I wrote the other day about the sadness and frustration involved in learning of the death of Jack Byrkit of Clay Center, Nebraska, whose ancestor carved one of the more unique Civil War memorials in these southern hills, located just over the Lucas-Monroe county line in Jackson Township, Monroe County. This is it, depicted in photographs taken for Jack one fall several years ago. Sadly, I can’t tell you who the stone carver was because Jack’s no longer around to ask. I’m hoping something turns up in my notes someday to tell me, but there are an awful lot of those notes and they’re not especially well organized.
Fall, after the leaves have fallen, actually is the best time to photograph the monument because Evans Cemetery is heavily timbered and both the carved marble base and the copper cap that now protects the obelisk atop it are difficult to decipher in shade. Even in the fall, a couple of visits, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, would be necessary to photograph all of it.
I first visited the cemetery years ago as a kid with my parents when the landscape was far different because the Rathbun Dam had not been built and Lake Rathbun had not backed up for miles behind it. But for the life of me I can’t remember why my dad knew it was there.
I do recall finding the right entrance to the right pasture, driving down through it, then through another gate and coming up beside the cemetery, then abandoned and overgrown. I’ve almost convinced myself that only the base of the monument was standing --- that the obelisk had fallen or been knocked off.
Anyhow, to get there today from here drive south out of Russell on the pavement, following its curve east a mile and a half south of town, then instead of curving south with the pavement after a mile at Kells/McKinley corner keep driving east on gravel for four miles to the county line. Turn right (south) on the county line and drive south until you have the options of stopping or driving into Lake Rathbun. I’d advise the former. Since this is a wildlife area, there’s a little parking area and turn-around here.
About a quarter of a mile before you got to this point, you should have taken a left turn (east) onto a gated private road that once was public (the gate’s usually open these days). Turn there and after less than a quarter mile the cemetery entrance will be on your right. The lane back to it now leads straight down the middle of a long fenced clearing to the cemetery gates.
The guy we have to thank for salvaging the cemetery and monument and restoring both to their current pristine state is Bernard Casebolt, who grew up nearby and was distressed in 1988 to discover the deplorable state of the cemetery. He spent more than 10 years with a little help from his friends, clearing timber and brush, resetting tombstones (no one has been buried at Evans since 1905) and repairing the monument.
Although the carving on the base is in very good shape, the names inscribed on the obelisk above it had become virtually indecipherable because of weathering. With some assistance from researchers, he figured out most of the names, crafted a copper cap to slide down over the obelisk to protect what remained of the original inscriptions and had those inscriptions inscribed on the exterior of the cap. In addition, a stretch of land as wide as the cemetery was cleared of trees and brush out to the main road, a new lane built down the middle of it, a new flag pole installed --- and Casebolt even repaired the unique metal turnstile that still can be used to enter the cemetery. The result was dedicated on Memorial Day 2000.
There is absolutely nothing or no one left to tell the story of the monument other than the monument itself. The inscription on its east face reads, “Erected July 19th, 1866, By the Citizens of Jackson Township, Monroe County, Iowa, in commemoration of their gallant dead.”
There are 34 or 35 names on the monument, however, and by no means were all of them residents of Jackson Township. Evans Cemetery, also called “Four Corners” now and then, is very close to the point where Monroe, Lucas, Wayne and Appanoose counties join. So the monument appears to honor of the Civil War dead from a neighborhood centered on the cemetery and encompassing parts of all four counties. A considerable number of those named were residents of Washington Township, Lucas County.
There are inscriptions honoring seven soldiers on the base of the stone. James P. Evans is honored under the dedicatory inscription on the east face. Six others are named on the south face: John E. Evans, Jacob Easter, Cal. W. Holder, Geo. G. Duncan (or Dungan), H.C. Christie and H.J. Schuler. The remaining names are carved on the four faces of the obelisk, now inscribed on its cap.
The north face of the base is a beautifully carved shield featuring an eagle holding a banner inscribed “E Pluribus Unum” draped over a flag.
The west faceof the base contains two memorial inscriptions, but no additional names.
According to a list of inscriptions put together by the Monroe County Genealogical Society, names inscribed on the north face of the obelisk include one that is illegible, ( ) Patt, W.P. Smith, ( ) M. Daniel, James R. Buckman and Wesley Price; (west face) Sephus Hays, Albert Gilbert, Jennings Hays, ( ) Gilbert, Martin Prather, Joseph Owen and William A. Glass; (east face) John W. May, John McCullough, Alex Z. Sheeks, James C. Evans, George W. Bratt, David J. Hays and William H. Swney; and (south face) M.W. Kemper, James A. Hickcox, H.L. Kells, Walter Smith, Thomas B. Baker, John W. DeLay and James S. Swift.
Remember that larger versions of these photos will open if you right-click on a photo and tell your computer to open it in a new window,