Thursday, May 19, 2005

Prather (Roland) Cemetery

Fragments of surviving tombstones were gathered, reassembled and mounted in this memorial area when the Prather/Roland Pioneer Cemetery was rescued from brush and weeds.

On cemetery patrol Monday, I took a quick trip out to Prather in Cedar Township, east of Chariton --- just to see how it was doing. Prather, so called because it was surrounded for many years by Prather land rather then because Prathers are buried there, is one of Lucas County's pioneer cemeteries.

"Pioneer cemetery" requires a little explanation. Most rural cemeteries in Lucas County are administered by the trustees of the townships in which they're located. The trustees levy a small township tax to fund lawn-mowing and other chores and one of their principal jobs is keeping the cemeteries in good repair. If the trustees get careless, irate family members generally raise their consciousness fairly quickly, so most Lucas County cemeteries have been kept in decent through good to excellent repair.

That was not, however, the case with several of the earliest cemeteries. Some, as nearly as could be determined, had never been maintained. Others, no longer used or in obscure locations, were allowed to deteriorate because no one was around to yell about it.Finally, Iowa passed pioneer cemetery legislation that authorized appointment of independent pioneer cemetery commissions with the authority to levy a small county-wide tax to ensure restoration and upkeep of these oldest cemeteries. Lucas County's Pioneer Cemetery Commission has done wonderful work during the last few years, and Prather Cemetery was one of its first projects.

To get there, drive about seven miles east out of Chariton on (paved) County Road H32, sometimes called the Squirrel Road because, although it's a really nice road, it doesn't go anywhere in particular other than to the general neighborhood of state forest land where squirrel hunting's reportedly pretty good.

Anyhow, about seven miles out you'll see Bethel United Methodist Church and Bethel Cemetery on your left as the road curves. Once you've passed Bethel, watch for the first gravel road leading south off the pavement, take that road south for half a mile, turn left (east) onto another gravel road and keep watch along the south side of this road for Prather. It's very small and if roadside vegetation is at mid-summer height, easy to miss.

I first visited this cemetery when quite small during the 1950s with Grandpa Miller on one of his cemetery expeditions. We were looking for Ethelinda Etheredge, who at that time we thought was a daughter of my great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Rhea) Rhea/Etheredge/Sargent, and her second husband, Thomas Etheredge. As it turns out, our looking was in vain --- Ethelinda turned out to have been the illegitimate daughter of Mary (Rhea) Dunn,  Elizabeth Sargent's third child by her first husband, Richard Rhea. After Mary married Joseph Francis Dunn in Lucas County during 1856, they moved to Gentry County, Missouri --- taking Ethelinda, very much alive and well at the time, with them.

At the time we made that expedition, Prather was a weed and brush patch, although we did find a few fallen stones --- none of them for obvious reasons Ethelinda's.

Prather always has been a part of the genteel brawl about which cemetery in Lucas County is oldest. If you're a purist, Salem (the Myers family cemetery in Benton Township), Douglass just off the Blue Grass Road southwest of Chariton and Last Chance (in Union Township) probably are the top contenders. All reportedly developed around the graves of Mormon pioneers who died along the trail.

But Prather certainly is a contender, as is its neighbor now known as Bethel because of its proximity to Bethel United Methodist (formerly United Brethren) Church. Bethel Cemeatery was begun by William McDermott on land he thought he owned (but actually didn’t) to provide a burial place for Nathan Louder (generally referred to as William Louder I suspect because of inaccuracies in the 1881 Lucas County history), whose estate was the first to enter probate in Lucas County --- on 7 October 1850. Louder’s death has been described as the first at Ireland, a settlement that grew up around McDemott’s cabin quite near Bethel.

James Roland had purchased the land surrounding what now is known as Prather Cemetery on 19 May 1849, according to Lucas County’s “Abstract of Original Entries.” His daughter, Nancy, generally recognized as the first child of permanent settlers born in Lucas County, died 12 October 1852 and occupies the earliest marked grave in the cemetery. Another Roland child, James, who died at age 21 during 1858, also is buried here. The latest marked grave here is that of Andrew Mace, who died during May of 1861.

It is my theory that the Rolands established Prather Cemetery upon the death of Nancy, choosing to bury her close to home on their own land rather than a mile across the prairie at what became Bethel. A few of their neighbors chose to bury loved ones here, too.

Whatever the origins of Prather Cemetery were, it was soon abandoned in favor of Bethel Cemetery and allowed to fall into great disrepair.

By the time the Pioneer Cemetery Commission took it on, all tombstones had disappeared and only a few fragments could be located. The commission cleared the site, mounted the fragments in a central memorial area and now maintain the cemetery very nicely.

Fortunately there is a record of such Prather Cemetery tombstones as were visible during the 1950s, made by Charles M. Wright during a visit made at about the time I first was there.

According to Charles, the following tombstone inscriptions were readable at Prather Cemetery at that time. I've interspersed photos of surviving stones, now mounted in a central memorial area.

This is all that survives of the tombstone of Abraham Mace, who died during May of 1861 at the age of 56. Duane Shamburg added the following comment to this photo during July of 2005, shortly after it was posted in its original format: "Abraham Mace was my g-g-grandfather. His daughter, Eliza Jane, married by great-grandfather, Daniel Shamburg and later moved to Kansas."

Abraham Mace, died May 22, 1861, aged 56 yrs., 10 m., 6 d.

William A. Hall, died March 24, 1855, aged 22 yrs., 10 m., 28 d.

The graves of Mary and Lutitia Hutsonpiller were marked by a single stone. A quarter of the stone has gone missing..

Mary R. Hutsonpiller, died Nov. 28, 1858, aged 44 yrs, 8m., 23d.

Lutitia I. Hutsonpiller, died Sept. 9, 1858, aged 7 yrs., 1 m., 26d.

Mary C., daughter of S.V. & S. H. Derrickson, died Oct. 22, 1857, 1 yr., 13 d.

This intact tombstone marked the grave of the first child of permanent settlers born in Lucas County, Nancy M. Roland. The inscription reads, "In memory of Nancy M., dau of J. & E. J. Roland, who departed this life Oct. 12, 1852, Aged 4 Yrs, 2 Ms & 15 Ds. Nancy's parents came from Indiana to Cedar Township during June of 1848.

In memory of Nancy M., dau. of J. and E. J. Roland, who departed this life Oct. 12, 1852, aged 4 yrs., 2 m., 15 d.

Here are fragments of the stone that marked the grave of Nancy Roland's older brother, John.
John A., son of J. and E. J. Roland, who departed this life May 19, 1858, aged 21 yrs, 1 m., 23 d.

Urin (Uriah?) M., son of W. and A. Story, died Jan. 21, 1857, aged 15 yrs., 11 m., 21 d. Peaceful be thy silent slumber, Peaceful in the grave so low, Thou no more will join our number, Thou no more our song shall know.

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