Corydon Times
Last Updated: May 5th, 2017 - 10:51:40

Local group dedicated to reclaiming pioneer cemeteries
By Jason W. Selby
Jun 30, 2014, 09:06

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On June 23, KCCI Channel 8 aired a story on the Pioneer Cemetery Commission. Above, front row, from left: KCCI reporter Eric Hansen, KCCI cameraman Glen Beirman, Jill Henkle, Rita Arnold, Jeannie Jackson and Dick Cunningham. Back row, from left: Cary DeVore, Brenda DeVore, Dale Clark and Frank Snook.
Brenda DeVore, manager of Prairie Trails Museum in Corydon, helped to found the Wayne County Pioneer Cemetery Commission in 2010. The current president, Dale Clark, with his son, Daniel, had reclaimed the lost cemetery of Dodrill near Promise City a few years before that—the land had been farmed over, the grave markers removed. Clark’s interest was in Native American artifacts, before he started work on pioneer cemeteries. A love of history brought the group together, and defines its mission.

“Lois Keho, who recently passed away, had been interested in a cemetery commission for a very long time,” DeVore says. “She was thrilled, and she was our first president. To do it correctly, we went before the [Wayne County] Board of Supervisors and we were established in December of 2010 through a resolution. I guess I’ve just always had an interest in cemeteries, because there are always so many stories there. [And] some of those stones are just beautiful—such artwork.

“Restoring those pioneer cemeteries goes hand in hand with the Wayne County Historical Society. We have our meetings here [at the museum]. This is our home base. We keep the files here.”

Pioneer cemeteries are defined by not having more than 12 burials in the past 50 years. Of the 58 graveyards in Wayne County, approximately 32 are pioneer cemeteries.

The cemetery commission received some unexpected exposure recently, of the televised kind. They appeared in a Mon., June 23 segment of KCCI Channel 8 news. The broadcast can be found at!4itci, or by visiting the Prairie Trails Museum Facebook page.

“Dennis Moorman, who lives here in Corydon, had sent Eric Hanson an email telling him there was a group down here repairing cemeteries, and thought it might be a nice story,” DeVore says. “Eric Hanson called last Tuesday and wanted to do a story, and came down the next day. It was really interesting. I think all of us—it wasn’t so much being on television, as having what we do noticed and appreciated.”

The commission took Hanson and his crew to Medicineville Cemetery, which sits on the Missouri border in Howard Township. They trimmed some brush and showed KCCI what the group does.

“They wanted to see one that we had basically not touched yet,” DeVore says. “Then we took them to Big Springs [Cemetery] to show them one that’s completed—it looks amazing now.”

The committee had removed stumps, brush, cleaned headstones and seeded grass. DeVore has several triptych posters showing the reclamation of pioneer cemeteries, including Big Springs.

“Our goal is to restore these cemeteries in such a way that we can turn them back to the township trustees for easy cleanup. They should be able to keep them mowed once we’ve got them all taken care of. Obviously, some of the cemeteries are in much better shape than others.

“One of the things Eric Hanson asked us was, ‘Why do you do this?’ My answer was because these are the pioneers that came before us, they’re the ones who developed our area. They built these towns, and the roads. They’re why we’re here now, because they came in and established Wayne County. It’s for respect to those people.

The Thomas-Shane Pioneer Cemetery south of Corydon. A restored gravestone to the front right is for Flora Bettis, a nine-year-old who died just before Christmas in 1889, with the inscription, ‘The flower has vanished.’ The obelisk in the middle belongs to Ruth Brown, born in the 1700s, but still decorated with flowers today. Photo by Jason Selby
“There’s a story behind every stone. There’s someone who lived here. Some of these cemeteries, you go in, and it’s very sad, because there’s so many children. Actually, the first burial that happened in the Corydon Cemetery was a small child that died right after people got here. They buried [the child], and from there they established the Corydon Cemetery.

“We told [Hanson] how many kids have helped. We’ve had three high school classes. Big Springs alone, we’ve had over 150 people that have worked in that cemetery.

“[The students] loved it. The first year that they helped, we seemed to make more of an impression on those kids than some of the other [volunteers]. They felt like they were making a difference. When they came in, it was just piles and piles of brush.

“When we have the kids help us, we always research every cemetery’s history—how did this cemetery get established? Well, Big Springs, there was a little settlement there. There was a church, a blacksmith shop, a general store and a post office. So we told those kids about that. Usually we try to tell [the kids] about one or two of the people buried there—there are Civil War soldiers, there’s World War I soldiers buried in Big Springs. And in every cemetery, there are people who have served.

“When we’re researching one of our cemeteries—Jeannie Jackson is on our group, and she’s so good at doing that research. So she comes in and digs and finds that information for us. Rita Arnold finds out if the cemeteries belong to the county.

“When we finish each cemetery, we’re going to have a complete picture. Once we’ve done the restoration work, we go back in and map the cemetery, measure the rows. All of that is kept on file.

“The Board of Supervisors has been very supportive. They’ve seen what we’ve accomplished and they’re really pleased with what we’ve done. And they’re happy with the fact that we’ve gotten so many volunteers involved—that’s one of the things I’m proud of—those high school students, if we even touch one or two of them, and make them see a cemetery in a different way, then that’s worth a lot.

“As we’re working, we appreciate the fact some of the other townships in Wayne County have found out what we’re doing. Robert Green and Wright Township took care of Adcock Cemetery on their own. He knew that our group was active—he talked with our group before he went out and did the work. Dale [Clark] went out and cleaned up their stones. The trustees cleaned up the brush and built the nicest fence. The fence had gotten in bad shape. I think [Green] took on a lot of it himself. He went in and cut down some trees. It’s a beautiful spot now.

“That Wright Township group has really stepped forward and have been taking care of their cemeteries. They always mowed, but I think that they look at it differently after we got started with our cemeteries. And that’s all we need to do, to look after them out of respect.”

Green also took the initiative to upgrade the Confidence Cemetery, which by definition is not pioneer.

“We want to work closely with the township trustees,” DeVore says. “They’re the ones that take care of mowing and fence repair. Our group comes in and adds another layer, to add extra work that the mower is not going to do.

“That’s what’s nice. With our group, doing what we’re doing, trustees are taking another look at their cemeteries and doing the work on their own. And they’re talking with us. That’s the plan.

“One of the things we did when we first started, because there are so many pioneer cemeteries, we divided up the county. Each person took two or three townships. We went out and assessed all the cemeteries, took photographs, then met back together. That’s how [the photographs] of Adcock got in the paper—that was one that definitely needed some work on it. We were trying to let folks know what we were doing as a pioneer cemetery group.”

The commission had posted a few photographs in the 'Times-Republican' as a result of their research, and that is how Robert Green got involved improving the cemeteries in his township. It motivated him.

“I have family buried in Confidence,” Green says. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather are all interred in that cemetery. He says people are appreciative of the township’s efforts. “They all like it pretty well, and think it was a real nice thing to do. I have to thank our secretary, Angie Carpenter, she was real good about it. I’d like to see it kept up, too. I enjoy doing it, and I’ll do it until someone else takes over.”

One of the subjects DeVore and the commission discussed with Hanson and KCCI was how they cleaned the stones, with a mixture of ammonia and water with a soft bristle brush. Old markers get covered in moss and dark matter, dirt, dust and sap from cedar trees. Eventually, the residue will permeate into the stone. After decades, residue collects, making the markers unreadable.

“If you clean that off, it helps to preserve it a little bit longer,” DeVore says. “Each one of us have our thing that we bring to it. Dale Clark knows a great deal about repairing the stones—new foundations with specialized mortar mix.”

One of the aforementioned before-and-after Triptychs depicts the transformation of Duncan Cemetery.

“When we were working [there], because we were trying to clear it out, we found stones piled in among the brush,” DeVore says. “There had been a tornado a few years previous to that. Some of the stones had been knocked over by trees falling. So here’s all these stones in this big cluster of brush. We take all the stones and cut down the brush, and because we had stones lying around, they weren’t able to mow it for a while.

“We go back down there, and the grass had grown up over the summer—and the entire thing was this purple top prairie grass. We harvested some of that grass and replanted the seed in that cemetery, so that we could keep the native grass.

“The pioneers called it ‘grease grass.’ When the wagons would roll through it—it’s greasy—when we would walk through it, our pants and our feet were covered in this oiliness. When they rolled their wagons through, that would actually oil the spokes on the wagon.

“It’s not an easy job when you go out and work in a cemetery, especially when there’s a lot of brush, but as a group we work very well together, we all have a good time. We feel like we’re making a difference when we’re out their sweating and getting cut up by multiflower rose.”

Members of and volunteers for the Wayne County Pioneer Cemetery Commission include Dale Clark, Brenda DeVore, Cary DeVore, Rita Arnold, Steve and Jill Henkle, Jeannie and Larry Jackson, Dick Cunningham, Richard Casey, Bob Reed, Don Seams, Mike Ellis and Frank Snook, among others. Anyone is welcome to attend commission meetings, which are held the second Tuesday of each month, 4 p.m., at Prairie Trails Museum in Corydon.