Friday, November 30, 2012

An afternoon at old Greenville


One of the reasons I like the cemetery at old Greenville is the challenge involved in getting there --- but Lord knows it took long enough this time. Last May I wrote about Greenville along the Trace, anticipating a springtime visit. Made it finally on Thursday, with November just a day away from closing.


Greenville is the first settled place in Washington Township and its cemetery is the resting place of the matriarch and patriarch of that community --- Polly and Xury E. West, who settled on the land where it is located during May of 1848.


Also buried here, although her grave is unmarked, is Nancy Payne, the first settler to die in Washington Township --- during August of 1849. Nancy had arrived with her husband, Samuel, and children, Jonathan and Sarah, earlier that year and they were living some distance away. Critically ill with typhoid fever, she was brought near death from the family cabin to the Abner McKinley cabin in the Greenville settlement on a Thursday and died the following day. Her funeral was held on Sunday and mourners then followed her homemade coffin to this place at the edge of Lucas County's great prairie ridge where the landscape begins to break and roll down toward Honey Creek's valley.

Nearly all of the earliest Washington Township families are represented here --- McKinley, May, Blue, Lockridge, Kendall and many others.

For a number of years, this was Washington Township's only burying ground, so it is quite large. But in 1866, Russell was founded along the new Burlington & Missouri River railroad line some four miles northwest, a cemetery was begun there and use of Greenville diminished. By 1900, burials had for the most part stopped. The newest marked graves were dug in 1902.

Located just east of the middle of a quarter section, the cemetery is more than a quarter mile off the nearest road. There is no lane, just a track (or in some cases parallel ruts) across fields. You're OK driving in and out when the ground's dry in a pickup or SUV, but the trip is not for the faint-of-heart nor a low-slung sedan.


Driving in, looking east.


Looking out, to the west, from the gate.

The cemetery actually may seem more remote now than it did in 1848 and 1849. Then, the main route of the Mormon Trail angled northwesterly within sight east of the cemetery, winding toward what now is Russell, aiming to cut around the headwaters of Honey Creek before heading due west to Chariton Point.

Thousands of LDS pioneers had been following this route west up the broad ridge dividing Mississippi and Missouri River drainages since the summer of 1846. By 1848, when the Wests arrived, the wagons of westward bound Saints had been joined by those of other westbound settlers and, during 1849, by gold-seeking Forty-Niners.

A trail shortcut to Chariton Point followed more or less the route of the current road paralleling Greenville to the south, across Honey Creek and the broad prairies south of Russell to the current site of Ragtown Cemetery before rejoining the main trail near Salem Cemetery, just southeast of Chariton.


This is my favorite tombstone at Greenville, belonging to Wm. T. Newell, who died Sept. 21, 1851, aged 48 years, 4 months and 14 days. William and his wife, Paulina, apparently arrived in Lucas County during late 1850 or early 1851, since they were not enumerated in the 1850 census of the county.


I especially like the fact you can read the tombstone's maker mark, "Mapel & McCan, Keosauqua, Iowa," in its lower right hand corner. Tombstones didn't just drop from the sky during 1851, remember. You had to go somewhere to order one and at that time, when both Centerville and Bloomfield were muddy villages, Keosauqua --- along the Mormon Trail in Van Buren County --- was a booming town on the road to Keokuk. So William's loved ones ordered one there.

William actually has two tombstones side by side at Greenville, which causes confusion when conbined with misinterpretation of the script on the older of the two. When his widow, Paulena (maiden name Faine), died 40 years later --- during 1890 at Corydon --- she was buried by William's side at Greenville and a new granite stone bearing both their names installed. Find A Grave and other sites as well as the Lucas County cemetery book show two William T. Newells buried at Greenville when, in fact, there is only one.


And here's Aaron M. Kendall (1785-1879), the granddaddy of all Lucas County Kendalls and a veteran of the War of 1812. Buried just to the north and sharing a stone are his wife, Peggy, and grandson, Jerome, who died a day apart in late November, 1858. I'm loving the way their stone groups companionably with those in the background.


Finally, a poignant note --- the tombstone of "Little Frank," son of J.Q. and E.F. Buffington, who died at age 2 on Aug. 24, 1863. The little poem at the bottom reads,

Lonely boy how brief thy stay,
Short and hasty was thy day,
Ending soon thy sojourn here,
Pain or grief no more to bear.


Driving back into Russell, I got to thinking back to the time within my memory when practically every hilltop and valley in this old neighborhood was occupied --- by people I knew. Kendalls lived on Kendall Hill and first Palmers, then Horners, down alongside Honey Creek. Proughs were living up the hill and just around the corner, and my cousins Ellsworth and Juanita (Kendall) Miller, beyond. Clanins, then Center Church, then Kells, McKinley, Blue, McKinley again and around the corner headed into Russell, Cottingham.

Although the landscape holds its shape, most of the people are gone now. Only one occupied farmstead remains in Greenville's immediate vicinity --- and this wreck of a place just south of the entrance to the track that leads back to the cemetery.

No comments: