“Be prepared if you go looking too far back in the family tree. You might find someone hanging from it.”
Sage advice from my Grandpa Ralph Young for my sister and I as we ran across his front yard to the family cemetery across the road. The pioneers who settled the land were mostly God-fearing, hard-working men and women, but outliers do show up once every few generations.
Debbie and I spent many hours of our childhood walking and playing among the grave markers of our ancestors. Decades later, we still enjoy walking through the cemetery together with our parents and talking about both our history and the future.
Among the tombstones, there are grave markers from wars we read about in history books as well as those long forgotten. Two stones mark the final resting place of men who fought in the Black Hawk War of 1832.
In early April of ‘32, 65-year old Sauk warrior Black Hawk led 1,000 Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo men, women and children across the Mississippi River to reclaim land in eastern Illinois land that tribal spokesmen had surrendered to the U.S. nearly 3 decades before. Black Hawk’s attempt to resettle that land spurred fear and anger among the white settlers. Nearly 7,000 members of the U.S. Army, state militias, and warriors from other Native American tribes were mobilized. By August of that year the war was over with between 450 – 600 Native Americans and 70 soldiers and settlers killed. As a result of the war, the Native Americans relinquished their claim to the land in Illinois in exchange for a reservation in Iowa.
Young Private Matthew Dinsmore of the Third Brigade of Illinois Mounted Volunteers was one of those who lost his life fighting Black Hawk’s band. According to one account, the Illinois volunteers were so put out by being called away in the middle of spring planting that those in charge sent them back to their farms after a month of service in what turned out to be a brief 3-month war. When he died in 1846, Pvt. Dinsmore had not yet reached his 35th birthday.
Several soldiers from Illinois Civil War Infantry Regiments are laid to rest in the old cemetery, as are veterans from World Wars I and II.
Most of the graves in Young’s Cemetery are dated from the mid-1800’s to the mid-1900’s, but there are a few older and a few more recent. As I read the names and dates and do the math, I assume Spanish Influenza cost a young husband and father, his wife, and young child in the early winter of 1918. Beside the grave of 17-year old Melissa Jane Blair, who died on August 18, 1856, is the stone bearing the name of her daughter Lucy Jane, who was born and died on that same date.
One tombstone bears the name of a man and his wife. The man had murdered his wife more than a decade before he died and was laid to rest beside her.
The historical significance of all the markers in that cemetery is not lost on me and my family. The outliers and outlaws in a family tree complete our story.
As I listened to a report about protesters in Portland, Oregon toppling statues of former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln last week, another bit of sage advice philosopher George Santayana came to mind:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”