetery

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
The plaque marks the cemetery, about 16 miles north of the city of Okeechobee, as a Florida Heritage Site.

BASINGER — Okeechobee Historical Society President Magi Cable presided as dozens of local officials and pioneer family descendants came together at the historic cemetery here near the northeastern county line Jan. 15 to dedicate the new Florida Heritage Site marker installed there.

“This is a big deal,” remarked Okeechobee County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper about the occasion as people were arriving and milling around the refreshment table, where hot coffee, cold water, cookies and pastries were offered. Friendly greetings were heard as the older attendees found seats under a canopy provided by the sheriff’s office.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
The gathered crowd listens as Magi Cable, president of the Okeechobee Historical Society, tells the story behind installation of the marker. Descendant families represented were the Chandler, Sloan, Walker, Alderman, Bass and Thomas clans.

“We were just talking about how many veterans we have here in Okeechobee — it’s mind-boggling,” Mr. Culpepper said. He added he’s not that much of a history buff, “because I wasn’t raised here. The ones that were raised here are the ones who really know the history. But being a veteran, and I’m the only veteran on the board, it means a lot to me to be able to support things like this because our veterans are a prized possession. This is a long time coming.”

Dozens of U.S. armed forces veterans and their family members are buried in the cemetery, who served in practically all of the conflicts of the 20th century.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Descendants of some of the pioneer families of Okeechobee County were present Wednesday, Jan. 15, as local dignitaries presided at the dedication of a historical plaque installed at the Basinger Cemetery. From left are Billy Mason, Henrietta Chandler, Nancy Raulerson Chandler, Gwen and Monrad Chandler. (Henrietta and Monrad are Nancy’s children.) Mrs. Chandler was the impetus for acquiring a marker.

“It’s nice to see this coming to fruition,” said County Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs . “Magi just kind of ramrods these types of things. She just comes to the board and asks for approval. We put the wheels on the wagon; we don’t drive it.”

Mrs. Cable pointed toward an elderly woman seated under the canopy. “Nancy Chandler has family buried here,” She said. “She lives out here and, of course, the first burial was a Raulerson. And she was like, ‘We should do this.’ So she’s the one.”

Then, under a clear blue sky with temperatures having crept into the mid-70s, and the brilliant mid-January sun doing its best to make her sweat, Mrs. Cable found a shady corner at the head of the tent to tell the story behind the cemetery, its occupants who helped build Tantie, the Bend and Basinger into the City and County of Okeechobee, and their assembled descendants who helped prod the state to recognize this place and its pioneering history.

“We really are overwhelmed by how many have come out today, so thank you very much for that,” she started. Mayor Dowling Watford gave an invocation, thanking God “for this beautiful day, this community and the history that we enjoy here. We especially celebrate our pioneers and their lives and their contributions to our community.”

After the group joined in singing “Amazing Grace,” Mrs. Cable gave a few remarks, telling of the research she had to do in order to get state officials to approve the marker and its wording. It involved a lot of reading, she said, and consulting “fun stuff like the U.S. Geological Survey.”

She told how the Basinger Cemetery came to be owned by the county of Okeechobee, whose birthday is May 17 — 103 years ago this year. She included stories about the earliest settlers, what life was like for the pioneers in the area and what they did to eke out good lives on the prairie, peppering her talk with anecdotes.

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
Officials who were present include County Commissioner Brad Goodbread, County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper, County Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs, Okeechobee Mayor Dowling Watford, County Tax Collector Celeste Watford, County Clerk Sharon Robertson, County Commissioner David Hazellief, City Council member Monica Clark and County Property Appraiser Mickey Bandi. Mrs. Cable stands in front of the group (She had to be persuaded).

She mentioned a book club in which she’s a member. “Our assignment was to read ‘A Land Remembered,’ which I just finished my homework yesterday, so I am really up to date on this kind of stuff.”

Mrs. Cable went on to recognize and thank all the various parties involved for helping to get the marker placed.

Specific information about the Basinger Cemetery and those buried in it (from a 2005 survey) is available online at sites.google.com/a/flgenweb.net/okeechobee-co/cemeteries/basinger-cemetery. Or to learn more, visit the Okeechobee Historical Society at 1850 U.S. 98 N., Okeechobee 34972. The phone number is 863-763-4344.

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