In the shadow of the giant Florida National Cemetery is a one-acre neglected historic cemetery that also has graves of military veterans.
The Wild Cow Prairie Cemetery with about a dozen headstones is in Sumter County along County Road 673 on the edge of the Croom Wildlife Management Area. More graves are located there, but many headstones have been vandalized over the years, leaving graves unmarked.
Sumter County commissioners Tuesday heard a plea from a Webster amateur historian to help restore the county-owned cemetery. In recent years, the cemetery was viewed as a prime location for a truck stop or gas station if the graves could be moved.
Della Daughtry, a member of the Sumter County Historical Society, said she is working with Beverly Steele of the Royal area of Wildwood to rehabilitate the cemetery. A Facebook page called Save Wild Cow Prairie Cemetery has been created and Webster area resident Karen Taylor has offered to put up $800 for the county to catalog graves.
Steele, who supervises a group called the Young Performing Artists, became interested in the project because a black community of former slaves known as the Croom Settlement was located nearby.
Daughtry said at least eight veterans are buried at Wild Cow Prairie, as well as 19th Century county commissioners James Weeks and Charles Littleberry Branch.
Also buried there are residents of Pemberton Ferry near the Withalachochee River. Pemberton Ferry is now a ghost town that disappeared by the 1930s.
In the mid-1800s, the area was an important stagecoach route, linking Adamsville with Brooksville and Citrus County to the west. Wild cows left by Spanish explorers once roamed the fields.
Commissioners said they were impressed with Daughtry’s presentation and pledged their support for the effort to save the cemetery. They asked County Administrator Bradley Arnold to help with creating an inventory of the graves.
“That sounds exciting,” said Commissioner Doug Gilpin. “I think it’s good to recognize our history.”