Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The view from Strong Cemetery

It's easy to understand why Thomas Lee and Mary Margaret Strong, some 160 years ago, buried their 16-month-old son, Levi Harvey, on this gentle rise where perhaps 100 scattered graves, marked and unmarked, form the cemetery that bears their surname.

That burial, most likely, took place on the 3rd day of April, 1853, and the gentle landscape is for the most part unchanged, although dotted now with ponds and trees, farm homes and barns. And the tallgrass prairie now is pasture, corn and soybean fields --- and just to the northwest, Blue Gate Farm's market gardens.

Pierce's Pumpkin Patch, a major autumn attraction in this part of the state, is just to the northeast, north of what remains of Belinda Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), founded by some of those buried here and church home to others. The former Pleasant Prairie United Methodist Church is three-quarters of a mile as the crow flies slightly southeast; the ghost village of Belinda, a little more than a mile due south.

The cemetery remains a profoundly peaceful place, set back at the end of a quarter-mile lane that rolls in with the contours of the land from the west --- even though semi-trailers, cars and pickups on Iowa Highway 14 are visible three-quarters of a mile to the east. Walk back to the knoll where most of the graves are, and the view extends for miles to the horizon (top; the view below that includes a barn is to the southwest).

Just beyond the horizon to the west and north, the prairie dips through savanna, denser woodland and modest valleys to  English Creek --- and that must have made this high ground an ideal place to settle, perhaps during the fall of 1851, when Thomas and Margaret and their two oldest sons, James W. and John F., arrived from southeast Iowa's Jefferson County. Open prairie to break (but not clear) with plenty of woodland nearby to provide for cabins, split-rail fences and firewood.

Dan Baker, in his 1881 history of Lucas County, tells us that the Strongs were Pleasant Township's first permanent settlers that fall --- and that Levi Henry, born on the 13th of December 1851, was the first child born to new settlers in the township. His passing 16 months later, on April 2, 1853, reportedly was the township's first death, too.

The little boy's grave was marked with a small marble headstone, now eroded to the point of illegibility. But for some reason when his older brother, James, died a few years later --- on June 13, 1861, age 13 --- his grave was not. It seems likely, however, that he is buried beside Levi Harvey.


It's likely, too, that Thomas and Mary Strong were living somewhere on the quarter-section where Strong Cemetery is located at the time of little Levi Harvey's death during the spring of 1853. But the 160-acre tract had been entered during the previous year, patent dated Nov. 1, 1852, by Mary's father, William Caldwell Templeton.

William had used a military bounty land warrant for 160 acres that he most likely had purchased on the open market at a discounted rate. The warrant had been issued to Ebenezer Bodwell, of Maine, for his service as a corporal in Captain Chadwick's company, 34th Regiment, U.S. Infantry, War of 1812. Warrants like this, issued by a Congressional act dated Sept. 28, 1850, were redeemable in any place where public land was available and could be bought, sold or traded at will.

Bodwell, age 65 in 1850 and a resident of Andover, Maine, most likely had no interest at all in moving west and so had sold the warrant to a speculator who probably had collected it and many others, then headed west to the Iowa frontier --- where thousands of acres of public land were available --- then resold it at a profit, but still for less than the going rate for public land, $1.25 an acre.

Bodwell was indeed a veteran of the War of 1812 and had sustained a head wound during the Battle of Chateauguay severe enough to entitle him to a pension from 1814 onward. He fathered 13 children, however, was a deacon in the Church of Andover and lived until what then was the ripe old age of 83, dying at Andover on Nov. 4, 1868.

It's not clear that William Templeton actually lived in Lucas County, although I think it likely that he did for a time, but he is the tie that binds quite a number of those buried at Strong Cemetery in a complex web of relationship, direct and indirect. If you think about these relationships long enough --- you'll get a headache. I'll write more about them another time.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Initially, military land warrants were only good if the person who had earned them used them. A change in the law, allowed a designated person to take the warrant and use it to buy land for the warrant holder, once the land was in the hands of the designated warrant holder then it could be sold. Shortly after that change came a much bigger one that granted the holder of the warrant to be able to sell it out right for any holder to use on the frontier. By the time the land office opened at Fort Dodge, Iowa, there were so many people with warrants the land office had to hold a lottery to see who would be allowed in the door of the land office when ground became available.