Friday, May 29, 2015

A Thursday morning with the Gwinns

Surely there couldn't have been a more peaceful place Thursday morning than Gwinn Cemetery, way back in the fields northwest of Humeston --- a half mile or so south of the Lucas-Wayne county line at the end of a very long lane.

Cares lifted on birdsong and the sound of wind in the leaves as sun and clouds played tag. No other sounds. Then there was that red-headed woodpecker. We played "I spy" around the trunk of a walnut tree --- until the bird lost interest and flew off into the woods.

The idea for Thursday's trek to where most Lucas and Wayne county Gwinn family stories began --- and perhaps 50 have ended --- was hatched last Saturday when Elzan (Vincent) McMurry and Dianne (Vincent) Mitchell and I, Dry Flat classmates, were sitting on the front porch of the Chariton Cemetery Shelter House talking about another classmate, Doris (Cottrell) Christensen (she wasn't there, so naturally we talked about her).

Doris, whose hobby is taking photographs for Find a Grave memorials, has been laid up with a shoulder injury, but is about ready to head back into the field --- and one of the places she wants to visit, Dianne said, is Gwinn Cemetery. Dianne had promised to go along, but neither she nor I had ever been there.

That seems odd, since it's very close to home --- on the other hand, there are no "Gwinn Cemetery this way" signs and it's not a place you're likely to stumble across while out for a Sunday drive.

So I told Dianne I'd drive over and take a look the next time I visited my favorite prairie patch north of Humeston --- about two miles northeast of the cemetery --- and leave a trail.

I've relied on Ray Gwinn's "Genealogy of the Gwinn Family in Southern Iowa" blog for much of the background here, and you're welcome to go there for additional information. This is too complicated a family for someone who isn't related to it to sort out and I imagine Ray will sort me out if I've gone astray in trying to explain who was whom.


Most of those buried at Gwinn Cemetery descend from Ephriam and Rachel (Keller) Gwinn who, like many Wayne County pioneers (including my own Boswells) were Virginians --- living in the part of that state the later became West Virginia. Although Ephriam did not live in Wayne County, he purchased --- according to family accounts --- land there to be divided among his children.

At least three of those children --- Samuel Keller Gwinn (married Cynthia, or "Sintha," Gwinn, a cousin), Mary Jane Gwinn (married Marshall H. Richman) and James Madison Gwinn  (Married Barbara Jane Surbaugh and after her death Lovicy Chamberlain) --- moved to Wayne County to live.

Marshall H. and Mary Jane (Gwinn) Richman were the first to arrive and by tradition the first settlers in Richman Township, named in their honor. They are buried here along with a son, John, who did not marry. The family story is that this surname originally was Richmond, but a spelling mistake was made when land was being entered and that it seemed easier to Marshall to change his name to "Richman" rather than attempt to have the land record amended to read "Richmond."

James Madison Gwinn was the last to arrive and although he is not buried here, his first wife, Barbara (Surbaugh) Gwinn, is. She died Sept. 27, 1853, and was among the earliest burials here. After Barbara's death, James married Lovicy Chamberlain in 1855 and they had eight children. James and Lovicy are buried in the Lewisburg Cemetery, also near Humeston.

Samuel K. and Cynthia Gwinn reportedly were traveling west with Marshall and Mary Jane during 1849, but were forced to stop at Eddyville --- site of the most popular Des Moines River crossing for pioneers at the time --- by illness, and their son, Andrew J. Gwinn, was born there on July 6, 1849. They came on west and joined the Richmans in Wayne County during the fall of 1850.

Samuel K. and Cynthia (inscribed "Sintha") have the most impressive tombstone in Gwinn Cemetery. They had 11 children, five of whom died young.

Son Andrew J. and his wife, Mary (Sayres) Gwinn are buried to the northwest of his parents.

Son Byron, known as "Deke," who died in the state penitentiary at Fort Madison while serving a life term for the murder of his brother-in-law, Liberty Snook, is buried behind the big stone immediately south of his parents' stone --- but that's a story I'll come back to another time.

Gwinn descendants continue to use the Gwinn Cemetery for burials, most recently Gerald Gwinn, who died in Chariton last October.


If you visit Gwinn, pick a pleasant spring, summer or fall day and plan to spend a little time there just absorbing the place. I counted five varieties of songbird while wandering around.

And I poked around in the fence row separating cemetery from wooded creek valley just to see what was blooming.


To get to Gwinn Cemetery, locate the Lucas-Wayne county line road by driving a mile north from the Humeston Cemetery crossroads, first on U.S. 65 and then continuing due north on gravel when the highway angles northeast. Turn left onto the county line road at the crossroads and drive a mile and a half west. There is no roadside sign.

Look for this well-kept house on your right, opposite the entrance to the cemetery lane (115 Av).

Follow the lane due south through fields planted to corn this year to the crest of the hill.

The lane then snakes off to the southeast over the crest of the hill (I cheated, stopped the truck and shot back up the hill) ...

... then turns and heads straight east to the cemetery.

You'll recognize the cemetery --- if there was any doubt --- by the name above new gates, commissioned by family members and installed during 2007.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Frank. It is a beautiful peaceful place. We had the cemetery witched several years ago but have not placed markers on unmarked graves. The witching was very interesting and was amazed that Barbara Gwinn's grave showed to females on smaller. When I got home and looked through genealogy found she died giving birth to a baby girl.

When we visited last weekend we were very impressed of how nicely mowed the cemetery was.

Sonya Gwinn

Harold Mitchell said...

Thanks for the good report and excellent pictures. Now it's time for Doris and me to make our trek.

Darin Ellis, Omaha, NE said...

Very nice. In doing some genealogical research, this is very helpful.