Cemetery Tour

Sarah Conn, the first interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

There is no Greenwood Cemetery Tour planned in Council Grove for this October.  For my readers who have not taken one before, I have decided this would be a good opportunity to give you a tour without leaving the comfort of your home.  At previous tours we have asked five or six locals to dress up as individuals buried in Greenwood.  As groups are lead through the cemetery we stop at each grave and hear a short biography of the individual.  Besides biographical information we also like to learn about the stones and the cemetery’s history.

In 1862 Samuel Wood donated a tract of land just west of the original town site for a city cemetery.  Shortly after, Seth Hays donated another tract just inside the city limits adjoining Wood’s.  Sarah Conn, wife of merchant Malcolm Conn, was the first interred in the new cemetery in 1863.  However, if you pay close attention as you walk around the cemetery, you will find stones that pre-date Greenwood Cemetery.  Council Grove historian Ken McClintock has done considerable research that explains why this is and points to the first white burial ground in the County.

Stone of James White.

On August 27th 1846 the Mormon Battalion arrived at Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail.  They just crossed what was commonly called Council Grove Creek and camped upstream about half a mile.  This Council Grove Creek we know today as the Neosho River, and a half mile up the Neosho from the crossing puts the campsite in the vicinity of the Kaw Mission (which of course was not yet built).

In company with the battalion was an elderly couple by the name of Bosco.   Jane died on the 27th and her husband John followed her the next morning.  William Bigler, who was present, described the burial of the Boscos.  “John Bosco by the side of his wife Jane.  As rock was handy we overlaid and enclosed in one, their graves, with a stone wall to prevent wild beasts from disturbing them.”  Other diaries also mention the burial site and describe the stone wall as two feet high, seven feet wide and ten feet long.  No doubt this grave was recognized as such for many years after.  We can only suppose that this heap of stones may be the reason the Kaw Mission was later built nearby.

As Council Grove grew from a small trading post to a hamlet, there was obviously need for a graveyard.  Since the Bosco’s grave was clearly known, others were buried next to them and the old graveyard grew.  Early settler Christopher Columbia passed away November 16th 1861 and was laid to rest in the graveyard near the Mission.  After Greenwood Cemetery was established Columbia’s remains were removed to that new cemetery.  Bonnie McClintock has stated that Mahala Milleson was also moved from the old graveyard; her grave can be found directly north of the restrooms.  In light of this evidence it is reasonable to presume that the others in the old graveyard were moved at the same time, and that is why there are stones in Greenwood that pre-date its establishment.

Stone of Nicholas Shamleffer.

Prior to 1870, when the Odd Fellows took over the cemetery, it was not platted and burials were made in a somewhat haphazard fashion.  The Odd Fellows purchased additional land from Hezekiah McNay to square up the cemetery.  Then in 1871 they erected a stone wall around the cemetery.  Only the south wall along Main Street remains today.  In 1917 the Odd Fellows turned the cemetery over to the city.

In August of 1979 between the hours of 2:15 and 3:05 a.m. the cemetery was vandalized.  140 feet of the limestone wall was knocked over as well as 74 tombstones, mostly the tall pillars, which is why so many stones you see in the old part are broken or the finials are missing.  One crowbar, wrecking bar and two sledge hammers were found at the scene.  The following day citizens went to work uprighting the stones.  The damage was estimated at more than $5,000.

At the highest point in the cemetery is a group of stones originally from a small cemetery four and a half miles north of Council Grove.  Sometime before the reservoir was completed in 1964 these graves were removed from the floodplain and placed in Greenwood.

We will continue this subject next week by deciphering the symbols on tombstones and uncovering some obsolete practices of body preparation and bygone customs revealed by artifacts and documentation at the Morris County Historical Society.

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