From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Willoughby Cemetery: Homesteader's Rest

An old settlers graveyard in Republic County, Kansas


Willoughby Cemetery, near Agenda, Kansas

One hot day last July, my brother, my sister, and I drove up to Republic County, Kansas, and found Willoughby Cemetery. It's named for W. H. Willoughby, the man who donated one corner of his homestead to be a community burying ground.

W. H. Willoughby (my great-great-granduncle-by-marriage) was a preacher and one of the first settlers of Elk Creek Township in Republic County.  He homesteaded on Elk Creek in the late 1860s, along with a small group of brothers, cousins, and  "in-laws." This group of original settlers included  my great-great-grandfather Ashbel Mapes. Ashbel and W. H. Willoughby were brother-in-laws: Ashbel was a brother of  W. H.'s wife Rachel Mapes Willoughby.

My gr-grandfather's Charles Leslie Hill's original gravestone.
There's also a new stone for Charles and Lilly Hill  (at right.)
My family has several graves in Willoughby Cemetery. Great-great-grandmother, Martha Vining Mapes (wife of Ashbel Mapes), is said to be there, but we didn't see her grave.  I don't know if it is unmarked, or marked with a uninscribed stone, or the words on her tombstone have weathered away. Or maybe her stone is hidden by a clump of bushes or flowers.

Great-grandfather Charles Leslie Hill is buried there, beside his first wife, Lillie Mapes, who was a daughter of Ashbel and Martha Mapes. When Lillie died of "catarrhal fever" leaving three little children without a mother, Charles married her younger sister Lana Mapes, my great grandmother.

My gr -gr -grandaunt, Rachel Ann Mapes,
She was W. H. Willoughby's wife.

Several other Mapes family members are buried in Willoughby Cemetery, including  Rachel Mapes Willoughby,  and several of Ashbel and Martha Vining Mapes's ten children: James Mapes, Nellie Mapes Boyer, Lillie Mapes Hill (as already mentioned), and probably Lucy Artimus Mapes Wharton (very likely, but not yet proven.)

Also, little Clarence Hill, a great-uncle who died at the age of 3 years and a few days, is buried there. His grave is probably at the foot of his mother's Lillie Mapes Hill's grave, where a small, uninscribed stone stands.

 While we were there, I tried to photograph all of the gravestones in the cemetery that were legible or at least partly so. I planned to post them to Find-A-Grave when I got back home.

When I began editing the photos and researching the names in Willoughby cemetery, I learned that a surprising number of people there were related to my relatives in one way or another.

All of them, related or not, were from neighbor families and many were homesteaders. Some came to Kansas from New York, Ohio, Indiana, and other states, and others were immigrants from foreign countries.Their life stories were just as interesting as my own family's. (And I don't mean that they were all saints! One of them even served time for stealing chickens.)

Intrigued by their histories, I decided that I would include at least a few sentences about the life of each person in Willoughby Cemetery in his or her Find A Grave memorial. Achieving that goal has been an interesting, engrossing project. I've found obituaries for many of them in the old Republic County newspapers. For others, I've constructed a short biography from census data and other sources.

While searching the old newspapers for the names on the stones, I've found about twenty obituaries for people who were buried in Willoughby, but do not seem to have grave markers (or their grave markers are illegible.) So, I created Find-A-Grave memorials for them with their obituaries, so their stories can be retold and remembered, too.

Willoughby Cemetery in Republic County
near Agenda, Kansas
I have done about 40 memorials so far, and I still have about 25 more photographs and a few more obituaries to work through. Some of the stones in the remaining photos are badly weathered, but maybe I can figure them out with the help of Ancestry.com, Family Search, and the old Republic County newspapers.

A shopkeeper in Agenda, a little village a few miles away, told us that W. H. Willoughby gave the cemetery land with one condition -- that no one would ever have to pay to be buried there. No burial plots in Willoughby Cemetery were ever to be sold. The community still honors that promise, she added.

The first burial in Willoughby Cemetery (that I know of)
was little Margaret Miller who died in 1871.

These Willoughby children were a nephew and a niece of
W.H. Willoughby, who founded Willoughby cemetery to
serve the needs of the Elk Creek homesteader community.
Rest in peace, little ones.

2 comments:

Collagemama said...

I'm glad the community honors the promise.

Genevieve said...

Despite the availability of a free burial site, there appears to be quite a bit of room left. I guess it's a little too remote for most folks. And the upkeep is probably provided by volunteers.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.