Not long ago, many of the county’s citizens worried that its history was being lost.
Old cemeteries and burial sites were plowed over to make way for farms. Records of the area’s early settlers were often lost, destroyed, or simply nonexistent.
So the county commission asked then-clerk Marquette Eilerts to take on a years-long project, a book that would list, organize, and identify family and public cemeteries and grave sites in the county.
“Family Cemeteries and Grave Sites Located in Marion County” maps the locations of 85 cemeteries, including township, church, and family burial plots.
Eilerts organized volunteers from nearly 32 of the county’s townships including from its historical societies and senior centers. The volunteers walked in grids to find talked-about, but often long-forgotten graves.
It was tough and often frustrating, Eilerts said.
The unsentimental funeral customs of the county’s early residents didn’t aid the effort — a grave site could be anywhere.
She said that was still true when her 5-year-old sister passed away.
“The undertaker would come to the home and bring the deceased back to be buried,” she said.
“We buried them wherever we wanted to. If there was a cemetery, they could be taken there as well. It was very crude compared to what we have today,” she said.
Their efforts to find area residents’ burials sites often took volunteers into adjacent townships.
“It was tough. Many people were buried in the next county,” she said. “They went to church elsewhere and were buried elsewhere.”
Pathfinder Brian Stucky of Goessel said the list, though impressive, is far from complete.
“There are 50 rural burial places around Goessel alone,” he said. “In the early pioneer years, there were many burials of grandpa or babies under the tree or by the hedge, or in the corner of the field.”
He said Eilerts encountered some farmers who didn’t want anyone to know there was a grave on their land.
Still, Eilerts is pleased the project is finished, even if some of the county’s history is still yet to be discovered.
“It was so undone,” she said. “We found many of the counties simply didn’t have any records.”
The earliest graves probably were dug along the Santa Fe Trail from the 1820s to 1869, but there are no markers for any of the dead.
Stories abound about cowboys or soldiers who died in a blizzard or in gunfights at Lost Springs Station, 1½ miles west of present-day Lost Springs.
The list of cemeteries identifies a possible burial site at the station, but there are no identified gravesites.
Steve Schmidt, president of the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association said he has done a lot of research on the Lost Spring Station and has not found a firsthand account about the deaths.
Schmidt owns the land on which the French Creek Station north of Lehigh was located and has not found any evidence of graves there. The station is identified as having a cemetery.
Schmidt said several road ranch operators, such as A.A. Moore, manager of Cottonwood Crossing at Durham, and Jack Costello at Lost Springs, moved to Marion Centre in 1862 and established businesses there.
One of the oldest tombstones in Highland Cemetery is that of William P. Shreve, one of the first three pioneers and their families to settle at Marion Centre.
The tombstone the cemetery, but, the it wasn’t chartered until 1873. It was named Highland Cemetery. The land was bought from Marshall and Angeline Freeborn.
Shreve took over the Cottonwood Crossing Station after Moore moved to Marion.
Shreve’s daughter, Emilee, later shared memories of the family’s time at the station.
The year 1865 was a busy one on the trail. Emilee said sometimes 50 to 100 wagons, drawn mostly by ox teams, passed by the station. She remembered that stagecoaches would pull in with a rush. The driver would jump down and unhitch the horses, and another team and driver would take their place and rush on.
The Shreves operated a grocery store in Marion for a short time.
He died in 1865.