Monday, October 3, 2022

A call for action to honor the dead buried in Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery

Texas Historical Marker acknowledges the importance of Shelton's Bear Creek Cemetery (FindAGrave.com added by RC Karnes)
Texas Historical Commission’s marker acknowledges the importance of Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery (FindAGrave.com added by RC Karnes)

By:  Jackie Hardy, NDG Contributing Writer

Concerned Irving residents are once again frustrated by the condition of Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery located at 1525 Hard Rock Road on Highway 161.  

“This cemetery has been forgotten and why I don’t know.  It needs to be cleaned because right now it’s dangerous to go out there,” commented Irving resident, Gail Fields.

Per Fields, overgrown grass and wildlife habitation are some of the many issues facing the cemetery.

Fields joined a small band of Irving citizens including resident Jammie Simon, community activist, Anthony Bond, former Irving City Councilmember Sharon Barbosa-Crain, and business owner of the Chateau on Wildbriar Lake, Diane Wheeler who are committed to regular care of the cemetery.

Shelton Bear Creek Cemetery is a burial place that predates the end of the Civil War according to deeds researched by Bond. It was awarded a historical marker by the Texas Historical Commission, a state agency for historic preservation.  

According to the marker designated by the Texas Historical Commission, Minnie Sheldon (Shelton), purchased 80 acres of land in 1879 for $130, then the Shelton family donated the property for a cemetery.  During the mid-1800’s, African Americans were brought to the area as slaves, after the end of the Civil War many remained to begin their lives as Freedmen.   

Through extensive research conducted by Frances James, who is known to many in the area as the “Cemetery Lady”, Bond discovered the graves belonged to former slaves.

“Really what that cemetery needs is an organization to take ownership of it, but right now the only time it gets clean or anything is done to it, is just when citizens or some people who have some relatives buried there take it upon themselves to go clean it up,” declared Irving Councilmen Dennis Webb of Irving Place 3 ,who has sponsored clean-up efforts in the past.

Simon, a descendant of Minnie Shelton, feels there is a lack of appreciation of the historical significance of Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery, especially among the younger generation.

“Young people of Bear Creek don’t realize how much history is there,” he states.

Simon also shared his wishes for the City of Irving to respond much like Denton County has, who according to the Denton Record-Chronicle, appropriated close to $20,000 to St. Johns Cemetery, a burial site located near Pilot Point that has an estimated 490 African-Americans, some former slaves.  

Wheeler, a business owner near the cemetery, also shares Simon’s sentiment and feels the City of Irving needs to bear more responsibility in helping to care for the cemetery.

Webb believes the location of the cemetery also attributes to the problem with the lack of upkeep as well as knowledge that the cemetery exists.

“It’s unfortunate where it is located because very few people know of its existence,” he adds.

“The only way you can get to the cemetery is to come through this property (Chateau on Wildbriar Lake), and that’s another issue. I would like for somebody to build a way that we can get through the cemetery without going through private property,” Fields suggests.

Webb advised he has directly spoke with the developer looking to build residential properties that would neighbor the cemetery; and according to Webb, plans are being made to allow better access to the cemetery.

“There is a 60 home development that is about to be approved right to the north of the Chateau, and part of the development is a cul-de-sac that dead ends right up next to the cemetery, and the developer is going to work with the City to have some type of capability to access the cemetery from that cul-de-sac after that development is done,” stated Webb.

Bond has also led several efforts in cleaning up the cemetery, but those efforts are in vain due to the lack of having a functioning Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery Association.  

“The biggest change that has to take place is people within the community have to care more, and I made a pact with those people buried there, and it was like those people were crying out to me to not let their final resting place be desecrated like that,” Bond shared.

Makini Shaku, a member of the West Irving Improvement Association, has also helped in the past with clean up efforts. She agrees with Bond that the people within the community of Bear Creek need to take a vested interest in the overall upkeep of the property.  

“With Bear Creek being one of the oldest black communities established by free slaves in the state of Texas, I find it very interesting that people who really appreciate the history are not from Bear Creek.  It’s really an odd dynamic,” sentiments Shaku expressed on the disconnect from those who have ancestral ties to the cemetery.

With the cemetery located on private property, it limits what the City can do regarding oversight.  Eddie Bloomfield is the current owner of the property. The family took ownership of the land the cemetery sits on in the late nineties according to Blake Bloomfield, son of Eddie.  He also advised he has been handling his father’s business affairs for some time now.

“My father is in bad health and is elderly,” claims Bloomfield.

Former Councilmember Barbosa-Crain believes the best way to address the perpetual issues facing the cemetery is the City works something out with the current owner in the hopes to make the cemetery public property.  

“It is my opinion that it should be cared for in a better way than it is currently being cared for,” she shared.

“It’s my opinion that everyone would be benefited from a practical and historical perspective if Mr. Bloomfield should dedicate that property and allow it to no longer be under his ownership; perhaps its own ownership however the state law would allow that to be done,” she suggests.

Bloomfield advised North Dallas Gazette that the idea of deeding the property over to the City of Irving may be something his family would consider, but it is not a decision he is looking to make right now as he expressed his priority is overseeing personal matters relating to his father’s health.

In the past, the relationship between Bond and Bloomfield has had its share of conflict due to Bloomfield hanging a for-sale sign on the property of the cemetery this past summer.  

“Because it had a lot of visibility,  I set a sign up there, but because the community had an issue we took it down; we did not want to cause any problems to anybody,” responded Bloomfield in regards to the controversy behind the for sale sign he posted on the fence around the cemetery to promote the sale of nearby lakefront property his family owns.

Bond advised he fought to have Bloomfield remove the for sale sign by petitioning the City of Irving and he hopes the recent actions that occurred with the owner would serve as a wake-up call to those within the community of Bear Creek.

“Every time that property changed hands, and it changed hands maybe two or three times between 1845 and 1995, the cemetery was excluded and demarcated in the deed saying that this land is a slave cemetery and can only be used for that purpose,” informed Bond.

According to the Office of the Secretary of State Title 13, Part 2, Chapter 22 of the Texas Administrative Code under Rule 22.6 of Historic Texas Cemeteries states:  “The Historic Texas Cemetery designation may be removed only by action of the Commission or by an order of the court of proper jurisdiction removing the dedication or permitting the removal of the cemetery and the return of the land to other purposes. A transfer of ownership does not result in a removal of the dedication.”

Barbosa-Crain further advised there was an interesting development occurring within the City of Irving; the Council could be voting in December on creating a new department.

“That department would be called the Department of Art and Culture, and it is taking our existing Irving Arts Center Department and expanding it to include museums and other historical designations identified from time to time.  It could easily be that this cemetery could be part of this or we can even initiate through the City through our Real Estate Department, a contract with the property owner,” she adds.

Wheeler hopes something is done soon to protect the memories of those buried at Shelton Bear Creek and is committed to helping those efforts.

“We support anyone that will hold our hand and allow us to help in the ways that we can, but we are not able to do it on our own.  They deserve the honor from us,” stated Wheeler.

A call to action is what many of the individuals who have committed much of their time and energy already to the upkeep of the cemetery hopes will happen from those in both the private and public sectors.

A meeting to discuss the formation of the Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery Association in addition to discussing the upcoming clean-up efforts is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at Bear Creek Community Church, located at 2700 Finley Road, Irving,  

On Nov. 19, there will be another opportunity for residents to come and volunteer their time  to clean up the cemetery.  The clean-up efforts will begin at 8 a.m.  For those interested in volunteering, please contact Anthony Bond at 214-830-6719.

“Those are our ancestors that paved the way for the rights and privileges we have today and all of us owe them a debt of gratitude and the least that we could do is have their final resting place be clean,” states Bond.

4 COMMENTS

  1. May God bless the staff and writer of this excellent update about this historic Black Slave Cemetery. Ruth Ferguson is a great editor and Jackie is a fine writer. Thurman Jones continues to be an outstanding publisher that genuinely cares for the Black communities all across the DFW Metroplex. Many thanks and much gratitude go out to the NDG !!!!

  2. Kudos to Gail Fields who has worked tirelessly trying to get someone to take the reins and keep this historic site in respectable order. It’s a shame to let something so historically important to generations of Americans be ignored. Thanks to everyone who has come forward to get this started!

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