BASIN, W.Va. — Sharp-eyed motorists traveling the summit of Barkers Ridge in southern West Virginia may have noticed a faded sign that commemorates the burial of what appears to have been three children at some point in the recent past.
But the origins of "The Little Graves," now a local historic landmark, is a mystery yet to be recorded, according to two historians who are searching for answers.
"Someone may know the full story, but we haven't found anyone yet who knows for sure," says David Sibray, the publisher of West Virginia Explorer Magazine.
"My fear is that whoever might have known has passed, and so we may never know for sure, though obviously the site—within its fence—is still tended, and that's a blessing."
David "Bugs" Stover, a West Virginia Senator and historian of the state's southern mountains, is equally baffled by the riddle of the origin of the graves but is working to determine the truth of the matter.
"I've been up to see the graves before, but I don't know that I ever heard the story, and whoever took me up there couldn't remember it," Stover said.
"There are a lot of older folks up on Barkers Ridge who have passed away, and I wonder whether those who know the true story are still with us."
Sibray says the graves may have been dug in horse-and-buggy days when the road along Barkers Ridge was the main travel route between eastward- and westward-flowing waters.
"Before coal mining commenced in the late 1800s and early 1900s, people mostly lived on the upland ridges rather than down in the bottoms along the creeks," he said.
The graves were interred along an important historic route, Sibray added.
"What's now Stevenson-Basin Road was part of a wagon road," he said, "that led from the Bluestone River in the south over Bluff Mountain and along the spine of Barkers Ridge and crossed the Guyandotte River near what's now Itmann.
"It was over this old road that many of Wyoming County's first settlers traveled, notably McKinneys and Shrewsburys, though there were plenty of Lusks, Walkers, and Millses, of course."
One legend claims that the graves were that of the children of Romani-American travelers, or gypsies, who passed through the area following the old road along the mountain's summit.
A search of newspapers and the Find-A-Grave database have turned up no answers either, Sibray said. Google coordinates for the site are 37.552919, -81.311273.
The gravesite is one of several cultural and natural landmarks that Sibray has supported developing as a tourism resource in the Barkers Ridge region of Wyoming County and adjacent Raleigh County.
Stover and Sibray have asked that anyone with information on the graves reach out to them on social media. Sibray also requests that they call or text the West Virginia Explorer office line at 304-575-7390.
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