Friday, February 12, 2010

Cemetery Walk No. 4: Traveling Bones

It’s often possible to date a cemetery fairly accurately by locating the earliest year of death on a tombstone within it, but anyone who tries that at the Chariton Cemetery is going to be misled.

That’s in part because the first burials at Chariton occurred during the late 1840s and early 1850s at Douglass Cemetery, southeast of town along the Blue Grass Road, and in a small cemetery located at the current site of Columbus School, half a block from where I’m typing now.

The current Chariton Cemetery dates from June of 1864 when 19 investors organized the Chariton Cemetery Co. Soon thereafter all graves were moved to the new cemetery from the Columbus School site and families began to transfer bodies from Douglass, a process that continued for many years. In many instances, tombstones accompanied remains and now are scattered across older portions of the newer cemetery.

The oldest bones (if dated from year of death) buried in the Chariton Cemetery, however, traveled considerably farther. They are those of Leonard Gibbon, a newspaper editor shot dead in the streets of Smithland, Kentucky, in 1844, two days shy of his 33rd birthday, by an angry reader. That was two years before the first permanent white settlers arrived in Lucas County.

While we often become angry these days at newspaper editors, we rarely shoot them. So Leonard’s death and postmortem travels make for an interesting story.


Leonard was born Sept. 12, 1811, in New Jersey, where his ancestors had settled during the 18th century, one of 11 children of Leonard Sr. and Rachel (Keasby) Gibbon. Leonard Jr. had an elder brother, Mason Seeley Gibbon (married Mary Brooks), whose son, William Henry Gibbon, a pioneer Chariton physician, also will have a part in this story.

Leonard Jr. launched a career as a newspaperman that took him west into Ohio and Kentucky and prior to 1837 he married Sarah Ardery. They had one child, Laura R., born Oct. 28, 1837, in Cincinnati, according to her obituary (The Chariton Patriot, Dec. 30, 1915).

From Cincinnati, the Gibbons moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he was editor of the Louisville Dime, and then ca. 1844 to Smithland, Kentucky, where he became the editor and publisher of the Smithland Bee.

Brenda Joyce Jerome picks up the story at this point in an Oct. 2, 2008, posting to her excellent local history blog, Western Kentucky Genealogical Blog ( If you wish to read her account in its original setting go here. Otherwise, continue:

"James K. Polk of Tennessee, a Democrat, and his running mate, George M. Dallas, were engaged in a close battle for president and vice president of the United States in 1844. Running against Polk and Dallas were Henry Clay and his running mate, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Whigs. The big issue was the annexation of Texas and a claim to the whole of Oregon. The Democrats favored it --- the Whigs did not. These issues were hotly debated, even in small towns of western Kentucky. Those who opposed the annexation of Texas feared Kentuckians would all migrate to the new state.

"Leonard Gibbon and his wife, Sarah, and daughter left their home in Louisville, where Gibbon had been editor of the Louisville Dime, and settled in Smithland, Kentucky, where he planned to publish the Smithland Bee, a Whig newspaper. They arrived in Smithland by July of 1844 --- right in the middle of the presidential campaign --- and settled in to start a new life, with Gibbon signing several promissory notes and mortgaging the printing press and equipment in order to acquire money to print the Bee.

"Said to have been a mild, peaceable, quiet and inoffensive man, Gibbon, nevertheless, voiced --- perhaps recklessly --- his opinions of the presidential candidate favored by the Democrats. His comments offended at least one reader --- Dr. Samuel C. Snyder, another recent arrival in Smithland. Not long after the article appeared in the Bee, Dr. Snyder happened to meet Gibbon walking down the street, holding the hand of his little daughter. A fight took place, pistols were discharged and Leonard Gibbon fell dead in the street.

"The widow, Sarah Gibbon, was faced with no way to support herself and a young child to rear. Her only resource was the printing press and equipment. Sarah took another mortgage on the press and equipment and continued to operate the newspaper herself.

"In the meantime, Samuel Snyder had been arrested, placed in jail and was indicted for the murder of Leonard Gibbon. There was a change of venue to Crittenden County, where the evidence was heard on the 29-30 of April and 1 May 1845 by a jury composed of the following men: Mickelberry Bristow, Jeremiah Lucas, Alfred Moore, William Ditterline, Thomas H. Wallace, William Clement, Lewis Saxton, Conrod Crayne, Robert Hale, John W. Jenkings, James Fowler and William Molsber. On the 2nd day of May, after all the evidence had been heard, Snyder was led to the bar in custody of the jailor to await his sentence. Finally, it was announced. “We the jury find the prisoner Not Guilty!” Samuel C. Snyder was acquitted and left the court as a free man.

"Sarah Gibbon struggled on, trying to run the newspaper and care for her child. The last record of her in Livingston County was when she took out a mortgage in August in 1847. She also appeared on the 1847 Livingston County tax list with 1 town lot worth $50 and one child between the ages of 5 and 16. According to Through the Canebrake, a book on the Gibbon family and which fictionalizes the story of the murder in Smithland, Laura, the young child of Leonard Gibbon, was motherless when her father died and she went to live with relatives in Iowa.

"Samuel C. Snyder owned property in Smithland also, does not appear on the Livingston County tax lists after 1846.

"Even though Sarah B. Gibbon was still mortgaging the printing press and equipment as late as August 1847, a new editor had moved to Smithland. In September 1845, William Scott Haynes conveyed unto John W. Ross and Ezekiel Green all his right and title in the printing press, stands, types and all other fixtures belonging to the office of the Smithland Bee, his interest being an undivided interest in 3/4 of press, types, stands & fixtures belonging to said office. It was understood that Haynes had plans to print a newspaper called the Jackson Republican. I have three issues of the Jackson Republican from 1846 and was interested to see there was very little local news, but a fair amount of national news and quite a few advertisements for local businesses.

"A couple of things have been noticed while researching and writing these articles on the early residents and events of Smithland. There were a lot of doctors for a small town and there were a lot of murders. In at least two cases, the murders involved doctors."

The book “Through the Canebrake,” published in 2002 and cited by Jerome, was written by William McCollough, a descendant of Leonard’s and Sarah’s daughter, Laura. Sarah Gibbon, contrary to McCollough’s account, however, was very much alive and Laura did not arrive in Chariton until several years after her father’s murder.

At some point after 1847, Sarah Gibbon married another newspaperman, Carr Huntington, and by 1860 Carr, Sarah and Laura were living in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where he was editing the Beaver Dam Democrat, which he had established in 1858.

On the 4th of September, 1861, Leonard’s and Sarah’s daughter, Laura, then just short of her 24th birthday, married at Beaver Dam her first-cousin, William Henry Gibbon, son of Mason Seeley and Mary (Brooks) Gibbon, and they moved to Chariton. William had established his medical practice in Lucas County in 1858.

William Gibbon served as a surgeon during the Civil War and their only child, Anna, was born Dec. 5, 1864, while William was serving and Laura was visiting family in Cincinnati. They returned to Chariton after the war and settled down.
William established a drug store, too, and the building he erected to house it still stands at the northeast corner of the square. Just before his death in 1895, he and Laura built one of Chariton’s grandest homes on South Grand Street. It also survives in good repair although long since divided into apartments.

At some point prior to 1870, perhaps after the war, Carr and Sarah Huntington moved to Blue Earth, Minn., where he established another newspaper, the Bee.

I do not know what became of Carr Huntington, but suspect that he died at Blue Earth between 1885, when he was enumerated in a special Minnesota state census, and 1888, by which year Sarah Gibbon Huntington was living in Chariton with her daughter and son-in-law. She died at their home on September 11, 1888, and was buried in the Chariton Cemetery, the first grave on a family lot now containing nine.

At some point, and it is not clear from cemetery records when --- nor was any mention made of it in Chariton newspapers --- Leondard Gibbon’s body was removed from its first burial place, perhaps at Smithland, and reburied beside Sarah in the Chariton Cemetery, a considerable distance from where one would expect to find him.

His only grandchild, Anna, married twice in Chariton, first to Ralph F. McCollough and following his death, to Josiah C. Copeland. The Gibbons, the McColloughs and the Copelands all were among Chariton’s wealthiest and most influential citizens although by now, as tends to happen, all have vanished and few current Chariton residents would recognize their names.

Because of their prominence, the Gibbons are featured in various county histories and biographical compilations of their time. Upon death, lengthy obituaries were published. But the passing of Sarah Gibbon Huntington was noted only briefly in 1888 and no mention ever is made of Leonard, her first husband, Laura’s father and William’s uncle. Nor is it possible to discover from material available in Lucas County that William H. and Laura Gibbon were first-cousins as well as husband and wife.

The snow’s a little too deep right now for a visit to the Gibbon graves, but come spring you’ll find them in the northwest corner of the Chariton Cemetery. Enter the main gates and drive west until the long straight drive curves south. The Gibbon-Copeland lot will be on your left. The lot contains three rows of graves marked by individual stones and a massive gray granite monument inscribed “Gibbon” on one side and “Copeland” on the other.

The Gibbons are buried in the row the greatest distance from the driveway, from north to south as follows:

OCTOBER 6, 1813
SEPTEMBER 11, 1888

SEPTEMBER 12, 1811
SEPTEMBER 10, 1844

OCTOBER 28, 1837
DECEMBER 24, 1915

JANUARY 31, 1832
OCTOBER 2, 1895

For more information on the graves of Anna (Gibbon) McCollough, her two husbands, a son and a grandson, click here.


Thomas Federico said...

What a fascinating story; thanks so much for sharing it. I am portraying Dr. Gibbons at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh this year, so all of the information about his relatives is of personal interest to me and I hope to honor his memory and those he loved.

Thomas Federico

Frank D. Myers said...

Hi Thomas --- Could you tell me more about when and where you'll be portraying Dr. Gibbon? This is really interesting and something that would be of interest to those of us who live in his hometown.

Thomas Federico said...

Certainly, Frank. I am an American Civil War reenactor from Georgia whose focus is on accurately portraying mid-19th century physicians and Federal and Confederate army surgeons. My friends and I are "campaigners", that is, reenactors who strive for authenticity, and we have the honor of portraying the 15th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Shiloh as part of the 150th reenactment March 30 through April 1, 2012. I will be part of the 15th Iowa's medical team, consisting of the regimental surgeon, Dr. Davis, the assistant surgeon, Dr. Gibbons, and a hospital steward.

Dr. William H. Gibbons, whom I am portraying at the event, was the assistant surgeon for the 15th Iowa and he wrote a summary of his experience at the Battle of Shiloh and subsequent battles as part of a book he and other veterans of the 16th Iowa wrote after the war. I've been combing that book to find details about Dr. Gibbons' life to weave them into my portrayal of him. I've found some photos of him and have some basic information about his life but would love to learn more about him and his family, especially his wife.

I am trying to do everything I can to honor Dr. Gibbons and the regiment he served with. I am also trying to research life in Iowa right before the war and during it, as well as any information about Chariton, Iowa during the war. I have found some information but would love to learn more.



Frank D. Myers said...

Hi Thomas --- This is very interesting! Thanks for the additional information. The most comprehensive account of Dr. Gibbon's life is a biographical sketch in the 1896 "Memorial and Biographical Record of Iowa," which includes an engraved portrait. If that would be helpful, I'll scan and forward it to you. We have original photos of Dr. Gibbon (as an older man), his store and his home at the Lucas County Historical Society museum (I'm its president). And there's a good deal of material about the Gibbons scattered around the blog. If you wouldn't mind, contact me directly at and we can talk more about filling in some of the blanks. I'd be delighted to help.

Best regards,


Thomas Federico said...

I will send you an email. And, yes, if you wouldn't mind sending me the scanned biographical sketch of Dr. Gibbon from the 1896 source you mentioned, that would be most appreciated!

Look forward to chatting with.

You have a great blog, by the way!


Anonymous said...

The Gibbons were my great-great-grandparents. I would be interested in attending.
Laura Huber