Our goal is to present an overview of the history of the Caney, Oklahoma community to better preserve the traditions and heritage of all Caney's residents, both past and present.

Decoration Day

Once each May, on the Sunday after Mother's Day, people gather at Caney to decorate graves. Many people decorate the graves of family members at other times during the year too but the third Sunday in May has always been set aside as Decoration Day. It is a time to reminisce about the past and to honor those who lie beneath the grass at Caney. It is a reunion, of a sort, of friends and kinfolk who don't see each other any time besides Decoration Day and who are bound together by memories.

Many years ago, the Edna and Levi Latty family made the annual trek to Caney by wagon. It was a special day, and to show the proper respect, everyone dressed in his or her Sunday best. It would be a long trip, eight miles from the Latty farm at Etta, through Tailholt, and on to Caney. My grandmother, Mary Edna Latty, began preparations on the Saturday before. She baked pies and biscuits, and fried ham and chicken for the Sunday dinner. Then on Sunday, my grandfather, Levi Latty (Pappy) loaded food and flowers into the back of the wagon, hitched up the horses, and made sure everything and everyone was settled in. The flowers were wildflowers or Ma Latty's roses, or paper flowers that Ma and the girls, Alice, Susie, and Georgia, made many days in advance. All but the paper flowers were in cans settled into buckets of water.

When they arrived at Caney, ladies in hats or poke bonnets greeted each other; men shook hands, and children shyly sought out their friends who had come along with their parents. The Latty children read inscriptions on ancient headstones and wondered about the lives of those who were buried there. My mother, Susie, was ten years old when her grandfather, Ben Willis, died. He and Tep Barker Willis, had come from Georgia when Edna was eight years old. Ben's brother John Willis was buried near-by, together in life, together in death.

Preaching and singing of hymns were part of the day's activities. Many of the men removed their hats as they stood beside the graves of loved ones. And when they went into the building to take part in the singing, all hats were removed.

At last noon arrived. The families took their tubs and baskets of food to the clear little creek that ran under the hill east of the cemetery. Women spread out lunch cloths and put out the food. There were no paper plates or throw-away cutlery in those early days so all the dirty dishes had to be carefully stacked back inside the tubs when the meal was finished. They would be washed later when the family arrived back home.

During the noon meal, people caught up on news from other communities and the children visited. Then, it was time to load into the wagons and start back home.

Pappy always made sure his team of horses had plenty of water to drink and a shade tree to stand under while they were at the cemetery. When it was time to leave, he hitched them up, helped everyone back into the wagon and turned the horses' heads toward Etta. There would be plenty to do after arriving at the farmhouse at Etta Bend; cows to milk, chickens to feed, eggs to gather, sweaty horses to rub down. But the Latty family had commemorated a special time that they observed each year; Decoration Day at Caney.

Today people come to the cemetery in cars, in much more comfort and much faster than in those long ago days. But the tradition is still carried on. Descendants of the earlier families now decorate the graves of those who came in wagons and on horseback. There are six generation of my Latty/Day family buried at Caney, and five generations of my Willis/Day family. Two years ago, my husband Wes Manos was laid to rest there. Caney is truly a hallowed place, the final resting place for many.

written by Blanche Day Manos

Published on  13.12.2011