Sunday, November 03, 2013

Autumn color and Evans Cemetery revisited

I'm bedazzled by autumn's colors --- brighter and more varied this year than any I remember. And continued to celebrate them Saturday afternoon by driving down to Four Corners, where Lucas, Monroe, Appanoose and Wayne counties join, for a return visit to Evans Cemetery.

This is a remote and lovely place where one of Iowa's most evocative Civil War memorials has been shaded by oak and hickory timber for nearly 150 years.

I wrote about the monument back in 2010, not long after learning of the death of Jack Byrkit, descended from the Keosauqua stone carver who crafted it. Sadly, I've forgotten the creator's name and Jack is no longer around to remind me. The photos I used with that post were taken for Jack in the pre-digital era, then scanned, and the result was a little dodgy. I've been intending to take a new set for a long time.

In addition to serving as home for this grand memorial and final resting place of more than 100 pioneers, the little graveyard also is a tribute to Bernard Casebolt, who as a labor of love restored both the cemetery and the monument, commencing the job in 1988 and concluding it 10 years later.


In order to visit the cemetery, you need to find the Lucas-Monroe county line road southeast of Russell, turn south on it and keep going. If you go too far you'll come out here, under a canopy of oaks overlooking Rathbun Lake. The road itself disappears under the lake in the form of a concrete boat ramp.

What you should have been looking for as you drove south on the final stretch was this gated turnoff that leads east to the Timberview Tower property. There's a cabin atop that tower overlooking both lake and woodland, and it can be rented for overnight stays.

It's a short drive east along this lane to the cemetery approach --- keep your eye on the right-hand side of the road for this allee beyond red gates leading back to the cemetery.

I also admired the field of corn awaiting harvest, topped by a bright blue early November sky, to the left.

When I first visited this cemetery years ago, the allee wasn't there and the cemetery hid behind timber down a narrow lane. The cleared allee and meticulously maintained driveway up its center are products of the Casebolt restoration.

I walked down the allee to the cemetery Saturday although the roadside gate opens easily and it's possible to drive in --- but it was such a beautiful afternoon.

The name of the cemetery as well as a sign recognizing Casebolt and his restoration associates tower over the pedestrian entrance --- a unique turnstile that was found discarded near where it had been installed originally and restored. It now works beautifully. Here's a full-length view.

The Civil War monument is not far inside the gate, but we'll come back to it in a paragraph or two. All you need to notice now is the fact that the shaft of the obelesk is considerably darker than the marble base. That's because the marble shaft was literally melting away when Casebolt began his restoration and there was no way to repair it. Old marble does that.

So he crafted a copper cap in the same shape as the obelisk, engraved the names and other information carved into the deteriorating marble into the copper, then dropped the cap over the marble thus protecting it from further deterioration and preserving the information it contained.


The cemetery extends for some distance south into the woods and is deeply shaded by hickory and oak. From the back, glimpses of Rathbun Lake's water can be seen in the distance.

There have been few burials here during the last century and most of the tombstones are marble. But decades of deep shade and lichen plus exposure autumn after autumn to the tannin in fallen leaves have stained them all deeply.

Although Casebolt restored and reset all of the stones, he made no attempt to clean them --- so what you see is stonecutter's art amended by nature. He was a skilled metalworker, so shattered stones are held upright by unobtrusive metal frames.

The beautifully carved base of the Civil War memorial still gleams white, however, and its detail remains crisp.

The names of many who served from surrounding townships of all four counties, including notations for those who died, were carved into the shaft, then transferred by Casebolt to its copper cap.

The base, however, was reserved to honor those from the immediate neighborhood who died, seven in total.

The north face of the base is filled with richly carved symbolism, the American eagle perched on a pole bearing the draped Stars and Strips with a banner inscribed "E Pluribus Unum" clutched in its beak.

Information about the monument's dedication, stating that it was erected on July 19th, 1866, by the citizens of Jackson Township, Monroe County, is carved into the east face along with a commemorative inscription honoring James P Evans, who died at age 29 on June 1, 1865, at Annapolis, Maryland.

General patriotic and dedicatory passages are carved into the west face.

And the south face contains inscriptions commemorating the sacrifice of six more neighborhood men who died in service: John F. Evans, Jacob Easter, Cal. W. Holder, Geo. G. Duncan, H.C. Christie and and N.J. Shuler.

Of all the Civil War dead commemorated here in stone, only one --- Henry C. Christie, who died April 27, 1863 ---- is buried at Evans Cemetery. The others were interred hurriedly near where their deaths occurred.  Henry, however, was sent home to die and is buried a short distance south of the monument near the obelisk that marks the graves of his parents, the Rev. Isaac and Susannah Christie.

Henry has two tombstones. The original, with east-facing inscription, has broken and is no longer entirely legible. A government-issue monument was ordered later and placed back-to-back with the older stone.

Henry, born in Indiana, was living with his parents and brother, William, on a farm near Gentryville, Gentry County, Missouri, when the 1860 census was taken.

But his father, the Rev. Mr. Christie, was a supporter of the Union cause living and working in a hotbed of secessionist sympathies, and was told to leave Gentry County in the fall of 1860 or risk losing his life.

Isaac brought his family to the Four Corners neighborhood where he became affiliated with the Eden Baptist Association, a group of scattered Baptist churches in several counties, including Lucas. It isn’t known exactly where the Christies lived or which church or churches he served.

Henry was 20 when he enlished as a private in Co. G, 24th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, on Aug. 14, 1862. Early the next year, he was among soldiers in Co. G taken from the riverboat Sam Gaty on 25 Jan 1863 to a hospital on Arsenal Island, St. Louis, suffering from smallpox.

He survived, but was discharged for disability and sent home where he died a few weeks later. Isaac Christie died two years later, in 1865, and Susannah, in 1880.

Henry's friend, Jacob Easter --- also commemorated on the monument --- also was among smallpox-stricken soldiers transferred from the Sam Gaty on Jan. 25, 1863. He did not make it home, however, but died on Jan 29 on "Smallpox Island." Buried initially on the island, his unidentifiable remains were transferred after the war to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery where he rests among the "unknowns," far from this lovely place deep in the woods.


Brenda said...

Frank, thanks so much for this beautiful autumn tour. You know all the BEST places! Your photographs of this little cemetery are lovely.

Tina Casebolt Lloyd said...

May I have permission to share your blog about Evans cemetery on my facebook group? Bernard Casebolt is my great uncle! Thanks!

Frank D. Myers said...

Hi Tina --- You're welcome to share the post wherever and whenever you like.