[logo:Kansas Heritage Group]

Kansas History Web Sites


EMIGRANT GRAVES ON THE OREGON AND CALIFORNIA TRAILS IN KANSAS


The Kansas Heritage server would like to thank Morris W. Werner for preparing this material.

Trail deaths meant heartbreak and hardship for survivors, but little time was allowed for grieving. A grave was hurriedly prepared beside the trail and a prayer offered if a minister was present. If not, someone might volunteer to read a passage from the Bible, or "say a few words," after which the journey continued. Sometimes the grave was dug in the trail itself to conceal it from Indians. Death due to cholera or contagious disease meant increased haste; sometimes such individuals were simply abandoned beside the trail.

Graves were usually shallow to save labor, and often located in a natural depression. As much soil was scooped out as possible, and earth imported to the site and mounded over the remains. Sorrowing relatives sometimes transplanted prairie sod and wild flowers, and some type of wooden marker was set up, probably with the thought of returning some day to provide a more permanent memorial. Few did, however, and only a small percentage took time to erect a suitably engraved headstone. An exception is Susan Hail who died June 2, 1852 along a lonely stretch of trail in the Nebraska sandhills. Her distraught husband reportedly returned on foot to St. Joseph, obtained a headstone, and transported it to the site with a wheelbarrow.

Existing emigrant graves were protected by pioneer settlers who took up claims along the trail, and cemeteries sometimes grew up around the old graves. There is ample evidence of this practice. Santa Fe Trail ruts are preserved in the cemeteries at Grand Pass and Little Santa Fe in Missouri, and at Overbrook, Kansas. Another example is Wolf River Cemetery south of present Highland. It contains perhaps the oldest emigrant grave in Doniphan County. According to P.L. Gray, "Some years ago the wagon road ran directly through the graveyard, the wheels of the wagons grinding against the headstones and jolting over sunken and forgotten graves."

Smith Creek, Courter-Ritchey and Mosquito Creek Cemeteries are immediately adjacent to the Trail in Doniphan County, as well as Ununda Cemetery near Prairie Springs Campground in Brown County. It seems likely that some of these contain emigrant graves. Since emigrant travel in Kansas overlapped pioneer settlement by fifteen years, cemeteries serving trail hamlets like Belmont, Smithton and Iola in Doniphan County, or Capioma and Granada in Nemaha County may also house emigrant burials.

One thing is certain: Hundred of emigrants are buried in Kansas, but only 200 can be approximately located, and precise locations are known for only a handful. A name and date of death are associated with about 50 sites, but most are unidentified. Lonely, but not alone, far from kith and kin, they await the final Judgment. When the last trumpet sounds, one hopes that judgment will be tempered by mercy for these unfortunate persons who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of National aspirations and personal fortune.

The following incomplete tabulation of emigrant graves in Kansas is based on emigrant journals and recollections of pioneer settlers. The journals are seldom precise as to grave locations, and the sites listed below are based on a study of terrain description, location of known campgrounds, and distance estimates, compared with guide book distances after 1850. Both guide book distances and contemporary estimates are inaccurate; indeed, emigrant journals frequently relied on guide books, and thus perpetuated their errors.

Graves identified by earlier emigrants lost their temporary markers in a few years, and thus may have been listed as unidentified by later overlanders. Although some diarists counted up to twenty graves at one campground, these were probably the most recent and cannot be considered a total for the area.

PETERS CREEK/MOUTH OF CLEAR CREEK: 1
Unidentified emigrant. "Near our camp is a solitary grave with but one letter upon its head board." (John Hawkins Clark May 17, 1852)

WOLF RIVER: 8
Nathaniel Clark, d May 10, 1849. (Hale)
Five unidentified emigrants, 1849, one of which was later removed to Savannah, MO. (Gray)
Pvt. Clough, d Aug. 14, bur. Aug. 15, 1844. Maj. Clifton Wharton's Expedition to the Pawnee Villages. "....on the summit of a beautiful hill on the east side of the stream upon which we are encamped." Perhaps 2 m. s.w. of present Purcell on South Fork of Wolf River. (Carleton, Wharton)
Mrs. Comstock d 1842?, bur. Wolf River Cemetery at future Bayne's Crossing. If date is correct, the Comstock's were perhaps traveling on the Council Bluffs Trail. First known emigrant party (excepting Marcus Whitman Party of 1834) to cross Doniphan County was the Cornelius Gilliam Co. of 1844. (Gray)

IOWA, SAC AND FOX PRESBYTERIAN MISSION: 13 Bishop, d May 12, 1844 at Mosquito Creek; bur. Mission Cemetery. Cornelius Gilliam Co. (Parrish, Minto)
Theodore Jones, John Newbower, John Tatlow of Marion Co., MO, d May 15, 1849 of cholera. (Athearn)
Samuel Muldrow of Ralls Co., MO, d May 15, 1849 of cholera. (Athearn)
"Gen." Thomas Jefferson Sutherland, d Sept. 1850. (Gray)
Fowler family of Virginia, d May 10, 1852 of cholera. 6 persons buried in common grave 2 m. west of Mission (Highland vicinity). (Potter)
Adeline Fowler, d May 15, 1852 of cholera at the Mission. (Forman)

HIAWATHA VICINITY: 2
John Herlinger, d May 17, 1850 of cholera, "on branch of Wolf River." Probably at campsite 1 m. n.e. of Hiawatha. (Stauder)
Unidentified emigrant, d May 10, 1852 of cholera, "on muddy slew" 14 miles west of Cedar Creek campground (Cornell)

SABETHA VICINITY: 4
David Butley, d Aug. 1844. Headstone existed in 1916. (Tennal)
Samuel Wilson, d mid-May 1849 of cholera 75 m. from St. Joseph; St. Joseph Mining Co., (a pack train). (St. Joseph Gazette)
A. Powers of Peoria Co., IL. d May 20, 1850; "65 miles west of St. Joseph" probably at campsite on branch of Webster Creek southeast of Sabetha. (Maynard)
McCloud d c1854. Murdered at head of Deer Creek. (Tennal, Cox)

FOUR MILE CREEK: 2
Unidentified emigrant d May 22, 1850 of cholera. (Maynard)
Judson Castle of Licking County, Ohio, d May 16, 1852 of cholera. "...this morning after inscribing Judson's name residence age and day of his death on a stone set up at the head of his grave I took a tearful farewell." (Cornell) Cornell's mother-in-law never forgave him for her son's death, and refused to speak to him for the rest of her life.

BAKER'S FORD SOUTH FORK OF NEMAHA RIVER: 22
Unidentified emigrant from St. Louis d May 8, 1849 of cholera. (Ramsay)
G. Butler d May 13, 1849, bur. May 14. "....top of high hill with inscribed headboard." (Watson)
Brown d May 13, 1852 of cholera; son of John Brown. "Buried on right hand side of the road on the east side of the creek under a white oak tree." (John Brown)
James McKinney, Duncan Gilchrist, Charles Kelsey, J. J. Pearce d May 13, 1852 of cholera. Elias J. Perry's Passenger Train. ("B")
8 Unidentified emigrants in cluster on east side; 11 new graves "....three buried in one hole from Perry's Train on west side." Probably included the four emigrants named by "B". (John Clark of VA May 13, 1852)

MAXWELL SPRING: 1
Child's grave d May 27?, 1844; Cornelius Gilliam Co. (Carleton)

GRASSHOPPER (DELAWARE) RIVER: 1
C.H. Moore of Milford, IL. d May 1850 50 miles from Weston, Dr. Clark's Train. (Weston Reporter)

MUDDY (LOCKNANE'S) CREEK: 8
Unidentified emigrant d May 25?, 1844, Cornelius Gilliam Co. Reported by Lt. Carleton afternoon of Aug. 16, 1844. Wharton's campsite of Aug. 16 was 19 miles beyond head of Walnut Creek where they had intercepted Gilliam's trail. Camped 1 m. north of trail on a creek thought to be head of Wolf River, but actually a branch of Harris Creek, a trib. of S. Fork of Nemaha River. "This afternoon we passed a grave where they (Gilliam Co.) had buried one of their number. It had a mound of earth raised over it, which was covered with grass and flowers, but there was nothing further to tell us who it was that slept beneath." (Carleton)
Teamster burials mid-June 1852. 7 deaths incl. a child of wagon master Burnam. Holladay, Hughes & Co. freight train from Weston to Salt Lake City. (Weston Reporter)

LITTLE NEMAHA (CLEAR) CREEK: 2
Thomas Speed and John McCalister, d May 14, 1852 of cholera; Elias J. Perry's Passenger Train. ("B")

(NORTH) ELM CREEK: 5
3 Unidentified emigrants from IL., bur. in common grave, mid-May 1849, of cholera. (Armstrong, Banks, Geiger)
Mrs. Dawson and Thomas? Bedford, d May 15, 1852, of cholera; Elias J. Perry's Passenger Train. ("B")

SPRING CREEK: 1
William Kirk of Franklin Co., IL. Between Robidoux (Vermillion) Creek and Marysville. (Cisne Apr. 23, 1860)

BIG BLUE RIVER: 10
John Graham, d Mar. 21, 1847. (Banks)
Nicholas Boismenue, killed in firearms accident Apr. 29, 1849, at head of Robidoux Creek; bur. Apr. 30 left bank of Big Blue; French Canadian, Col. Jarrot's Co. (Berrien)
I. H. Snow 1849, "Here lies a Catholic." (Armstrong; Banks May 19,1849)
John and Thomas Walker, brothers, d May 1850 about 1 mile west of Big Blue. (Stauder, May 22, 1850)
Isadore Robidoux, d May 30, 1852 of cholera in "Nebraska Territory" near Big Blue River; brother of Joseph Robidoux III, age 60. (St. Joseph Gazette)
12 graves most of them located on banks of Big Blue. (John Hawkins Clark May 16, 1852)
Thomas Mastin, d May 13, 1853, 1 m. w. of Marysville (Ellenbecker)

LONE ELM: 3
Oliver Trowbridqe and William Millen, d May 17, 1849 of cholera, 2 miles east of campground. Pioneer Line passengers. (Reid)
Pvt. John W. Collins, d July 13, 1847. (1st IL. Vol. Inf.)
Adam Clement, d May 7, 1849 "20 miles from Independence on S. F. Trail."

LITTLE WAKARUSA RIVER? 1
Infant Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Columbia Lancaster, d May 21, 1842; Elijah White's Party. (Crawford)

KANSAS RIVER: 3
Unidentified emigrant, d May 11?, 1849 at Shunganunga Creek. (Shombre)
2 Unidentified emigrants, d May 16?, 1849, Silver Lake vicinity." (Shombre, Thomason)

RED VERMILLION RIVER: 10
Hagin, 1849. (Reid)
Capt. Ashley, 1849, of Chariton Co., MO. (Reid)
H. A. Wood, d May 26, 1849. (John Evans Brown)
T. S. Prather, d May 27, 1849. Stone marker still in place.
6 Unidentified emigrants, d May 26?, 1849 of cholera; from a party of seven from Tennessee. (DeWolf)

BOXELDER CREEK: 1
Henry Roush of IL., d May 8, 1849, east side of creek; marker at KSHS in Topeka. (Reid, Hixson)

ROCK CREEK: 10
Woodson. 1849 (Reid)
T. Adams, 1849. (Hixson)
Unidentified emigrant at entrance to Scott Spring. (Buffington)
3 Unidentified emigrants, East Armer St., Westmoreland. (Buffington)
Child's grave, NW corner SE1/4 S4 T8S R9E. (Buffington)
3 Unidentified graves, SE corner of NE1/4 S4 T8S R9E. These graves removed by relatives c1880. (Buffington)

BALDWIN'S CREEK: 3
S. M. Marshall of Wadesboro, KY, d May 27, 1849; stone marker at KSHS, Topeka. On hill west of trail. (Buffington)
Ingraham of Tennessee; location uncertain--between Rock Creek and Black Vermillion. (Reid)
Unidentified emigrant SW1/4 S4 T7S R9E, east side of trail about 3 miles north of Baldwin's Creek. (Hennessy)

BLACK VERMILLION: 2
James H. Marshall of St. Louis, d June 27, 1844. Andrew Sublette's Company. (Clyman; Reid; Hixson)
Charles M. Sinclair, d May 30, 1849 of cholera; Pioneer Line passenger. (Reid, Searls)

ALCOVE SPRING: 4
Sarah Keyes, d May 29, 1846, age 70; mother-in-law of James Frazier Reed. Reed-Donner Party. (Bryant, Reid, Hixson, McKinstry)
John Fuller, d Apr. 28, 1849, of accidental gunshot wound; G. W. Paul's Party. (Hixson)
2 Unidentified emigrants, discovered 1960s at south end of campsite near west end of "Canyon Road." (Ubben)

KETCHUM CREEK (TEN MILE BRANCH): 1
Ketchum, d June 28?, 1844. Andrew Sublette's Company. Perhaps at campsite identified by Rev. E. E. Parrish June 26, 1844, 10 miles from Big Blue. Grave location based on statement of Andrew Sublette to James Clyman, July 3, 1844. (Clyman; Sublette)

COTTONWOOD CREEK: 8
Graves of 2 children, George Harlan's California Company, Judge Josiah Morin, captain. One was the son of Judge Morin, d May 27, 1846. "Stone marked with date on one grave, a wooden cross on the other." (Bryant; McKinstry)
2 "newly made graves." (John Hawkins Clark May 17, 1852)
I.P.W. Chutheson of St. Louis, d June 29, 1844; Andrew Sublette's Company. (William Findley June 2, 1845)
Benjamin Franklin Adams, 1849, 4 miles beyond intersection of Independence and St. Joseph trails. Perhaps 1 miles n.w. of Cottonwood Creek where trail crosses state route 4. An emigrant grave was uncovered here c1955 when grading was in progress. An unidentified grave also exists in this area. (Reid)
Joseph Chaffee May 28, 1849, "3 miles west of the junction of the roads from Independence and St. Joe." Perhaps mile beyond Cottonwood Creek. (Chaffee)

REPUBLICAN RIVER: 19 (On hilltop east of Scandia, Republic County)
Unmarked Mormon graves 1854? Killed by Indians according to local tradition (probably cholera)

MORMON GROVE: 50? (4 m. w. of Atchison)
Unmarked Mormon graves, 1855-56. Most died with cholera.

UNIDENTIFIED MORMON DEATH CAMP: 150? (Murphy Lake, Nemaha Co.?)
Mormon converts from Europe, June 15, 1853. (Earl)

SOUTH FORK NEMAHA RIVER: Murphy Lake, Nemaha Co. 40? (SW1/4 S25 T1S R12E)
Unmarked Mormon graves, Aug. 1855, 1 m. s.e. of Baker's Ford; cholera (Cox)

TABULATION OF GRAVES BY PARTY


1 (child) Elijah White's Party 1842
3 Andrew Sublette's Party 1844
3 Cornelius Gilliam Co. 1844
1 Maj. Wharton's Expedition to the Pawnee Villages 1844
1 Reed/Donner Party 1846
2 (children) George Harlan's Party 1846
1 G. W. Paul's Party 1849
3 Passengers on the Pioneer Line 1849
1 St. Joseph Mining Co. 1849
6 Party of seven from Tennessee 1849
1 Col. Jarrot's St. Clair Mining Co. 1849
2 Davis/Wood Co. 1849
1 Dr. Clark's Train 1850
8 Elias J. Perry's Passenger Train 1852
7 Members of Fowler family from Virginia 1852
7 Members of Holladay-Hughes & Co. freight train 1852
150 (approx.) members of S. M. Blair/Sylvester H. Earl's Mormon Co. 1853

Armstrong, J. Elza, Athearn, Prince, "B" Perry's Train, Banks, John Edwin, Berrien, Joseph W., Brown, John, Brown, John Evans, Bryant, Edwin, Buffington, Chalmer, Carriger, Nicholas, Chaffee, Junius, Cisne, Jonah Girard, Clark, John Hawkins, Clyman, James, Cornell, William, Cox, Mrs. P. W., Crawford, Medorem, DeWolf, David, Dundass, Samuel R., Earl, Sylvester H., Ellenbecker, J. G., Findley, William, Forman, James, Geiger, Vincent, Gray, P. L., Hale, Israel F., Hennessy, Hixson, Joseph M., Maynard, Dr, Joseph, McKinstry, George, Minto, John, Parrish, Rev. Edward E., Potter, Theodore, Ramsay, Alexander, Reed, Virginia, Reid, Bernard, Searls, Niles, Shombre, Henry J., Stauder, John, Sublette, Andrew, Thomason, Jackson, Tennal, Ralph, Ubben, Donald, Watson, William J., Wharton, Maj. Clifton


Return to the Pioneer Trails Home Page
or return to the Kansas Historic Trails
or return to the Kansas Heritage Server.