< p class="center">Harris Cemetery

McRae’s Pioneer Burton Family Loses Four to Flu

The earliest known burials in Harris Cemetery at Sixteenth Section are the unmarked graves of Miles R. Burton and three children, who died just days apart in February 1860. The following information on this pioneer family was provided by White County Historical Society member Mary Reynolds of North Little Rock. The author was living in Tyler, Texas, when this was written in June 1971.



iles Burton was born about 1815, probably in South Carolina. It is documented that his brother Thomas was born about this same time in that state. Miles was living in northern Alabama in 1837 when he married Mahala Ethel Derrick. Thomas came into this same area. Mahala Ethel was the daughter of a real pioneer in Madison County, Alabama – John B. Derrick, who was born about 1785 in Virginia and died in April 1863 near Huntsville. Her mother Catherine was also born in Virginia, in 1791.


John Derrick homesteaded in 1830 after earlier land grants as far as back as 1811, when Madison County was still a part of Mississippi. Less than three miles away from the Derrick homestead was the homestead of a William Burton Sr. who obtained 65 acres-plus on September 16, 1830.


Miles R. Burton and Mahala Ethel Derrick were married on January 15, 1837. They moved to Burtons, a hamlet in eastern Mississippi just north of the famous Natchez Trace. Miles was postmaster at Burtons from June 24, 1841, until March 22, 1843. Two children were born in Alabama and five more in Mississippi before mid 1849. The last three of their 10 children were born in Arkansas, in or near White County.        

Tragedy came to this family in 1860 when a pneumonia epidemic struck White County and other parts of Arkansas. Miles and three of his children – Henry Bradford, Lucy Catherine and John Merida – all died within 15 days in February of that year.   These deaths left Mahala Ethel Burton a widow with six children, the oldest 21 years and the youngest only 3 years old. White County records show that Miles Burton had a small farm about a mile northeast of McRae, about a quarter-mile east of Highway 67 and the Missouri Pacific Railroad. When I visited the site in 1969, an elderly lady called my attention to the flowers growing more or less in a pattern, primarily daffodils, which indicated planting around an old home.


Others of the Derrick family went to Texas, settling at Paris in Lamar County about the time of the Civil War. It was perhaps this group of aunts and uncles that caused many of the Burton children to move on to Texas from White County, although such a migration westward was common at that time. [The Burton children were Henry Bradford, January 3, 1838 – February 8, 1960, who married Mary Moore September 8, 1859; Sarah Avaline, who was born November 14, 1839, and married Pleasant Able Loyd June 4, 1861; Lucy Catherine, February 8, 1841 – February 26, 1860; John Merida, November 29, 1842 – February 23, 1860; William Wesley or Welzie, born July 9, 1845, who served with Company A, 11th Arkansas Infantry, in the Confederate Army; Joseph Simeon, born February 9, 1847; Phanatia Ann, born July 30, 1849; George Thomas, born December 29, 1851 – 1931, grandfather of the author; Alford Minor, born November 9, 1854; Welza Buck Hannon, born December 16, 1857.] After the deaths, Mahala Ethel Burton continued to live in or near McRae until her death in May 1880. She was buried in Antioch Cemetery north of Beebe, but her grave is unmarked and unlocated. Thomas Burton, Miles’ brother, moved to DeSoto County, Mississippi. He died about 1861. His widow Minerva Jane Couch Burton moved on to Woodruff County, Arkansas, and finally in 1871 to Texas, where she died April 30, 1892, at the age of 66. vvv