Historical society visits local indian mound

Published 3:12 am Wednesday, November 22, 2023

By Haley Mitchelll Godwin

On the morning of Nov. 5, 17 eager members of the Crenshaw County Historical Society (CCHS) gathered for a field trip to Valley Cemetery, also known as the Benbow Graveyard or the Benbow-Sartor Graveyard. The expedition offered a fascinating glimpse into the area’s rich Native American history and its significance as the final resting place of some of the county’s earliest pioneers.

The adventure began with a presentation by Charlie Clark, knowledgeable historical society member and host for the field trip. Clark showcased a few Native American artifacts found on his property, shedding light on the indigenous people who once inhabited the land.

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Clark painted a vivid picture of the land’s history, spanning from the Paleo Indians to the Woodland Period. 

“There are three sites here and archaeologists have confirmed the oldest one dates back to the very first Native Americans, the Paleo Indians who lived here between 10,000 and 8,000 BCE,” Clark said. “These points came from the oldest site and are some of the oldest you’ll find in Crenshaw County.” 

Clark described the Mississippian Indian mound, the newest of the sites, and provided information on the woodland site as well.

“It was during the Woodland period that the bow and arrow was invented, and that group was here from about 1000 BCE to about 1,000 AD,” Clark said.

Martha Defee, a LaPine resident, inquired about the dwellings of the Native Americans. Clark explained the homes were constructed using a technique utilizing trenches instead of post holes, palmettos for the roof and plaster made from dirt and straw. 

With a truck and trailer fitted with comfortable seating, generously provided by Clark, the Society members traversed a winding trail to reach Valley Cemetery. The historic burial ground holds the remains of some of the county’s first settlers, including Richard Benbow and Ann Elizabeth White Benbow, who were Clark’s four-time great-grandparents.

Richard and Ann, both born in South Carolina, migrated to Alabama in 1831. Richard, born in 1795 and Ann, born around 1800, briefly settled near Mount Meigs before finding their home in Crenshaw County’s “fertile valley”, as the area is referred to in Richard’s obituary. 

The Benbow family’s journey can be unfolded through the lens of historical documents. Richard and Ann’s presence in the 1850 United States Federal Census depicts a thriving family engaged in farming and tells us the farm was valued at $2,800.00, much higher than the surrounding farms. 

Living in the home with Richard, 55, and Ann, 50, were their children Susan, Adam, Margaret and Catharine who were 25, 18, 16 and 12 years old, respectively. The family’s neighbors included Platts, Findlays, Franklins and Moodys, among others.

The acquisition of federal land in present-day Crenshaw County and Richard’s commitment to payments outlined in a presidential document dated Aug. 5, 1834, underscored the challenges and aspirations of pioneer life.

Richard’s obituary said that he “fixed his resilience in that fertile and beautiful part of Pike County (now Crenshaw) known as The Valley.” The obituary goes on to say that “He was thought highly of not only by his neighbors, but his character became well-known and appreciated throughout the county.” The obituary also states that Richard was a member of the House of Representatives for Pike County for two sessions of legislature. 

Benbow’s three times great grandfather Adam Benbow was also an elected official, serving on the county’s first commission body, overseeing the election of commissioners. 

The cemetery also holds the remains of other pioneers like Daniel Brunson, Harmon Platt, Adam Skains Sr., Elizabeth Toliver Sartor and more.

Although only around 20 markers are visible, a 1978 survey of Valley Cemetery done by Thomas Heflin Compton indicated the site’s significance as a large burial ground with many unmarked graves within what was once called Valleytown, a part of Pike County until the birth of Crenshaw County in 1867. Situated in Township eight north, range 18 east, the community underwent various name changes that included Valley Beat, Patsalagi Valley and Valleytown. 

The cemetery and its headstones serve as poignant reminders of the hardships faced by the Valley area, including a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1852. The headstones in Valley Cemetery narrate the toll exacted by the epidemic, with many lives lost within a 30-day period.

The relocation and consolidation of Valley Church and Pine Ridge Church, one mile to the east, culminated in the creation of Mount Ida and could have been at least partially caused by the epidemic. 

The historical significance of Valley Cemetery goes beyond the individuals buried there. It serves as a testament to the struggles and triumphs of Crenshaw County’s early settlers, reflecting the resilience of a community that faced epidemics, relocations and the passage of time. 

The field trip organized by the Crenshaw County Historical Society not only unearthed stories of the past about Valley Cemetery but also sparked conversation within the community and also highlighted the importance of preserving such historical landmarks for future generations.

The CCHS encourages community participation and welcomes new members and volunteers. For more information call Pamela Cambell at 352-406-4732.


I was given the opportunity to speak on my Native American ancestry as well as my deep pioneer roots, both of which I am very proud of and honored to be connected to. Although my children are the seventh documented generation to grow up on our family farm, our ancestors were here generations before. Not only do my Native roots reach deeper than documents can truly attest to, the pioneer maker located in the Pioneer/Tisdale cemetery in Brantley lists the original 6 pioneer families to the area and among them are my three, four and five great-grandparents. Just as my Native roots outstretch themselves beyond measurable amounts, the beginning of my passion for days gone by can not be determined as the aching for yesteryear, the desire to fellowship with the elders and the urge to preserve oral histories and to be a storyteller has been part of me since well before I even knew how to read the pioneer marker in town. It is because of these things I am honored when I have to opportunity, as with this article, to play a small role in the preservation of the unique story that Crenshaw County has to tell. -Haley