Friday, October 18, 2013

Iowa: Search for the pioneer cemetery

A volunteer at the Tama County Genealogical Museum had sent me a typewritten list of people buried in the Butlerville Pioneer Cemetery, seven miles west of Tama. My great great grandmother Rebecca was not on the list. But the volunteer had also sent Rebecca's obituary, which indicated she had been buried there. So I wanted to visit the cemetery even if I couldn't find her grave.

The Butlerville Cemetery description included its location: about 3/4 mile north of Highway 30 on T17, "surrounded by the farmland of Burton Benson".  I knew it was near the village of Montour. From our B&B in Montezuma, we set the GPS for "shortest distance" to Montour and started the 30-mile drive north.

We got lost at mile 28. The paved road turned to gravel. We came to a Native American housing project and turned in. I asked a woman at the office for help. She directed me to Highway 30, "just past the casino on your left. You can't miss it."

We didn't miss the casino with its enormous, nearly empty parking lot. But we did turn the wrong direction on Highway 30 and drove three miles before realizing T17 was behind us and turning around. Once on that road we drove the 3/4 mile north as directed and found no cemetery. We turned into the driveway of an apple farm and asked for directions from a woman working amid apple crates. She said, "I think Burton Benson's farm is south of 30, not north." We thanked her and returned to Highway 30. Contrary to the map, T17 did not continue on the other side of the highway. We meandered on side roads, searching, and came upon a sign that said "Pioneer Cemetery". We followed five offshoot roads from there, winding up on a faint trail through high grass along a creek. After a mile the trail disappeared. I thought about how we have no cellphone service here -- apparently AT&T does not have an active presence in this area -- and we had no way to notify AAA where we were. Fortunately, Art is a courageous off-road driver, even in a rented vehicle, and he backed us out and returned us to the road. I tried not to think about possible scratches on the side of the vehicle from the bushes and shrubs we scraped by.

Finally I turned on my iPad Maps app and entered "Butlerville Cemetery". And there it was - three miles away, 3/4 mile south of Highway 30 off T17. We found it - another "Pioneer Cemetery" sign. Drove up Burton Benson's driveway, turned right just past the barn, and followed a road through harvested soybeans to the fenced cemetery at the top of the hill. The grass inside the cemetery hadn't been mown this year. It was chest high and full of burrs, which clung to my jeans and my fleece vest. We opened the gate to the cemetery.



Art walked ahead of me. That's him, between the trees.





I looked back at Burton Benson's farm.


It was about 55 degrees out, with a slight breeze. A really peaceful and pretty cemetery location.  As I stood there in the quiet, I heard my great great grandmother Rebecca's voice in my head. She said, "Hello, Dearie." I hadn't expected it, but I wasn't surprised. Two years ago, in the Gordon cemetery in western Nebraska, Art and I cleaned the tombstones of Rebecca's daughter and son-in-law, Mary Catherine and Samuel Wallace. As I worked, I heard my great grandfather Samuel's voice: "You're using the wrong tool for the job, Girl." I love it when that happens. See, I don't use the word "Dearie" and I don't use "Girl". So I'm figuring it was my great great grandmother Rebecca and my great grandfather Samuel greeting me.

We drove to the genealogical museum. I handed the sheet to the volunteer and said, "You might want to change the directions to the Butlerville Pioneer Cemetery. It's 3/4 miles south of Highway 30, not 3/4 miles north." She said, "Oh, that's right. They moved Highway 30 since these directions were written."!!

I said, "Rebecca's obituary says she was buried in the cemetery, but the sheet doesn't list her." The volunteer said,  "The names were gathered by someone walking through the cemetery years ago, looking at headstones and writing down the names.  If the grave had been marked with a wooden cross instead of a headstone, it would have decayed."

"Hello, Dearie."

Hello, Rebecca.


13 comments:

rosaria williams said...

I bet she did talk to you, thanking you for thinking of her, for taking that trip to find her tombstone. Somehow, we should all do that, maintain our ancestors' resting place, to feel connected, to keep the lines connected between the past and the future.
Great post. Inspirational.

Joanna Richey said...

Very good to keep connected. Really liked this post and so pleased that your great great grandmother was there to greet you.

Olga said...

Your extraordinary patience was rewarded.

Arkansas Patti said...

Wow, are you determined. You certainly didn't go as the crow flies but you never gave up.
I remember when your great great grandfather spoke to you. Fascinating that Rebecca also spoke to you. You definitely have a gift.

Meryl Baer said...

What an interesting treasure hunt. You are determined and it was worth it.

DJan said...

You never gave up, so of course your ancestors were watching this determined offspring, as you went about your quest. This is very cool, Linda. I'm smiling big, thinking about it all. And I love the pictures. :-)

Linda Reeder said...

What a wonderful quest!

Dee said...

Dear Linda, your story left me with a lump in my throat. I so believe in the Holy Oneness of All Creation. That is, I believe that I am One with all those who have gone before, who are here now--like you and me, and with those who will come in the future. And so I do not doubt that your great-grandmother Rebecca spoke to you and called you "Dearie" and that your great-grandfather also spoke to you in the past.

Once, when I had a one-on-one session with a psychic who'd never met me before and wouldn't have been able to trace this information, she told me that an older woman was standing by my right shoulder. The psychic described the woman and I thought she was my mother. The psychic said that the woman was saying, "Honey, I'm so sorry that I thought you could handle life alone."

Well, I was living in Minnesota where no one calls anyone "honey." But I'd grown up in Missouri, a southern state, where the term of endearment is common. And my mom always called me honey. So I was quite sure that it was my mother. And I've never lost that surety. She and I are One. As are you with your great-grandparents. Peace.

Galen Pearl said...

What a detective adventure. And a lovely family story.

MyMaracas said...

Your determined search was well rewarded. I have no doubt your ancestor spoke to you, and that she appreciated your visit. The cemetery looks like such a peaceful place. And I would prefer to rest in the tall grass, myself. It makes such a pretty, sighing sound in the wind.

Grandmother (Mary) said...

Lovely story of your determination and how you were rewarded. Thanks for sharing.

Kathleen McCoy said...

Good for you for persisting! One gets such a feeling of connection at these old rural graveyards. My cousins and I occasionally travel to the rural Kansas resting places of our ancestors and it's a fascinating feeling. I'll bet Rebecca did talk to you! It's so great that she's remembered!

Teresa Evangeline said...

Oh my lord, I got big goosebumps as I read this. I, too, have heard voices of the deceased I'd never met talking to me such as you did here. I love hearing about others experiences in this way ... and this kind of travel is exactly what I love to do. Love the images, as well.