Saturday, March 19, 2011

The dry bones effect and Oliver Coffman

Oliver W. Coffman is buried somewhere on this hill southeast of Chariton overlooking the Chariton River valley. Fragments of his tombstone were found when the cemetery was rescued several years ago and placed with other surviving stones in the memorial area in the foreground.

There is an effect out there I call "dry bones," based upon the familiar passage in Ezekiel 37 that as a frequent Sunday morning lector is one of my favorites to read aloud. You can really get up a head of steam on this one if you practice a little --- actually get those out there in the pews who ordinarily snooze through the Old Testament lesson to perk up their ears and listen.  It begins:

 "The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.

"And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.

"Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord."

To make a long story short, those old dry bones in Ezekiel come to life.

Here's how the Dry Bones effect works --- and remember that I'm not a fanciful person and am not claiming divine or any other form of supernatural intervention. I'm just saying ...

You're minding your own business, more or less, poking around on one or another research project\ involving someone long dead, rattling dry bones, when out of the blue something quite unexpected turns up and you can almost see the sinews and flesh and skin coming upon them.

And here is a close-up of what remains of Oliver's tombstone.

It's happened again during the last couple of weeks with Oliver W. Coffman, a Lucas County boy who in October of 1862, when he was 32, left wife and child behind in Chariton to enlist  as a saddler in Co. C., 1st Iowa Cavalry, for service in the Civil War.

Late the following year, he became extremely sick and eventually was furloughed home --- to recover or die. And he did die, on the day after Christmas, 1863, at home in Chariton. He was buried in the old Douglass Cemetery along the Mormon Trace and somehow legible fragments of his tombstone managed to survive nearly 150 years as the old burial ground became derelict and stones fell and shattered. You can read a little more about that here.

About two weeks ago, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from a woman in Florida (who doesn't want any credit for this) telling me about a pocket diary Oliver had commenced on Jan. 1, 1863, carried with him and dutifully written in nearly every day while in service until several months later when he was so weak he could barely walk and was on his way home to Lucas County to die. She had happened upon the blog entry about O.W.

The woman's grandmother, Rena Jenkins, was a friend during the 1950s in Bozeman, Mont., of an elderly gentleman whose name was Guy R. Griffin, known as "G.G." He was Oliver Coffman's grandson and still had the pocket diary, carried west by Oliver's widow after she had remarried and left Lucas County behind later on in the 1860s.

At Rena Jenkins' behest, her daughter, my correspondent's mother, spent considerable time transcribing every word of the Coffman diary and that transcription had been passed on to her daughter, who now offered me a copy --- which I gladly accepted.

That thick package arrived in the mail last week, bringing Oliver Coffman's words back to Chariton after a long and circuitous journey. And I think that's really neat.

Here's a transcribed family record that accompanied the transcript of Oliver's Civil War pocket diary back to Chariton.

As time becomes available, I'll try to share some entries from the diary here --- and when I'm done will place it in the Lucas County Historical Society library as a sort of memorial to someone whose voice I never expected to hear.


Debbie said...

And THIS is why I love genealogy. Thanks for sharing.

Lynne said...

This is more real to life than what we are watching on TV. I enjoy all you articles, Frank

Charles M. Wright said...

What a magnificent teaser, this blog entry! I can hardly wait to read the words that Oliver Coffman penned in his pocket journal. Bless all those who for so many years preserved them from oblivion.