Pioneer Burying Grounds


Copied from a 1902 clipping in Louise Everett’s scrapbook

That some of the cemeteries within the city of Council Bluffs are older than the city itself, and that Anglo-Saxons were buried on the hill tops surrounding the city even before there was any apparent probability of white men gaining possession of this section of the Missouri river valley, is clearly established by records which are in the possession of cemetery association’s organized in later years, and also by the memory of remaining old settlers who, while they were mere boys, came here with their parents to make homes in the wilderness.
The first cemetery established here was in the immediate vicinity of the late John Clausen’s residence on Pierce Street, and was known as the Fort Crogan cemetery.
The Mormons in 1846 arrived here on their way to Utah and started a burying ground where Fairview cemetery is now located. In 1848 they established a cemetery at “Council Point,” west of (Lake) Manawa.

The Pottawattamies were brought here during the administration of President Van Buren, during the early spring of 1836. Davis Hardin was appointed to instruct them in the art of farming. He brought his family here a few days before the arrival of the Indians, coming up the Missouri river on the steamer Antelope, from Leavenworth, Kans. The Hardins were the first white people, who settled here to stay, backed and protected by the government. The Indians were accompanied by a regiment of soldiers, who built a stockade on a little promontory jutting to what is now Broadway, here the residence of the late John Clausen. A short time later a log house was built for the Hardins near the big spring, just east of the fort, which was known as Fort Crogan.
A Catholic mission was established and many of the Indians embraced religion. A short time later three of the “redskins” died and were buried in a little cemetery, which had been started, where the Pierce Street school now stands.
In grading Franklin street a number of years ago the remains of several of those who had been buried in this Catholic cemetery were unearthed and removed to Fairview cemetery. At the time the excavation was made for the Pierce Street school in 1884 several more bodies were uncovered and taken to Fairview.

“The oldest cemeteries in Council Bluffs? Yes, since you bring it to my mind I believe that I can recall remembrances of old burying grounds used by both the Indians and the whites, said Rev. Henry DeLong, as he sat in his office at the court house.
“And as I let my mind wander back over the years that have intervened I can recall images of several prominent men whose crumbling bones have for years laid in their cells beneath the ground. But all of the old graves are not underground, for some of the Indians buried their dead on the surface and built willow fences around and over them to protect the remains from the sun, wind and rain.
“Of course, the cemetery near Fort Crogan was the first one established here, but the next one that I remember was established by the Mormons, who had scruples against burying their dead in the Fort Crogan cemetery. They started a burying ground near where Fairview cemetery is now located. It was not incorporated and was open to anyone who wished to use it. No lots were sold, but anyone who wished, dug a grave and buried his dead. There was no system to it; some placed the heads one way, while others placed theirs in another direction. It was about 1846 that the first bodies were buried there on the top of the hill overlooking the river. The Mormons must have chosen that spot for the burying ground because there was one grave there to begin with.”

“The second cemetery started by the Mormons was in the vicinity of Mynster Springs, where a large number of them camped. Those of that settlement who died were buried on the point of a bluff north of the spring next to the lake. The cemetery was abandoned in the ’50s, as no one was buried there after the Mormons moved on to Utah.
“About 300 Mormons were buried in the Carterville cemetery, about two miles east of Council Bluffs, in the vicinity of Green’s packing house. The grounds were well kept and were in an excellent state of preservation until 1854, when they were abandoned. The cemetery was on the old Mormon trail to Council Bluffs and was started by Joseph Young when Carterville was a rival for Council Bluffs. When the Great Western railroad entered this city several graves were plowed up. The bones were placed in one box and buried along the right-of-way of the railroad.
“The most noted Indian burying ground was on the point of a high bluff, where St. Peter’s Catholic church now stands. This cemetery was used by the Pottawattamie Indians. It was abandoned after a short time, but until the fall of 1846 was in good state of preservation. It was gradually destroyed by the winds and rains.”

“At Council Point, west of Manawa, a settlement of Mormons started a cemetery in 1848. A large number of them were buried there while the Mormons occupied this section of the county. After the cemetery was abandoned it was in after years washed into the river, and the exact location of it could hardly be determined at this date.

“In 1850 another burying ground was established by George Schofield on a farm owned by him about three miles northeast of Council Bluffs. Several of his family and relatives were first buried there, after which it became a public cemetery. It is still in existence and is occasionally used now. William Garner, a veteran of the Mexican war and one of the three men who built the Ogden hotel, in 1870 started a cemetery adjoining the one on the Schofield farm. Garner and many of his relatives are buried there. There is a fine monument which marks the Garner grave.

“In 1852 D. V. Clark established a cemetery on the Lincoln Avenue road about a mile and a half south of the city limits. Several members of his family are buried there and the place is now in good condition. It is occasionally used now.”

Another cemetery established here in the early days was located upon the ground which is now enclosed by the Hafer lumber yard. In the pioneer days a small white cottonwood Methodist church was erected just east of the Ogden house, and around it was established a burying ground. In 1866 the cemetery was abandoned after the old church building had been sold to W. S. Quick. Those who had friends or relatives buried there removed the remains to Fairview cemetery.

The FAIRVIEW cemetery association was incorporated March 26,1864, by the following persons: J. P. Casady, John Hammer, E. McBride, Horace Everett, R. Douglas, Samuel Jacobs, John W. Warner, Cornelius Eubank, J. L. Foreman, H. H. Fields, D. W. Carpenter, F. T. Johnson, J. M. Phillips, J. B. Lewis and W. Wood.

The first directors were: Horace Everett, Samuel Jacobs, J. P. Casady, J. M. Phillips and John Hammer. The present directors are: Leonard Everett, president; J. J. Stewart, secretary and treasurer; W. S. Cooper; Theodore Laskowski and John Hammer.

The first regular meeting of the association after it was organized was Wednesday, April 25, 1864, at the office of J. P. Cassady. There are about 80 acres of land in the cemetery. The association is a benevolent and charitable association, all money received from the sale of lots being used in taking care of the cemetery and improving the grounds.

The title to the Mormon cemetery on the high bluff northeast of the city was secured by the association. A considerable tract of land was added to it and the entire grounds were fenced and surveyed off into burial lots, which were offered at public sale. In subsequent years this cemetery has been greatly improved. It occupies a commanding situation as it overlooks not only the city of Council Bluffs, but the county around for a long distance, including the broad valley of the Missouri, the winding course of the river, with the city of Omaha on its western banks.

The Walnut Hill Cemetery association was incorporated March 22, 1864, by Caleb Baldwin, Thomas Officer, William H. M. Pusey, E. S. Nutt, and N. P. Dodge. Caleb Baldwin was elected president and N. P. Dodge secretary. The ground selected and purchased was twenty-one acres of land, including a walnut grove, in the northeastern of the city. For twenty years or more this cemetery was little used, but in recent years its beautiful and sightly location, and well kept grounds have brought it into larger use.

The superintendent, E. A. Fry, cares for the burial lots for a small annual fee paid by the lot owner. A portion of the income from the sale of lots is set aside as a permanent fund to insure the care of the grounds belonging to the association. And their portion is set aside for the purpose of making improvements. Duplicate records are kept of the lot owners; also of the persons buried, which include the age and disease of which they died. The grounds are watered by private water system, the water being pumped to a reservoir on the highest point of the grounds, and piped to the different blocks.
The present officers are N.P. Dodge, president, and L. A. Baldwin, secretary.

Far up on a knoll in the old section of Fairview cemetery, obscure from the vision of the casual observer, fallen over and lying nearly buried by earth, grass and weeds, is a marble slab that tells a pathetic story. It marks a grave that for sixty years had been enshrouded with mystery and speculation. Although the grave is sunken in and abandoned, and the lot again offered for sale, it is not unmarked. On the contrary, it has a large marble slab for the head and a smaller one for the footstone. A close inspection of the marble slab fails to reveal the identity of the occupant of the mysterious grave.

Because of the mystery surrounding the grave and the pathetic little verse on the head stone the present members of the cemetery association have taken considerable interest in the grave. Although a Nonpareil reporter, after considerable research, has succeeded in discovering the sex of the unknown and the sad story surrounding her death, her name will never be known as for that has been chiseled from the marble and even the oldest settler in this section never knew what it was. Since she has reposed as an “Unknown” for sixty-one years it is doubtful if any of her family or friends of the early frontier days are yet living to reveal the secret of her identity.

The pathetic verse on the marble slab, although dimmed by exposure and hardly discernible except at very close range, is as follows:

“To the memory of _______, who died at _____th, 1845, _____18 years 6 mos and 23 days. “Here lonely and sad in this wilderness land, “Thy parents resigning, deplore thy Savior’s command “in beauty and youth shall restore thee.” ______ & Wilson,” “_____ Luois.”

The partly obliterated inscription on the lower left hand corner of the headstone would lead one to believe that it had been made at St. Louis and brought here by wagon or boat, long before the days of the old stage coaches or even before it was ever thought possible that railroads would some day come thundering over the prairies.

Leonard Everett, one of the present directors of the Fairview Cemetery Association, and who had taken great interest in the unknown grave, in speaking of the mystery surrounding it, said:

“I seldom ever visit the cemetery without going to the grave which seems so sad and lonely. As I stand there and look down at the cold, gray marble, with the inscription which smacks of romance, I cannot help but wonder why the name of the occupant of the grave and the date, when the person died, was chiseled away; or why the monument was ever erected if the friends did not want the public to know who occupied the grave. The only explanation that I can arrive at is that a family must have been journeying westward and when they reached the Missouri river one of its dear ones died and was laid to rest on the grassy hill top. But whether it is a boy or a girl, I have never been able to decide.”

Although the present sexton of the cemetery knows nothing regarding the grave, the following story had been handed down among the older sextons and was told to a Nonpareil reporter by C. W. Foster, who recently retired from the care of the city of the dead:

“Although it has been a great many years since I heard the story of the grave from the lips of a former sexton, who claimed to have seen the father of the girl, I believe, if I remember correctly , the girl, who is said to have been young and beautiful at that time, was enticed from her home in St. Louis and brought into the wilderness by a gang of horse thieves and gamblers. A short time later she died of abuse and lonesomeness. They buried her on the hillside and one of the gang, who had grown to love the girl, sent to St. Louis for a monument and had the
pathetic verse, which you see, inscribed upon it. The father who lived in St. Louts and was an extensive fur trader, heard that the monument was being made and when it started on the long journey followed it with the hopes of locating his daughter and taking her back to St. Louis for burial. When he arrived here and heard the story of the girl’s downfall and of her associations with the desperadoes, he became angry and, with the hopes of saving the family from disgrace, chiseled her name from the headstone and initials from the footstone. Whether or not the story is true will never be known, but it is the only plausible explanation that I have ever heard, although I have talked with many people who have visited the grave and wondered at the strange verse carved into the marble.”

Among the unmarked graves that have attracted some interest on account of their occupants are those of four men who were lynched because of a career in crime. The first one to meet his fate here in the frontier days was a man named Muir, who in 1854 killed his traveling mate, who owned the “prairie schooner” in which the two men were traveling. A shallow hole was dug on the ridge above the Kinsman monument just north of Fairview cemetery, and the remains, unmarked and unboxed, were dumped into the grave.

The next in line to fill a criminal’s grave was Phil Dwyer, who, in 1859, was lynched on general principles, on the grounds that he was an all around bad man and terror to those who wished to earn an honest living. In the matter of burial he fared better than Muir and was laid to rest in a pine whip box which was secured from a harness shop. There being no professional undertaker here in those days, H. H. Fields often acted as mortician and in that capacity officiated at the burial of Dwyer.

Fred Miller, a horse thief was lynched in 1863 and buried alongside Muir and Dwyer.

The fourth to be added to the silent colony was Lacey, holdup man, who was lynched in 1865 and buried alongside the other three who had terrorized the settlers beyond endurance.

“One of the most pathetic stories regarding the old cemeteries and of the single graves in this vicinity is that surrounding the death of and burial of Mrs. Thomas Ross,” said Rev. Henry DeLong, when asked regarding the old graves.

“In the early days she and her husband settled here and became quite prominent. During the fall of 1844 Mrs. Ross went insane from becoming overheated while fighting prairie fire, which threatened to consume their little log cabin and everything they had in the world. In those days there were no insane asylums in this section of the country and it was necessary for her husband to erect a small one room building. In the middle of the room a large strong hardwood stake was driven. To this stake one end of a short chain was fastened, with the other end around the leg of the unfortunate woman! She soon became a raving maniac and when anyone appeared at either the door or little window on the west side of the room, she would growl and snarl at them, and bound forward as if to tear them to pieces, until she was restrained by the chain being taut. After she had been confined in this impoverished cell for three years she was finally released by death. The remains were buried on the point of a high bluff back of the little home.

“As the years passed by, the incident was forgotten by even the oldest settler until in 1870 or 71, when the Union Pacific Railroad company was excavating to establish a grade along near the Children’s Manufacturing company plant. As the big steam shovel (dug) carload after carload of dirt from the hillside suddenly a corpse rolled down from the top of bluff. No one, not even the oldest inhabitant, had any recollection of a cemetery ever having been located in that vicinity, and for a time it was supposed to be the remains of some Indian, she had been buried there before the whites took possession of the bluffs, along the river. But I remember distinctly the circumstances surrounding the death and burial, for I often peeked in at the window and sympathized with the prisoner in her log cabin cell.”

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