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May 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 18Twirling, twirling, eyes focused upward on the canopy of newborn leaves. Birch, maple and white pine. I can imagine skirts flaring at my ankles as I turn on heeled boots. Swirling, swirling, surrounded by the shadows of stories clinging to white-washed stones that mark the graves of copper miners. A squirrel chatters and I float back to my body only to realize I’m not a  child of the 1840s settlement of Clif Mine, but a modern woman in jeans, standing perfectly still with camera and notebook in hand.

Cemeteries make me dizzy.

My eyes and imagination take in the details so quickly I’m transported to multiple planes of awareness. The researcher within is rapidly scratching notes — names, dates, interesting  recordings that include the memorial bought by a lady for her dear departed male friend or the twin stones etched with the details of a mining association. The storyteller seeks to know why a 10-year old boy is listed as “killed at the mine.” He was only 10. The feminist wants more clues to the lives of women mentioned only as daughters or wives. The historian rejoices over the discovery of buried miners born in Cornwall; proof the local pasties originated with them.

There’s also the curious white-wash of most of the old stones. It’s something I’ve seen in photos and it preserves the lettering, though the tremendous weight of annual snows have toppled and cracked many stones. Even the roots of trees have buckled fences, borders and an obelisk. During the 1910s, marble stones give way to to cheap cement and crudely punctured tin faces. That’s the era when miners went on strike. Was it poverty that changed the stones so drastically?

Spring ephemerals burst from grass that covers mounds and pathways. Purple, lavender, pink and yellow. Small and quickly blooming before the leaves of trees fully form. My daughter, the geologist and science writer, points out the swells of the sloping cemetery and says the plots look intentionally mounded. Paths are worn down and lupines are beginning to grow among what look like flowering brambles. Such a wonder is this place of life and death.

It’s where stories are born in the imagination.

Well, that is, if you are the kind of historical writer who geeks out over graves. It takes me a good thirty minutes to calm my excitement, to let the stronger clues dominate all the whispering curiosities. I thought to do a cemetery challenge — give myself 24 hours to research a name, find a backstory and write a flash fiction. Alas, my daughter’s dog ate my research notes. Seriously. I left them on the table and my SIL pulled what was left of the intact cover and the devoured notes from Jasper’s dog bed. “This yours,” he asked. Uh, was…

Absalom. Its the only name that remained on a rip of notepaper. I’m up to the challenge, and Jasper can go bite a squirrel. On Sunday, we went adventuring. My daughter remembers how I used to take her and her siblings to look for cemeteries, or historical libraries of stories. We grabbed gas station caffeine, dropped the SIL off at work (he’s a Park Ranger in Calumet for Isle Royale) and began to head toward Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Cornish miners were said to have been among the first here and I’m hoping to find evidence. Otherwise, I don’t know what to expect.

My daughter pulls over at a historical wooden sign for the Clif Mine, established in 1843. Every town and blip on the map on this thumb of land that pokes into Lake Superior was either a mining or ore processing community. Ruins of rock buildings and piles of tailings spread out across the hills and swells of this country. Clif Mine remains unseen except for the ridge of rock that miners blasted into. We try to go to where the original cemetery was set, but the spring melt has flooded the road. We turn toward Eagle River and find Evergreen Cemetery, which turns out to be full of Clif miners and their families.

That’s where I found the grave of Absalom, last name devoured by a dog. I go to an online source, Find A Grave and search by first name. It’s unusual enough to come up with a single match: Absolom Bennett. Now I recall it struck me as an unusual combination and he “died in Clif Mine.” In, is a chilling word. Absolom was born in 1833, died in 1859. I then go to Ancestry.com to search records for this young miner, using his name, birth date and location. Nothing. I then enter his death date. Nothing. Then I find an article about the Clif Mine in the Mining Gazette:

“While legal documents and records, along with contemporary newspaper accounts, disclose the facts and statistics of the village’s history, the nearby Evergreen Cemetery also tells a sad story of the town and its people. It is a story of the harsh life in a pioneer town, in sharp contrast to the romantic histories portrayed in books.

An example of the hardships of pioneer life on the frontier is the grave of Willie B. Slawson. Willie was born on March 3, 1849. He died on July 26, just over four months old. Next to Willie lays his mother, who died in November of the same year, at the age of 24.

Mary E. Wright rests very near the Slawsons. Mary was the only child of William and Mary, who owned the Phoenix House. She died on March 18, 1862 at the age of three.

Absalom Bennett, an employee of the nearby Cliff Mine, whose parent company owned the land the cemetery occupies, was killed in a mining accident in 1859 at the age of 26.

Among the many babies, children, and young mothers who lay at the Evergreen Cemetery is Joseph Blight, Sr., who founded the fuse company. Blight is one of the older ones buried there; he died in 1884 at the age of 62.”

The article mentions a few other names I had noted, especially that of the Blight family. Joseph Blight was from Cornwall. Judging by the ornate iron fence, large family memorial and stately gravestones, it seemed Blight was successful. He evidently made his living by operating a fuse company. He also suffered from the loss of a child and so did many others. I always wonder what happens to the spouses or remaining children when a mother dies. If the husband or no other children are buried, I assume they moved on. Michigan Tech, where my daughter works, is a remnant of the hard-rock copper mining and is what remains of the technology developed by the mines on this peninsula. The college even has an archeology project with sketches and blog posts about the Clif Mine.

Sometimes, seeing a squirrel is grounding and can root me in reality. Sometimes, it’s a distraction. But for many pioneers, like those who came to the Keweenaw or passed through Rock Creek, squirrels were dinner. Right now I feel as if I have squirrels on the brain. My computer has been fussing and went blue-screen on me. I was able to open it in safe-mode and revive it. But my travel adventures and life hiccups have me off-schedule.

Bad news from Idaho today, too — I was formally notified to vacate my home. I have 30 days. I’m in touch with a lawyer, but it’s not promising. The most I can get is the full month of June. The reason? The letter stated that the owners want the property vacant while it is listed on the market for sale. So, it hasn’t even sold and we are being displaced because our presence is seen as a hindrance to their sale.

Honestly, I want to throw rabid squirrels at people.

Hang in there with me as I navigate waters as rocky as some of the Keweenaw shoreline. Tomorrow I have a long drive to Minneapolis. I meet up with friends and hopefully a client whose contract I desperately need to renew or else I’ll be homeless and penniless. Not a good combination, but perhaps reason to start looking up recipes for wild squirrel stew. The thing about being a writer is that they can take away my office, my desk, my pencils, but no one can stop me twirling beneath the broad canopy of my imagination. Stories will continue. Compilations might be out of order and I’ll be on and off as I travel. “Home” by Saturday though what to do about a home is yet to be resolved.

In the meantime, get squirrely and keep writing. I’m ever so grateful for this community! Your stories last week are all fabulous! I’ve been reading on my phone. I’ll spare you searching out cemetery stories, but expect you to go nuts over the prompt.

May 18, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a squirrel. It can be about a squirrel, for a squirrel or by a squirrel. Think nutty, naturalistic, dinner or ironic. Go where the prompt leads and don’t forget to twirl with imagination.

Respond by May 24, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Without Squirrels by Charli Mills

“Remember when that squirrel nested in the walls?” Cobb blew smoke from his pipe.

Mary smiled, sitting on the bench next to him. “What a racket that fool critter made.”

“I’ll build you a bigger house than this dirt-floored cabin, I promise you, Mary.”

She nodded. “It’ll do for now. I just don’t want it near her.”

“It’s just business, Mary.”

Mary snorted. “Business? You think gossips spread tales of Sarah keeping your accounts?”

“Don’t give a damn what wagtails say, wife and neither should you.”

“Build me that house, Cobb and no squirrels of any kind near it.”

###

Rest Your Weary Bones

RestA final resting place can have a grand view or be tucked beneath a traffic overpass. The departed are connected to the living through place; a place shared over time no matter how it has evolved, grown or become abandoned. In the end, we all find a place to rest our weary bones.

This week, writers explored these places and what can be learned or discovered. Some stories speak beyond place, others connect to it. A few stories even redefine what is a resting place; perhaps it’s not entirely for the dead.

The following stories are based on the October 21, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a final resting place.

***

The Shadow of the Rock by Ann Edall-Robson

In the shadow of the big rock, the clearing is surrounded by the scent of pine trees that have grown tall and protective. The old trail to the entrance has become a rain rutted road that takes it leave from the well travelled route below.

There are several visible markers. Only two are of importance. Each, a subtle reminder of life’s fragility. One not living beyond his birth, and nearby his grandfather watches over him. Their lives etched in the heart. Passed to the next generation of family story tellers who will visit in the shadow of the rock.

###

Boneyard by Jules Paige

The old township survey map doesn’t have a date. But the
old house in the neighborhood is over two hundred years old.
The map could be from the 1800’s or the mid-late 1700’s.
There are marks for cemeteries. Some of which you can’t
find anymore. But there is one in the median behind the
grocery story just where the highway divides. And it is
surrounded by a black wrought iron fence and is well kept.

Not usually a fan of graveyards. Once I bought a
bouquet . Most names were illegible. I left the flowers for
all of them…

###

Annie’s Letter Home: January 1853 by Kate Spencer

We have landed in Fort Victoria, Vancouver Island. Last night we were huddled into a dirty store house. John made us beds from boards that were lying around. I kept my spirits up til everyone was asleep and then quietly gave way with a flood of tears.

This morning John was taken away to work at the Craigflower farm. I am living at the fort with a Mrs. Edwards and will help her sew for the ladies here.

Be comforted my dearest sister. Tonight I feel a renewed determination to work hard and help John earn our promised land.

###

Ruthless by Sarah Brentyn

I could never wear white. Washes me out. But you pull it off. Probably your dark hair. Olive, that’s my daughter, changed my burial dress to this white thing. Can you believe it? Jealous little witch. Delicious scandal and I couldn’t gossip to anyone! Well, she got the last laugh. I’m stuck forever being photographed in white!

Get on with it then. I usually like to perch on the pillar but, in autumn, the leaves are a bit scratchy. How about I stand next to the grave? Hello?!

“Hello?”

Ooh! You’re one of those people! This should be fun…

###

Visitation by Sherri Matthews

Ethel threw the nightdress in the fire and glared at Fred.

“If them coppers find out you stole that old bag’s clothes you’ll get it!”

“Sod her, ‘er old man almost shot me!

“It’s your fault for pawing at Mave,” Ethel hissed, pushing the newspaper across the table. “It don’t look good.”

Fred scanned the headlines. Local woman missing, broken gravestones over at St John’s, a ‘ghostly white figure’ seen by a group of ‘harmless kids’.

“But we only went there to look at the moon, for a lark was all…”

Ethel sighed. “Oh Fred, what ‘ave you done now?”

###

EDstone by Larry LaForge

“This is totally creeping me out,” Ed muttered.

“Just a quick look,” Edna replied. She loved looking for historical Charleston figures in the old church cemetery.

Ed flinched at a crack of lightning as he wandered about. Suddenly he froze, face turning white as snow, and sweat pouring from his brow.

He stared at a simple headstone displaying only two large letters: ED.

With another crack of lightning, he bolted the scene.

Edna turned to see what spooked her husband. She chuckled as she read the small inscription at the very bottom of the stone:

Ervin Dowkins 1827 – 1883.

###

Bury Me by Irene Waters

The diagnosis hit like a sixty-pound sledge-hammer.

“We can’t tell you how long. The cancer’s very close to the artery. It’s a matter of when it erodes through. It could be a matter of days or a few months. Sorry but not long.”

Stanley made the phone calls. Friends rallied from near and far for a last weekend together.

“Bury me, don’t burn me.” Stanley said.

We headed to the cemetery and found a peaceful plot overlooking the sea. “I’ll be happy here. I always did feel comfortable underground.”

“Mining Engineer was a good career choice then.”

###

Lessons from the Dog by C. Jai Ferry

The dog sat, mimicking Nipper’s iconic RCA pose, albeit for something much more dog-worthy than a phonograph. His tail swished through freshly yellowed leaves.

The earth behind the shed was nicely softened. The shed’s faded red walls marked the edge of the withered field and the start of no man’s land. The blade of the shovel struck deep.

Three more shovel thrusts and the squirrel was laid to rest between last week’s opossum and the woodchuck family. The dog watched, patient as the hole disappeared.

He blinked twice, then raced out into the field. A new toy was waiting.

###

Mask: Passion that Rises From the Ashes by Dave Madden

When locked in a cage opposite your dreams, you can survive any fight-long after you’re laid to rest.

The documentary entitled Mask unearthed Charles “Mask” Lewis (1963-2009), immortalizing his message over the course of eighty-three minutes.

As the face behind MMA’s leading apparel at its founding (1997), “Mask,” along with “Punkass” (Dan Caldwell) and “Skyskrape” (Timothy Katz), brandished a logo synonymous with mixed martial arts. Deeper than any stitches embroidering the iconic symmetrical symbol, Lewis arduously pressed to credit his message rather than his pocketbooks: potential above performance.

Using MMA as a medium, Lewis’ passion infinitely integrates all lifeforms.

###

The Day of the Dead by Luccia Gray

“Eve, You’ve been chosen to read the Sacred Words this year on the Day of the Dead.”

“I don’t want to rest without you!”

“If we take turns and rest for a year, we’ll all live much longer.”

“There are fewer of us now. They’ve stopped returning.”

“Those who find their final resting place stay.”

“What if I find mine?”

“Then you will remain within the Words.”

“I can’t leave you, Adam!”

“If you refuse, you’ll be outcast with the Wordless Tribes, who roam throughout their short lives searching for a place to rest.”

“Come! Let’s join them now!”

###

Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

I couldn’t ignore his calls forever, but I could have a damn good try. Friends said I should get over it, move on to the next. But until I heard him say those words, the dream lived on in my mind.
I understood his reasons: the spark had gone, every avenue pursued to a dead end. Gathering dust, redundant, we had to make space for the new. I poured myself a brandy and called him. It wouldn’t hurt so much if I took control. Just don’t send my unsold books to landfill, I pleaded. Grant me that, at least.

###

Birth and Death by Ruchira Khanna

“There! you see that patch near that big oak tree.” I pointed to a place at a distance surrounded by mountains.

“Yes, I see it.” came a confirmed response, “But what’s so special about it?” he inquired in a puzzled tone.

“Place me there once I am done with the worldly pleasures of life” I added solemnly.

Quickly a hand was placed on my shoulder followed by a warm hug, “Oh! I am sorry. Did not know you were dying.”

Taken aback I asked in a quizzed tone, “”Aren’t we all since the day we are born?”

###

At Last. At Rest. by Geoff Le Pard

Jerry stopped the cab. ‘Don’t be shocked.’

‘Shocked?’

‘About Katherine. She’s different.’

Rupert gripped Mary’s hand, whether for his or her comfort she didn’t know.

‘She’s had a hard time. Fostered several times, adopted twice.’

Rupert sounded angry. ‘Why?’

Jerry pulled a face. ‘No one’s fault, she was born like it. It was long ago, across the sea.’ He shrugged.

Mary stared at the rain on the windscreen, her father’s words echoing down the years. ‘My perfect angel.’ Was that why they kept her, not Katherine?

‘She found a final resting place with my grandparents.’

###

Graveside by Norah Colvin

She wasn’t sure why she was here. Miss R., Annette, had suggested she come. So she did. What struck her most, as she read the grave markers, was their ages. She’d never thought of them as young but their life spans were short; both a mere 49 years, going within a year of each other. She worked it out. They were younger than she was now when she’d left home. Who’d have thought? She felt a strange sadness, a familiar hollowness, not for the loss of their lives but for the absence of love, love which had never been.

###

Monticello by Pete Fanning

I close my eyes and breathe. A musky scent of autumn and prestige. Swirling history that surrounds the great house on the little mountain. The neoclassical architecture, the great columns and breathtaking views. The mysteries under Mulberry row.

Intellectual. Architect. Governor. Master. His marker is a little ways down, past the gardens. A lineal descent to the obelisk that marks my sixth great grandfather. No mention of his presidency. Only his famous declaration. Religious freedoms. His university.

A woodpecker rattles overhead. Otherwise it’s just us, alone among the falling leaves. The whispers of pride and shame and shared DNA.

###

?? The Unspoken ?? by Roger Shipp

You call him racist, yet you never met the man.

You call him slaver, not taking into account the times.

You try to see a past world through the rose-colored glasses of the 21st century- instead of walking a mile in the shoes of the men and women in our household.

****

I hold you to account.

****

You have taken the time- and the monies- to study our lives…

Our deaths…

Even our final resting places…

Yet you fail to grant us the respect you claim he lacked.

You leave our graves unmarked.

To you… we are a tourist attraction?

###

An American at Menin Gate by Paula Moyer

Jean had loved studying World War I since her teens.

Now 49. Finally in Ypres. Sundown, facing Menin Gate with the rest of the crowd. She had walked through the marble arch, glazed over at the names – over 54,000 soldiers whose final resting place was not known, men who had died in battles of Ypres.

Futile, Jean thought. Those poor men – they didn’t pick the battles or the cause.

The bugle corps filed in. Veterans snapped to attention. A bugler read from “For the Fallen.”

“We will remember them.”

Jean whispered along. Then she added her own postscript: “Yes.”

###

Lunch with Wilstach by Charli Mills

“Call me, Sarah, Mr. Wilsatch.” Her stomach rumbled at the sight of steaming soup served to their table.

“All right, Sarah.” Frank Wilstach dabbed his lips after each spoon of broth.

“A right fine lunch companion you are, Sir. A fair price for an interview.”

He smiled. “Sarah, did you know only you and Mr. Monroe McCanles are left ?”

“What of Mary?”

Wilstach shuffled notes. “Ah. She went to her final rest in 1907. Buried next to her husband.”

“At Rock Creek?”

“No, Fairbury.”

Why did it matter they had moved Cobb? He was never one to rest.

###

Cemetery Day: Boulder City Cemetery

1023151545Half way up the narrow strip of road that winds in and out of carved gullies, I realize what determination miners have. Already we’ve forged access into a deep draw in the Cabinet Mountains of northern Idaho, following tens of thousands of years behind the wake of a massive glacier that gouged the bedrock and littered the canyon with boulders like giant gravel. The creek we cross is aptly named Boulder Creek. It’s difficult terrain and we have a 5-liter engine and 4WD. Yet miners came up here with horses, mules and oxen pulling wagons. What they lacked in trucks they made up for in guts.

The Hub shouts out loud, startled by the drop to his left. I cringe in response because he’s rarely rattled by a road.

“It’s not up here,” he tells me. Already we’ve found the town site of Boulder City. Ironic that in a region of nothing larger than a town the one place on the map that boldly states “city” is nothing more than rock-lined cellars and board rubble. What might have been a mine is now simply a large cement foundation that provides shelter for a rock campfire ring. If it was ever a city, it’s now a ghost town, and a faint apparition at best.

“It could be like Elkhorn. The cemetery was beyond the town and mines.” Elkhorn was my second stab at a historical novel and is also a silver mining ghost town. I worked on it as an independent project in college and wandered the buildings that still stand and the cemetery, wondering and imaging the life of a woman stranded in that town as a recent widow to an ill-fated miner. How would such a woman survive? I shelved the project after graduation when I went to work.

We continue to climb through a dark forest of cedar, larch and pine. It’s hard to discern boards of buildings from dead-fall of trees and amazing that anything can cling to these incredibly steep mountain slopes. Determination. Miners had to be to find silver in this place. The road opens up to a point on the ridge that overlooks the Kootenai River far below in the valley where Bonners Ferry is located.

To our left is a huge log from an old pine. The Hub perks up. We have our chainsaw and firewood permit and that 2-foot diameter log is fair game. I look around for some sign of a cemetery — fence, stones, crosses. Nothing but that log, a campfire ring and the road turning east toward Montana, paralleling the river from this mountaintop. I admit defeat and say he might be right. We could have missed the cemetery below, closer to the rubble and creek.

All the way down I look, hopeful. No headstones but a million boulders the size of giant pumpkins. At the creek we let the dogs run and swim in the crystalline water that reflects the blue of minerals, almost as if it were liquid silver. Maybe just my imagination. I poke around at a rock or two and Todd reads the forest service map where I saw the Boulder City Cemetery marked.

“You know, maybe it was by that log.”

I know the real reason he wants to go back up is to stick his Husquavarna in the wood of that huge pine. But looking at the map and where Boulder Creek meets the Kootenai, it is where the cemetery is marked. How likely is it to be 2,000 feet higher than this ore-bearing, glacial-scarred creek bottom?

Likely enough that I should have gotten out of the truck the first time. We find it — 4 marked graves, one anonymous and several indentations that hint at more. Only, the fence and markers are of the same gray wood of the fallen buildings and dead-fall of the forest. It blends in unlike cemeteries with wrought iron fences and granite markers.

Now I’m going to show you how a historical novelist makes the best use of a Cemetery Day.

  1. Take photos of markers to collect names and dates.
  2. Notice the age and gender.
  3. Look for any clues or anomalies.

What I notice is that the anonymous grave has several gifts from visitors — a couple of  weathered animal figurines of modern make, a tarnished penny and faded plastic flowers. I leave a blue shard of glass that I found, sharing my treasure of the day. The names of the four marked graves read Last, First which is unusual and the Hub points out that it’s “military.” Those buried are not, but is it possible that this tiny resting place was preserved by the Civilian Conservation Corps? After all, it is on national forest service land.

I also note that the four died between 1918 and 1922. Here’s where imagination and history collide. I start thinking about what was going on in the greater world at that time — WWI, flu epidemic, women gain the right to vote. So what was life like in this steep canyon with homes barely wide enough to straddle land along mining claims? One grave is that of a baby, another a young woman with an interesting name — Mathilda Fatland. None of those buried are related. The other two are men, one aged 70 and the other 36.

Now I research. Some might research first before the outing, but I prefer the element of surprise. I want to discover connections or curiosities I might miss if I think I already “know” about the place or people. For research, I use local history websites, census records, Find A Grave and vital records. I subscribe to Ancestry.com to research their vast database of archives. For example, I can go there and search “Boulder City, Idaho, 1920 Census.” I search 1920 because of the death dates. I know the “city” was active in that enumeration year.

I discover that between January 2-6, 1920 Harold Askevald took census in Boulder “precinct” as is is listed (not “city”). He is also the first person listed on the census record, thus he lived there and I read that he is 52 years old, divorced and a native of Norway. He is a carpenter for the railroad. Could he have built some of the town? I note that his script is good penmanship, but that his printing is precise and square. Interesting. Maybe as a carpenter, he likes to square up things? Look! I already have the beginnings of a character profile.

Next, I want to know the population of Boulder. The census record is only three pages long. Counting what Harold did, there were 127 residents of Boulder in 1920.

Now I jump to Find A Grave. I want to see if they have recorded Boulder Cemetery (it’s a volunteer organization). I find Boulder Creek Cemetery listed! They claim that 12 people are interred on that point above the creek and Kootnai River. Of the 12, ten are men. That has me curious about the gender breakdown so I go back to the census record. Of 127 residents, 31 were women. What catches my eye is a 33-year-old widow who is making her way as a cook. This is similar to what I imagined of a character in Elkhorn. Her name is Margaret Buffmuen and she was born in Australia to a German father and an American mother. How did that happen, I wonder. She’s living in the household of Fred Schmidt who is a German immigrant and a lumber manufacturer. He must have the largest home in town because 12 men are boarding there. No wonder he needs Margaret to cook!

Yet, I see something interesting in the census record — the industry listed for occupations of the residents is predominantly “logging.” This was no mining town; it was a logging camp! Yet a mine is listed on the map. I’m fairly certain we saw the remains of Fred Schmidt’s boarding house and what I thought was a concrete mine feature, the Hub now thinks it was a foundation for a mill or even hooking logs down those steep slopes. As he points out, “You can use gravity to get those high mountain logs to the lumber mill in the valley below.”

So what about our cemetery and those who rest there? The first person buried is presumably John Gorman because he died in 1898. All I know of him is that he was “killed in an accident” in Leonia. What I’ve read locally about Boulder City is that it was founded in 1910 by J.M. Schnatterly, who owned Idaho Gold and Ruby Mine. He would bring investors to Bonners Ferry by train, up the Kootenai River by boat to Leonia, and up a private road by horse and buggy (buggy? on that road?). Yet someone from the river town below is buried on this mountaintop 12 years prior to its “founding” and 10 years after that, it’s a logging camp.

Back to the census records. Boulder existed in 1900 before it was “founded” by J.M. Schnatterly. It only had 52 residents and most worked for the railroad; three were miners; none were J.M. Schnatterly. Who is this guy, I wonder. I go to the 1910 census. He’s not there, nor are all the railroad workers. 60 residents and they are all “general farmers.” This is an evolving place! It reflects what we call the boom and bust cycle of the west — railroad provides good jobs and moves on; a mine opens up and closes; farms are bought and lost; logging camps cut until they move to another camp. And as to our founding father, I can’t locate him in the census record. I can follow up at the history center in Bonners Ferry and go over their collection of document archives.

Before I leave this town, I want to find out how long it survived. In 1930, the census shows a mix of farming, mining and logging with 160 residents. Maybe that’s maximum capacity for the canyon! In 1940 there’s 120 residents, mostly farming and logging. I’m not sure how anyone farmed that steep, rocky terrain. I see a few working for the CCC or forest service. Perhaps they are the ones who kept up the cemetery.

And of the four graves that remain marked and fenced?

Mathilda Fatland was born in 1898 in Washington state to Norwegian immigrants. In the 1920 census, the only Fatland living in Boulder is Annie Flatland and she’s 30 years old, single, living as a boarder and working as a laborer in the logging camp. Were they sisters, cousins? Mathilda’s parents lived for 30 years in Kitsap, Washington. How did these two Fatland women come to a place like Boulder? Why? How did Mathilda die at the age of 20?

Nothing else is revealed on those buried in the Boulder Creek Cemetery. This was just an initial look; a fun excursion to fill the well for ideas and local history. I’ll let it all stew and perhaps do some flash fiction and see what develops. Here’s a slide show of the day.

Yes, the Hub tackled that pine and we went home with 1/2 a cord. I counted tree rings on that pine and it was over 250 years old. That means, it was witness to the city of Boulder in all its manifestations and stood sentinel over the cemetery until it died and blew over in a big wind. Now it will be firewood. I’m sure those who are buried by this tree will understand. After all, they were most likely loggers or lovers of such men. Determination lives on in this basin.

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October 22: Flash Fiction Challenge

Hi. My name is Charli. And I like to hang out in cemeteries.

It sounds like the opening to some Anonymous Group I should belong to, but the truth is I don’t want to quit. For me, it’s about history and discovery. Reading a cemetery is like reading an historical record of a family or community.

I’ve stood in family graveyards where blood of my blood is buried, feeling a strange connection to people long dead before I was ever born. I’ve been to high-desert ghost towns in Nevada, marveling over the marble monuments to those who dared to seek fortunes in remote places. The Radio Geek, now living on the upper peninsula of Michigan, posts photos of old cemeteries to lure me in to visiting.

When I lived in Minnesota, I researched the Hub’s New England family who helped settle the Midwest. I was able to locate the unmarked graves of children lost to the Mills family during times of sickness, Civil War and the Dakota Uprising. Through years of research, I finally found the resting place for a Mills black sheep, reuniting a lost line.

As if my own family research wasn’t enough, I found other excuses to haunt cemeteries. I recorded the names of “lost wives;” the young women who died in childbirth in Dakota County before the 1900s. I looked up the history of every family buried in an old Irish-settlers cemetery near my suburban home.

At my height of cemetery-obsession, I volunteered to do grave look-ups for an organization called, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. My kids often went with me, and they still tease me about trying to find abandoned cemeteries by locating “cemetery trees.” It’s true; I can spot an old cemetery a mile away.

Earlier this month I got to kneel at Cob’s grave. After Hickok shot him, James Gordon and James Woods, Cob was buried unceremoniously in a common pine box with Woods on the hill behind Rock Creek Station. When the railroad cut a track through the hill, their box was relocated to the Fairbury Cemetery. I wrote about my impression of finding Mary’s grave next to Cob’s over on Elmira Pond Spotter.

Sometimes, creepy and unexplained things have happen when I’ve been researching cemeteries. Since Halloween is next week, I thought I’d share with you a creepy photograph.

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This is from the Fairbury Cemetery, looking west from Cob McCanles’s grave. I didn’t notice anything odd while we were there, but these green lights appeared when I was scanning my photos on my SLR Nikon D80. Creepy, but I figured it was just a sun flare or reflection since I was shooting at the sunset through the trees and markers. But it only got creepier when I enlarged the photo.

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I dare you to click on the photo. Full-sized, you’ll see it’s a luminous green fog. What the heck? It reminds me of ectoplasm from Ghostbusters! Pretty creepy and not at all why I hang out in cemeteries.

So I returned to collecting historical data. The next day, we stopped at the Fairbury Cemetery on the way to Rock Creek Station, and I took photographs of the graves near the green fog. Here are a few ghostly suspects and bare-bones data that I found in Census records:

Christiana Sigsworth and Henry Beal. A ship’s log for the Hindao records that Henry, a carpenter by trade, left Southampton, England 24 Jun 1876, bound for Nebraska. Immigration records show that Henry arrived earlier in 1871 and Christiana in 1873, the same year they married. Both were from England and are recorded as living in Fairbury by 1880. Nothing unusual other than Christiana was seven years older than Henry, and that she was 43 years old when they married. She had her two sons prior to Mr. Beal. In 1880 one son is living with them and his last name is Beal. The name Sigsworth on the gravestone did not turn up a single clue. Ghostly or otherwise.

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Only a few tantalizing hints from the Beals–her headstone reads, “Mother” and his simply reads, “H.B.” Her name is etched in granite as Sigsworth. Was that her previous married name or maiden name? Why list is at all? Other than the 1880 Census, I can find no trace of Mrs. Beal’s sons, yet  in 1900 she claims two have had two births and two living children. Is that enough to be a source of unrest that manifests as green fog? Who knows!

By now you know I’ll be wanting creepy stories from you this week.

October 22, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a creepy story. It can be prompted by the green fog in the photo, an imaginative idea about the Beals or take place in a cemetery. If other creepy ideas take hold, go for it! We’ll all shudder and be in the mood for Halloween–or grateful for its passing.

Respond by October 28 to be included in the weekly compilation.

Unmarked Graves by Charli Mills

Sarah pushed open the heavy wooden door of the cabin. Behind her the baby wailed and Mary snarled, “I hope the Pawnees scalp you!”

Tears flowed and she twisted her ankle in the deep wagon ruts of the hard packed road. She followed a slight trail through the tall grass turned autumn red. It ended at the two graves marked only by letterless river rocks. Sarah sat by Billy’s grave and cried. Not for Billy, the orphan from North Carolina who only lived two weeks in this Nebraska hell.

Mary wanted her dead and Cob fiddled across the creek.

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The Unmarked Graves of Rock Creek

The Unmarked Graves of Rock Creek

Rules of Play:

  1. New Flash Fiction challenge issued at Carrot Ranch each Wednesday by noon (PST).
  2. Response is to be 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
  3. Response is to include the challenge prompt of the week.
  4. Post your response on your blog before the following Tuesday by noon (PST) and share your link in the comments section of the challenge that you are responding to.
  5. If you don’t have a blog or you don’t want to post your flash fiction response on your blog, you may post your response in the comments of the current challenge post.
  6. Keep it is business-rated if you do post it here, meaning don’t post anything directly on my blog that you wouldn’t want your boss to read.
  7. Create community among writers: read and comment as your time permits, keeping it fun-spirited.
  8. Each Tuesday I will post a compilation of the responses for readers.
  9. You can also follow on Carrot Ranch Communications by “liking” the Facebook page.
  10. First-time comments are filtered by Word Press and not posted immediately. I’ll find it (it goes to my email) and make sure it gets posted! After you have commented once, the filter will recognize you for future commenting. Sorry for that inconvenience, but I do get frequent and strange SPAM comments, thus I filter.

Bite Size Memoir: Discovery

Bite Size Memoir for Carrot RanchSagebrush hid toppled tombstones scattered between pines in the Markleeville Cemetery. It had no road, no worn path of mourners. I discovered it by accident when I was seven, searching a hillside for glittering rocks with crystals. I followed a cow trail up the hillside, thrusting pretties into my jeans pockets.

At the top of the hill I could see the entire town. A cluster of houses, a store and a bar, almost a ghost town kept alive by an active courthouse and tourists who skied and camped.

A barbed wire fence marked its edge. I could see marble blocks so I crawled beneath wires. Old grave markers. Many were children and I wondered why they died. Inscriptions were from the mining heyday: 1860s-1880s. By the time I left Markleeville at age 18, I knew every stone, inscription and unmarked hallow. I discovered how to read history among the dead.

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Linking up with Lisa Reiter at Sharing the Story for Bite Size Memoir.