Czech National Cemetery
Located about three miles south of Hazen (Prairie County) is a unique Arkansas cemetery. The Czech National Cemetery was established in the mid-1890s to serve as the last resting place for the many Czech immigrants who had moved to the Prairie County area in the later years of the nineteenth century. The still active cemetery is just one of a number of the same name located throughout the United States.
By the late nineteenth century, Prairie County, which had been created in 1846, began to experience an influx of immigrants, especially from Eastern Europe. Many immigration organizations, such as the National Slovak Society, distributed literature promoting the varied opportunities in Arkansas. In 1894, the Slovak Colonization Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, purchased 3,000 acres in southern Prairie County for resale to immigrants. The most recognized community to be established by Eastern European immigrants in this area was the community of Slovak (Prairie County). With this success, other groups—such as Bohemians, Russians, and Czechs—began to settle north of Slovak in the Hazen area. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Hazen, a town incorporated in 1884, was home to over 400 residents and had become an economic hub in the area.
One of the agents recruiting settlers to the Hazen area was a Bohemian man named John Kocourek. During a recruiting trip to Ames, Iowa, Kocourek became seriously ill with a fever. After eviction from the hotel where he was staying, he and his daughter were taken in by John and Anna Hondl. While convalescing at their home, he informed the Hondls of the opportunities awaiting in Prairie County. Convinced of these opportunities, the Hondls purchased land from Kocourek; packed their belongings, which included livestock, into three railroad cars; and made the long trip to Arkansas. Life in their new home went smoothly until July 27, 1894. On that day, John Hondl, while working in a hay field, was struck by lightning and killed. His wife, Anna, selected a one-acre site on their farm for John’s burial. Adjoining landowner Peter Marak donated an additional acre, bringing the size of the new burial ground to two acres. On November 10, 1894, local Czech residents organized the Czech National Cemetery Association with Martin Skarda as president. The two acres were then sold to John Kocourek, who, in December 1895, deeded the land for use by the association for the “purpose of providing a desirable burial” for Czech nationals. Both Skarda and Kocourek are interred in the cemetery.
The two-acre plot was prepared for use as a cemetery. A fence was constructed along the boundaries, and a number of cedar trees (some still standing today) were planted throughout the grounds. By the early 1960s, the fence had fallen into disrepair, and the association decided to remove it. About the same time, it was decided to construct a decorative arched entrance. William Marak, who is buried in the cemetery, was charged with constructing the brick wall and columns. The metal arch, with the lettering, “Czech National Cemetery,” is bordered on both sides by the brick work. A chain-link fence was also constructed along the front boundary. All materials were provided by Karl Auersperg, who is buried in the cemetery.
The low-lying area occupied by the cemetery was at risk due to periodic flooding, and an underground drainage system was installed by Joe Skarda in 1986–1987. The upkeep of the active cemetery is provided by a perpetual care fund established in 1986. The cemetery was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places on December 1, 2010.
For additional information:
“Czech National Cemetery.” Arkansas Register of Historic Places. https://www.arkansasheritage.com/arkansas-register/czech-national-cemetery (accessed March 31, 2023).
Franko, George. “Slovak Colonists in Arkansas.” Grand Prairie Historical Bulletin 62 (October 2019): 21–24.
The Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.
Kochurov, John. “Report on a Visit to Slovaktown in 1899.” Grand Prairie Historical Bulletin 62 (October 2019): 30–31.
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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