He saw an overgrown cemetery and went in to explore. What happened next was extraordinary

Great State
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FAY, Okla. - He likes to drive the back roads.

Jim McCain was out with his camera one day in the spring when his shadow crossed something that stopped him cold.

"It's sitting on top of a hill overlooking the South Canadian River. It's just a beautiful place," McCain said of one particular spot on the prairie. "I came upon the Whirlwind Mission sign first."

The Johnson grass was high and thick.

After a quick look, McCain drove on but his thought stayed on the lonely hill west of Watonga, Oklahoma.

"I thought about it all day and thought 'It's a shame that cemetery is not taken care of,'" he recalls. "On Memorial Day, it just looked awful and, so, I decided, by the end of the day, that I was going to come back and clean it up."

The next time McCain came back with a push mower.

He had to move carefully to avoid fallen headstones.

Of the 57 graves reported, only three markers remained.

One of the newer markers tells the rest of the story.

It consists of names, almost all Native American, nearly all children, who attended the Whirlwind Mission, named for a friendly Cheyenne chief.

"In the articles I read, they were camped up and down the river from here to Bridgeport," he said.

The school and small church were a remote place even then.

But, its longtime teacher and deacon, David Okerhater, was a former Cheyenne warrior turned prisoner of war, turned Christian leader whose work on behalf of his church and his people earned him sainthood in the Episcopal faith.

McCain's regular work with a lawn mower revealed a little of that history and a singular desire to honor it.

"I didn't ask anybody, but I didn't think anybody would care since nobody was doing anything before," he said. "So far, nobody's complained about it."

The condition of the grave yard no longer haunts him.

It's the history that keeps McCain coming back again and again, linking one Episcopal saint across a century of sunsets to the saint of the overgrown.

McCain is the head of Hinton's Parks Department.

He is also an amateur photographer.

Great State is sponsored by Oklahoma Hall of Fame at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum.

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