Miller County, Missouri

Wilson I Cemetery (Wilson Cave)

Miller County home page

Richwood Township: Section 3, Township 39 North, Range 13 West, Miller County, MO.

From Tuscumbia take highway 17 and continue past the junctions of 52 and F, A and C. When you come to the Hendley’s Farm Supply, past highway C on the left, the next turn is Sequoia Road. Turn left onto Sequoia Road and go 1.75 miles this is where Humphrey’s Creek Road and Sequoia meet, but you want to take the sharp right down a good sized embankment staying on Sequoia. Go another .5 miles until you come to the Bobbie Roark farm, on the left. The cemetery lies on his property, but you will need permission to go any further. This cemetery was long ago destroyed, but I read an article from our local paper for information. Along with the article Mrs. Betty Roark, owner with her husband Bobby of the infamous Wilson’s Cave and its surrounding land, told me that some of John’s relatives wound up with some of his bones and that she heard this, first hand, from them. It seemed that people went in and destroyed his resting place and apparently disassembled John’s remains.

Miller County Autogram May 6, 1926; John Wilson’s Burial Request Shocked Citizens Century Ago: John Wilson was born in Virginia in 1769 and moved to Kentucky while he was very young. John Wilson volunteered to repel invasion of the British in the War of 1812. He joined the Army and served one campaign. He re-enlisted when the British threatened New Orleans. He came to Missouri and pitched a tent at the Big Cave (Wilson Cave) on the Tavern Creek in 1825. Almost immediately upon his settling on the Tavern he selected his burial place in the small cave near the Big Cave, now called the Wilson Cave. Eight years before his death John hewed his homemade coffin from a log. He even held a rehearsal for his up coming funeral. With this odd burial request of the eccentric cave dweller curiosity was aroused in southwestern Miller County. Although the odd funeral was carried out almost a century ago folks doubt if there will ever be a funeral to challenge such as that one held in a cave owned by John Wilson, which was located some nine miles northeast of Iberia. While John Wilson made arrangements for his final departure, but was saddened when he discovered that rats had gnawed a hole in one side of his coffin, which he had made of a black walnut log. He had labored tiresomely over it to accommodate his husky six-foot frame. John’s hair was brown with a hint of silver when he first began the work of hewing out another coffin. He would stop at intervals to make sure that the coffin would fit his measurements. It turned out to be a superb fit and he admired his own craftsmanship of the second one even more than the first. Then he arranged a funeral rehearsal so that none of his many details would be overlooked. All of his friends assembled in a wagon-session along the Big Tavern Creek, which flows in from the cave. John had his fiddle under his arm and he led the procession as he directed the group from his wagon that carried the coffin, while urging everyone to be merry. He moved the fiddle into position and shouted for the group to "Tune up the fiddle and resin the bow and we’ll have music wherever we go". Fiddle music flowed down the valley and the group sang as the procession bumped along a cow path that led to the cave. Once at their destination John repeated his odd burial request: He desired that his body be preserved with salt and placed in the crude coffin, with the burial be in a cavity to the right of the main cave entrance. Seven jugs of good whiskey were to be placed next to the coffin and the opening of the cave was to be sealed with a lime and stone mortar. A feast and something to wash it down was to be served to those paying their last respects. In addition, he asked his friends to gather at the cave on the seventh anniversary of the funeral and break the sealed mortar to celebrate by drinking the liquor and playing his favorite fiddle tunes. The interment was to be in the left of two cavities about 30 feet from the ground where he would be closer to that far journey when Gabriel blows his golden trumpet. He had asked that his wife be buried in the other identical cavity, but Mrs. Wilson did not desire to be buried in the cave. When Mrs. Wilson preceded John in death, by seven years, her body was laid to rest in the nearby Lane Cemetery. This cemetery has been totally destroyed, but Mrs. Roark told me that Mrs. Wilson was supposed to be buried there and the Lane Cemetery is still on the Wilson Cave property. Every detail of the funeral progression was carried out. However, the cave was re-opened long before the seventh year time frame for celebration that he requested. The tomb was opened soon after his burial and it is believed that the reason was because at that time our country was in an upheaval as a result of the Civil War. It was an unidentified party who broke into the burial place. Today the cave is privately owned and only invited guests can go through the cave. The legend of the strange funeral of John Wilson is a valued remembrance of area residents: The cave provided a home for John, his wife and children, who were among the first white settlers of southwestern Miller County. They arrived in Miller County in 1822 and they stated their farming with pigs, which was a present to them from friendly Osage Indians. Along winding rough country trails that which are linked together with swinging bridges, pioneers remember John Wilson through accounts related to them by some of the older generations. Some declare that John Wilson’s fiddle was sealed in the tomb beside the seven whiskey jugs. It is said that the community’s physician refused to keep his promise to perform the operation for the preservation of John Wilson’s body. Dr. A. P. Nixdorf, who had arrived from Germany to start his practice, performed the task of removing the intestines and packing the body with salt as a preservative. There are many of John Wilson’s descendants who have remained in the vicinity, such as William Barr, John Wilson’s great great grandson, who has devoted his 64 years to farming the farm adjoining the cave property. It is stated that Mr. Barr is doubtful that any whiskey was buried with the coffin. He believed that John gave a horse, valued at $100.00, to Dred Bass, a neighbor, and in return Bass was to buy liquor for the celebration. It is said that Mr. Bass made the comment that no one would want to drink liquor that had been sealed in a tomb with a coffin for seven years. It is also stated that Mr. Barr remembered a coincidence that occurred at the time a party broke into the tomb. There was an annual encampment, which was to be scheduled and held at Dixon. There was a concession owner that stated he was going to exhibit a petrified man (John Wilson I suppose). However, this didn’t happen, but this was about the time the cavity of the cave was opened along with the coffin. This article, in part, was published three weeks after Mr. Wilson’s death and it differs in several details with the recently published story in the Traveling Section of the Saint Louis Globe-Democrat of 27 September 1925 and with the Swifzer’s History of Miller County, stating that he came from Ireland and came to Missouri in 1922. Today, remnants of the burial are almost obliterated, due largely to souvenir seekers, but the cave yet bears the name, Wilson’s Cave. It remains undeveloped three miles south of Highway 17 on the property of Mr. & Mrs. Bobby Roark. Through the years it has been the site of square dances and picnics, but the only activity now is curious sightseers who come to see the place of the strange funeral of so long ago. There is a picture with this article and it shows a woman standing in front of the Wilson Cave showing that the cave has a very large opening.

Inventoried by Dianna (Hale) Mattingly & Glenda (May) Crawford.


Wilson, John 
1769 - 29 August 1856
h/o Ellen (Rhea)

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Last update: 19-Mar-2018