Monday, August 15, 2011

Brownlee Cemetery revisited


Hanging out with folks long dead is another way to put life’s vanities in perspective --- so I headed out to Brownlee Cemetery Sunday afternoon to check out the restoration.

When I last wrote about Brownlee several years ago, English Township trustees were in charge of it. The Lucas County Pioneer Cemetery Commission has since taken over.


As a result, overgrown fencerows have been taken out and the cemetery refenced and regated. Fallen tombstones have been rooted out, cleaned and re-erected and the old place looks positively military in its newly-regimented and spitshined order.


I was especially happy to find Clarence B. McMulin’s little tombstone again --- even though the years have not been kind to the inscription on it. I first remember the stone leaning up against the remains of a big old tree that had been taken down, then it disappeared and now it has resurfaced just about where I saw it in the first place many years ago.

Clarence, born Feb. 20, 1867, was the first child of Joseph Ezra and Sophia Cabot Severn McMulin, an uncle and aunt of mine several generations removed. Ezra had Sophia had been married at the courthouse in Chariton on April 10, 1866, and had established their first home near Brownlee. Little Clarence died two months after birth, on April 23, 1867, and was buried here.

Not long after 1870, Ezra and Sophia --- who had 10 children before they were done --- joined a great family migration west to Sumner County, Kansas, where they homesteaded near Wellington.

My late cousin, Ermal Roberts, used to tell this little story about the family’s time in Sumner County: The McMulin home in Kansas was a sod house. Ezra farmed with oxen, Ermal said, and when he plowed "he had to wrap the oxens' feet with burlap sacks to keep the rattlestakes from striking the feet and causing the oxen to die. When he came to the end of the field, he would rake the snakes that had gotten their teeth caught in the material from the sacks."

For rattlesnakes and other reasons, the family high-tailed it back to Iowa not long after 1880 and settled down in Pleasant Township, Monroe County --- where all the McMulins had lived before heading west to Lucas County and beyond. Ezra died there in his early 40s, on Jan. 29, 1889, leaving Sophia to raise their vast family alone. She survived until Aug. 4, 1913. Both are buried in Pleasant Corners Cemetery, southwest of Eddyville.

Other family members who rest here at Brownlee do so in unmarked graves. They include a son of another generations-removed uncle and aunt, Sylvanus and Adelia Nottage Miller. Adelia’s full name, by the way, was Adelia Permelia Lucinda Phylena. No one is quite sure why she had so many names.

Sylvanus came west from Monroe to Lucas County during the very early 1850s, perhaps with his grandfather, William Miller II, and nephew, Charles, and settled on a claim southwest of Brownlee. He married Adelia on April 5, 1859, in Wapello County, then they returned to English Township to live.

Their second child, Alonzo, was born about 1862, but died as the result of a rattlesnake bite during August of 1869 and was buried here at Brownlee. Another child, Mary, born about 1861, died during 1873, but it’s not clear where. Sylvanus and Adelia moved back to Monroe County during the early 1870s, so Mary may have died there. Sylvanus, known as “Vene,” died Oct. 12, 1895, in Monroe County and Adelia, on June 26, 1898. They are buried in unmarked graves at Pleasant Corners.

Another uncle, Jesse McMulin, married Hannah Renfro on March 11, 1847, in Monroe County, then moved west to Lucas during the early 1850s. Hannah died on their farm near Brownlee on Aug. 21, 1855, and was buried here in a grave now unmarked. If Jesse and Hannah had children, none survived infancy.

About a year after Hannah’s death, Jesse married Sarah Howell on Aug. 20, 1856, in Chariton. They had nine children, all born in English Township, before moving to Maryville in Nodaway County, Missouri, during the 1880s. Jesse died there on Feb. 24, 1897, and is buried in East Oak Hill Cemetery, east of Maryville. Sarah died Feb. 4, 1901, also in Maryville, and was buried by his side.

The final family member buried at Brownlee, also in an unmarked grave, is Elizabeth (Vickroy) Miller, first wife of my uncle, William Owen Miller. They were married Jan. 1, 1874, in Lucas County and had one child, Calperna. Elizabeth died during the night of June 26-27, 1890, age 42, and was buried here.

Five months later, during November of 1890, Owen married 17-year-old Gaybrella “Gay” Webb (he was 40 at the time). She reportedly had helped him care for Elizabeth during her final illness. They had three children, Nellie, Gertrude and an infant who did not survive (also buried at Brownlee), before moving west to Wyoming where Owen died on Nov. 30, 1922, in Cheyenne. Aunt Gay died May 11, 1949, in Salem, Oregon, but her body was returned to Wyoming for burial in Cheyenne’s Lakeview Cemetery beside Owen.

Although there are no overwhelmingly dramatic tombstones at Brownlee, there certainly are some interesting ones.


While I admire the granite ball poised precariously atop Ellen Noble’s tombstone, I’m not sure such would have been my choice. It has rolled, or been pushed, off in earlier years.


This is an extremely simple example of the cast zinc (marketed as white bronze) tombstones briefly popular in the 1890s. Some of these were very elaborate (and expensive, too, most likely). These markers have proved to be extraordinarily durable, remaining crisp after more than a century, so I’m not quite sure why they didn’t catch on.


And it’s rare, in Lucas County, to find a tombstone inscribed in any language other than English. But here, at Brownlee, is Swedish on the Hagg family stone.


Finally, here's Charlie O'Steen, who joined those assembled at Brownlee during July. I have only a vague idea of the circumstances that brought him here --- the first new burial in many years. But I'm sure he was made to feel welcome. And if you've a fanciful turn, think what tales of the 21st century he must have to tell those who settled here during the mid-19th after the tourists have gone home and the owners of this place come out to enjoy the view and the breeze and to whisper upon it among themselves.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was Ellen a geometry teacher?

Bill

Frank D. Myers said...

Not that I know of, but it would be appropriate wouldn't it? It's so beautifully crafted and polished I'd like to have seen the work in progress.