Friday, July 13, 2012

Murder, Lynching & Witching

So there was Jerry Davis in full Civil War-era military regalia standing at modified parade rest under Gwen's flag pole out at Douglass Pioneer Cemetery Tuesday morning. Something caught his attention, he looked down, and ...

... here came this huge bus on sneaky feet, circling from his rear. Jerry looked up ...

... and the bus continued to circle, parked, opened its door and about 30 tourists from farther north in central Iowa exited --- and advanced.

But none were armed, all were friendly and the second tour bus visit this week to the tiny historic cemetery out in the middle of a hayfield southeast of Chariton went went off without a hitch.

These weren't military maneuvers, but parts of a day-trip tour program put together by Lucas County Tourism, a division of Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street, entitled --- bone-chillingly --- "Murder, Lynching & Witching."

The tour --- and Tuesday's contingent of about 50 was a bit larger --- began with coffee on the square with Buzz Malone, author of "The Lynching of Hiram Wilson," a fictionalized account of events in Chariton on July 6, 1870, when horse thief Hiram Wilson shot Sheriff Gaylord Lyman dead, was captured, then thrown out a courthouse window with a rope around his neck. While Lyman is buried in the Chariton Cemetery, Wilson was buried here at Douglass, then serving as potters field. You can read the actual account of events here, in an earlier Lucas Countyan post.

So that was one reason the tour groups came here, but I also talked about the Mormon Trace and the cemetery's historic origins as a burial place for Mormon pioneer Freeman Nickerson and other members of his party, who found refuge from the harsh winter of 1846-47 down along the river here at Chariton Point, died and were the first to be buried at Douglass.

Part of my presentation also dealt with Oliver Coffman, represented by Jerry (who declined a speaking part), who also is buried here, a Civil War fatality who made it home to die and was laid to rest here beside an infant son just after Christmas in 1863. Perhaps 150 Lucas Countyans died in service during the Civil War but very few made it home --- most were buried near where they died in national cemeteries scattered from Missouri to Georgia. You can read more about Oliver here and here (as well as in the Douglass Cemetery link posted above).

Mary Ruth Pierschbacher (below at left) then talked briefly about the work of the Lucas County Pioneer Cemetery Commission, which rescued Douglass Cemetery during the late 1990s and has gone on to repair and maintain more than 20 other pioneer cemeteries scattered across the county (work is now ongoing at Freedom).

After leaving the cemetery, our visitors went on to the Chariton Cemetery for a grave witching demonstration by Darlene Arnold and others of the Lucas County Genealogical Society before lunch at an Amish farm south of town and afternoon activities.

I'm not quite sure what those driving by on the Blue Grass Road made of those big tour buses out at the cemetery, but those of us involved enjoyed ourselves during these opportunities to share a little of Lucas County's history.

No comments: