Van Buren's Mystery Grave
A Masonic symbol appears to
be carved into the stone at the
head of the grave.
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"Mystery Grave" of Fairview Cemetery - Van Buren, Arkansas - The Mystery Grave in Van Buren, Arkansas - The Mystery Grave in Van Buren, Arkansas
Van Buren's Mystery Grave
This unusual grave in Arkansas is said by some to
be the resting place of one of DeSoto's men.
One of DeSoto's Soldiers?
One of the South's most intriguing legends
surrounds what the residents of Van Buren,
Arkansas, call "the Mystery Grave."

Located in the old section of the history city
on the Arkansas River, the unusual old stone
enclosed grave is clearly very old. But if local
folklore is to be believed, it is actually so old
that it once contained a soldier from the
Hernando de Soto expedition, which explored
Arkansas in 1542.

The exact route of the Spanish expedition's
march through Arkansas is subject to much
debate. Anthropologist Charles Hudson of
the University of Georgia has speculated that
the conquistadors may have marched far up
the Arkansas River valley and some of the
various other researchers concur. Since the
surviving chronicles of expedition members
are extremely vague, it is impossible to know
for sure but it is reasonable to think they
weary explorers could have made it as far as
Van Buren.

But could the "Mystery Grave" really be one of
DeSoto's men? The unusual grave is located
at Fairview Cemetery in Van Buren and is in
the area where the city's oldest graves are
found. Some facts about the grave are
evident. It is clearly very old and its design is
significantly different from other early graves
still preserved in the cemetery. Made of large
slabs of stone which have weathered greatly
over the years, it definitely looks mysterious.

In fact, the late Gloria Farley (a self-taught
researcher and proponent of the theory that
Vikings explored the modern states of
Arkansas and Oklahoma) even came to
believe it was left by explorers who came
even before DeSoto.
For more on the Viking
stories, please click here to visit our page on
Oklahoma's Heavener Runestone.

The real story of the Mystery Grave, however,
is probably a bit less exotic, but still of great
historical interest.

A visit to Fairview Cemetery will quickly
disclose a few facts about the grave. First, it
is oriented in a typical East-West alignment
with the head of the grave facing east. This
has been a traditional Christian burial pattern
for many years.

Second, the grave is part of and clearly
aligned with other graves in the plot of the
Thompson family, one of the pioneer families
of Van Buren and Crawford County, Arkansas.

Third, there is a crude inscription on the
stone at the head of the grave that appears to
be a Masonic symbol
And finally, the unique stone grave is not
really all that unique. Others of almost
identical construction can be found in old
cemeteries across the South. Invariably,
these date from the 1820s. A good example
that is remarkably similar to Van Buren's
Mystery Grave can be found at the
Cemetery in Fort Gaines, Georgia.

It was common practice on the frontier in
these days to built enclosures of log or stone
over graves to prevent wild animals and even
hogs from digging up the remains of loved
ones. Such log enclosures eventually rotted
away, but ones built of stone and brick still

In view of these facts, it appears most likely
that the person buried in Van Buren's Mystery
Grave was actually a man who died on the
frontier in the 1820s (give or take a year or
two).  He was a Mason and most likely a
member of Van Buren's pioneer Thompson
family. On the other hand....

Fairview Cemetery is located on Highway 59
just north of downtown Van Buren.
You can
learn more about the cemetery's Confederate
section by clicking here.

The cemetery is open to the public daily
during daylight hours and is one of the most
historic in Arkansas.
One of DeSoto's Men?
A modern plaque on the foot
of the grave notes the local
legend about its origin.
A Viking Explorer?
Others have theorized that the
grave could have been left
behind by Vikings they claim
once lived in Arkansas and
Plot of a Pioneer Family
The Mystery Grave is within
the plot of the Thompson
family, pioneers of the Van
Buren and Crawford County
area of Arkansas.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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