My friend Mary Ellen's annual November birthday gathering down in Wayne County always includes a field trip (you have to know her to know why social events also are expected to be learning experiences). Sunday's took us during late afternoon to Mormon Trail historic sites at Garden Grove with dinner guests Karla and Paul Gunzenhauser as guides.
That's the official tour photograph above, taken as the sun was setting at the Garden Grove Cemetery, just north of town, where we stopped after our visit to the trail sites. From left are Dr. Stephanie Seemuth of Northwood, Paul Gunzenhauser, Holly Briggs of Mason City, Karla Gunzenhauser, Jan Ledyard of rural Corydon and Mary Ellen Miller. I was standing in the grader ditch taking the picture, trying not to fall over.
Some of our dinner companions didn't make the trip. Stephanie's husband, Bill, took a nap; Bonnie Friend, Wayne County conservation director, had to get back to work; and Jane Cooley, who operates a black walnut buying and shelling operation this time of year, had an appointment with an incoming load.
We started at the Decatur County Conservation Board's small park just west of town, located on the site of the Mormon cemetery where an estimated 150 or more souls rest in unmarked graves. A bronze plate on the marker erected here by the LDS church explains the site's history. It reads as follows:
Early in 1846 thousands of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) left their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, bound for the Great Basin in the Rocky Mountains.
Moving westward across Iowa, their advance company made camp here April 25, 1846, calling the site Garden Grove.
Within two weeks, 359 men under the leadership of President Brigham Young cleared 500 acres of land, planted crops, built log houses, and cut 10,000 surplus rails for fencing and enough logs to build 40 additional houses.
Garden Grove thus became a stopover for the many emigrant wagon trains and handcart groups that followed later. Death overtook some, however. These were buried here.
Refreshed by their stop at this place, the Mormon pioneers went on the Rockies where they founded cities and towns and made the desert to "blossom as the roses."
This is a very familiar and evocative place to me --- a spot for picnics with family and others in the shelter house for many years. And every Lucas Countyan worth his or her salt needs to know that immediately upon arrival at Garden Grove, Brigham Young sent messengers back to Nauvoo to tell the leaders of pioneer wagon trains that followed not to use the "Pioneer Trail" he had followed with the lead party, but instead to follow a more northerly route that brought a majority of the Saints through Chariton on their way west.
Mormons remained at Garden Grove until 1852, when the final call to move west went out from Salt Lake City. By that time permanent settlers had joined them and the current village of Garden Grove had been founded some distance east of the historic site on more level ground.
Karla Gunzenhauser provides historical background about the Mormon cemetery site in the immediate vicinity of the conservation park shelter and beyond.
Karla and Paul, who now live at Humeston, know more about the Garden Grove historic sites than anyone else in part because their farm of many years adjoined the cemetery site and stretched east to the current village, encompassing the the site of pioneer village and the old trail route through it.
That led to decades of research, exploration, writing and interpretation and also motivated them to stop farming the pioneer settlement site east of the cemetery and develop it into an interpretive area. There are explanatory panels there now, indications of where early dwellings were located and those who care to do so can follow the old trail route down the point to the northwest to where pioneers crossed the Weldon branch of the Grand River before they headed on to Mount Pisgah, Council Bluffs and the plains beyond.
Paul Gunzenhauser demonstrates the art of "grave witching," used to locate unmarked pioneer graves, before passing out sticks and allowing others to try the technique themselves.
We spent quite a while at the cemetery site, learning about its history (and those who wished to were given time to practice their grave-witching skills), then moved uphill to the east to the former settlement site.
The sign here records an early name for the site, "magic city of the woods," applied because of the amazing speed with which the Brigham Young party created a village here after their arrival during April of 1846. The Mormon Trail followed the ridge in the distance down into the creek valley, crossed the creek, then meandered northwestlerly to the next major stop along it, at Mount Pisgah.
When the Gunzenhausers sold their Garden Grove farm and moved to Humeston, they donated the 4-acre pioneer village site to the Decatur County Conservation Commission to ensure that it remained undisturbed and accessible to the public.
Daylight Saving Time ended early Sunday, so the sun was getting ready to set by the time we headed to the "new" Garden Grove cemetery, where Paul and Karla provided a quick interpretive tour before dark. The first permanent settlers to die at Garden Grove were buried at the pioneer site, then relocated here after the Arnold family donated ground to the public for use as a burial place.
The Arnolds set aside a large area of the new cemetery, still known as the "Arnold Reserve," where their descendants could be buried if they wished --- and many Arnold descendants rest here.
We could have spent far longer looking around here --- but it was getting dark and time to head back to Mary Ellen's for dessert. It had been a terrific afternoon with our gracious guides, Paul and Karla.
I collected tombstones (photographically, not actually) and this upended and elongated acorn executed in granite is one of my favorites from the Garden Grove cemetery.
And here's another favorite photograph from Sunday's expedition --- Holly looks as if she has a halo here, but its really just a factor of wind and backlighting as the sun moved down in the west beyond the pioneer cemetery.