Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Mystery of Three Tombstones in Search of Their Graves

Three old marble tombstones inscribed with names and dates reside in pieces (if not in peace) in the Village of Cooksville’s historic Duncan House Barn. They have been in storage there for many decades—obviously not where they were intended to be. 

Where did those grave markers come from? How did they end up there? Who were those three people memorialized with their names carved into marble on three weathered, broken headstones, one with a traditional weeping willow at the top?  All three died in the 1850s, according to their inscriptions. 

Not much was initially known except the names and dates, so an attempt has been made recently to try to get to know some of the “unknowns.”  

What little was known to begin with was that the pieces of the three memorial stones were discovered (or “rediscovered”) in 1989. Two were lying face-down on the grounds of the Backenstoe-Howard House—the “Waucoma Lodge—in Cooksville, apparently as a path to the front door; the third was lying inside the neighboring Duncan House Barn adjoining the property, all far from their purposed use, waiting for their mysteries to be solved. All are now in that barn. 

And although mysterious ghostly apparitions have reportedly roamed the village over the years, sometimes inside houses, none of the reports of “wandering souls” seemed to be connected to these three tombstones resting—perhaps restlessly— in broken pieces in the old village barn. Or was there a connection? After all, the deaths of the three people do seem untimely and unsettling.  

At any rate, the first and most important clues were the three inscriptions on the stones, as follows:  

Laura Wells Hicks marker:  “Laura W. wife of James Hicks Died Mar. 6, 1857 Æ 33 yrs.” 
                               Laura W. Hicks (1824-1857)

Alexander Richardson marker:  “Alexander Richardson died Jan. 12, 1852 Æ 38 yrs Native of Selkirk in Scotland.  Tho’ Lost to sight In Memory dear.”   
                          Alexander Richardson (1814-1853) 

Anthony Warren marker:  “In Memory of Anthony Warren Native of Suffolk Eng. Who died May 21, 1851, Æ 27 yrs. He is not lost but gone before.”
Anthony Warren (1824-1851) 
All three headstones may have been removed from their original locations or “rescued” in an attempt to save them from destruction or loss or maybe because two were damaged. But were they from a nearby cemetery? Or? 

One complicating factor is that the present Cooksville Cemetery was not established until 1861, so these 1850s gravestones could not have been erected there upon their deaths. (In 1861 John Porter sold the land for $25 to establish the new grave yard by the “Waucoma Cemetery Association,” the cemetery’s first name.) Also, there are three other cemeteries elsewhere in the Town of Porter: the Ball Tavern, St. Michael’s, and Fulton cemeteries. And occasionally, some farm families buried their relatives on a quiet corner of the family farm. In other words, burials happened elsewhere in the area. 

The Village of Cooksville, founded in 1842 (and Waucoma, next-door, in 1846) undoubtedly was visited by the Grim Reaper before 1861 and his victims were buried somewhere. Records indicate that there was an earlier local burying ground in use before 1861 but it was abandoned in that year. Those first burials were west of the Cooksville General Store, off Spring and Mills streets— streets that like the burying ground have been vacated. The records vary but generally indicate that those earliest burials and tombstones were (possibly) moved to the new1861 cemetery.  

Research of the Cooksville Archives and the Cooksville Cemetery records along with visits to the Cooksville Cemetery itself clarified some of the mystery of the tombstones, or at least helped provide some clues. The following has been revealed so far: 

Laura W. Hicks 

In the case of the Laura Wells Hicks’ broken tombstone, cemetery records indicate that she was eventually buried (and remains buried) in the present Cooksville Cemetery but without a tombstone of her own. She is buried in the southern-most “Old” section of the cemetery where early burials were not done in an orderly fashion as in the later surveyed sections that have numbered blocks and lots. Therefore, exact locations of some “old” burials (and possible re-burials) in that section may be unknown and unmarked.  

Also, instead of her own grave marker the new cemetery, Laura Wells Hicks’ name and dates are inscribed on one side of a tall four-sided family memorial monument with its base labeled “Miller.” On the other three sides two Miller family members and one Cole family member are memorialized. All four are related to each other. It may be presumed that Hicks’ actual burial site is somewhere nearby. 

Perhaps Laura Hicks’ broken gravestone was removed from the first burying ground or from the Cooksville Cemetery at some point in the past because it was broken but was not repaired and was not replaced. Perhaps then her name was added to the Miller monument with the three others. And her own personal broken gravestone ended up in the village barn. 

Why Laura Hicks’ gravestone was not repaired and placed or re-placed in the Cooksville Cemetery is unknown. It would be possible now, of course, to repair and re-erect her old marble tombstone since she is listed as being buried there. 

Alexander Richardson 

In the case of Alexander Richardson’s gravestone, the fact that it now is in the Duncan barn is recorded in notes in the Cooksville Archives, and they provide the answer. It most likely was an attempt to save his stone from possible loss or abandonment many decades ago. 

Here’s the story: Richardson’s original grave site was on his family farm southeast of Cooksville. He was born in 1814 and died at a young age from a farm wagon accident on an icy road. (Either he was hauling a wagon-load of lumber from Indian Ford that fell on him, or he was returning from Milwaukee when he fell off the wagon because he was drunk and was killed, according to two differing stories of his accidental death.) He was buried on his family farm, probably somewhere behind the historic Richardson Grout House southeast of the village  

According to Archive notes, Richardson’s son, Alexander, Jr., removed his father’s gravestone in about 1886 from that Richardson family burial site because the farm was to be sold to the John Porter family. Perhaps the son removed it hoping to preserve the gravestone from possible loss or neglect. The stone was stored in his son’s barn on the historic Van Vleck House property in Cooksville, which the son used as a summer home. Later, when that village property was to be sold by the Richardson family in 1955, the gravestone itself was sold to E. Marvin Raney, the Cooksville historian and antique collector who lived nearby in the Duncan House at the time. Raney stored the stone in his own barn there. No doubt, Raney bought the stone to keep it in the village and to preserve it, and there it has remained.  

Thus, the present resting place of Alexander Richardson’s original “rescued” gravestone is about two miles from his actual grave on the old family farm.  Past attempts to locate the exact burial site were unsuccessful. 

Anthony Warren 

In the case of Anthony Warren’s mysteriously absented tombstone, nothing is known at this time—not where it came from nor why it ended up in the village, nor anything else about his life.  

Perhaps as with Hicks’ stone, Warren’s stone may have been removed from the old abandoned burying ground and never placed at his new burial site, wherever that is. It’s possible his burial was in another distant cemetery or on a farm. At any rate, Warren’s burial site is not recorded in the Cooksville Cemetery’s records. His stone’s mystery remains.  

The research continues. More information, perhaps shared by relatives or others, is needed to fully resolve all the gravestones’ peripatetic histories, especially the story of Warren and his lonesome monument. All the gravestones presently remain in the Duncan barn and not in a cemetery. 

The historic Cooksville Cemetery is part of the Cooksville Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its many lovely, old, fading memorial stones (and many new ones) mark burials of friends and relatives since 1861; some even memorialize people who are not buried there.   
 Under old pine trees and amongst shrubs and flowers, many early pioneers and settlers are interred in the old cemetery, including some of their children and grandchildren. Also buried there are veterans of the Civil War and the five (or more) succeeding wars, as well as many Norwegian immigrant families and recent residents of Cooksville and Porter Township, along with many friends of Cooksville— people young and old, but hopefully, not too young. The earliest born person interred is Charlotte Rose Love (1772-1868). All are resting in peace on the southern edge of historic Cooksville, next to farm fields and near the historic Cooksville Lutheran Church. 

But time takes its toll even on marble and granite stones—and on a few of the tall old pines trees as well. A few old grave markers have been damaged and are resting in pieces in need of repairs, and some need to be straightened and anchored in place.  

The Cooksville Cemetery Association continues its efforts to maintain, repair and improve the beautiful historic cemetery to ensure that the quiet historic burying ground remains as it has been for one-hundred and fifty-six years. 

And there is space available for others who may need a peaceful spot to rest for eternity—hopefully not too soon. And the Cemetery Association welcomes financial donations to assist its efforts. Contact Anne Haines (608) 201-1996 or go to

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[Thanks to Cooksville’s past historians for saving clippings, notes, diaries and other records now in the Cooksville Archives, and thanks also to Jim Danky, Chris Beebe, Mark Verstegen, Jennifer Ehle and Helen Porter for helping to tell the stories of the tombstones. Larry Reed]

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Smart Family: Early Life Near Cooksville, by Larry Reed

The Cooksville area of southern Wisconsin attracted many immigrants from the British Isles as well as from New England and New York when land was first opened for sale by the U.S. government in the 1830s and 1840s. Fortunately for us today, some of these settlers (and their children) wrote about their early experiences.

 In 1920, Charles A. Smart (1858-1936) wrote about his experiences growing up in a pioneering family from Scotland on a farm near Cooksville. He wrote fondly and with great detail about his parents and his childhood in the family's log cabin. A copy of his memoire was recently shared by his descendants and is now in the Cooksville Archives.

Charles Smart (1858-1936)
Here are a few excerpts from Judge Smart’s remembrance of life near Cooksville in the mid-19th century.  (Charles went on to become a prominent lawyer and jurist in Kansas.) 

 “The brief story that I am about to relate is not written because of anything eventful or out of the ordinary, but because it is believed that as the years go by, it may be interesting to those who live then. I am persuaded that this may be true because of the fact that I would be glad indeed if I could go back more than two generations and ascertain anything touching my ancestors, but as they were all humble people, very little can be found except perhaps the old church records of Scotland where I might find the names, but they would be names only.

 “Robert Smart, my father's grandfather, was born about 1743… in Scotland.  My father assured me that 1743 was about the date of his birth. He died about 1838, and was buried in the parish of Monemeal, Scotland.  He is said to have been a very strong man, both in mind and body. I never learned his occupation, except he was a land owner. When quite a young man, he married Jennett Scott, in Auchtermuchty, in Fifeshire.  Of this union there were born three children, Jennett, David and Andrew. Andrew [Charles’ grandfather], the second son was born in 1796 in Fifeshire, Scotland…
Andrew Smart (1796-1880)

“In 1823 Andrew married Ellen Taylor… Andrew Smart owned a small farm [and to him] and Ellen his wife were born five children who grew to manhood and womanhood, and one other who died in infancy. Robert Smart, the oldest son, was my father, born at Auchtermuchty in Fifeshire, on November 18th, 1824….

 “Robert Smart [1824-1903], my father, was married to Euphemia McArthur, my mother, at Edinburgh, Scotland, May 2, 1847, and lived in Glasgow, Scotland, until 1849. To this union were born nine children, eight of whom are still living [in 1920].  Their names and date and place of births are as follows:  Andrew J., July 9 1848, Perth, Scotland;  Elizabeth, August 6, 1849, Perth, Scotland; Frank R. July 4, 1852, Janesville, Wisconsin;  James H., June 15, 1855, Edgerton, Wisconsin; Charles A. January 5, 1858, Edgerton, Wisconsin; Ellen Taylor, October 19, 1860, Edgerton, Wisconsin; Arthur Hodge, April 1, 1863, Edgerton, Wisconsin; Winfield S., 1868, Edgerton, Wisconsin; Effie Hoy, December 7, 1870, Edgerton, Wisconsin….

Helen Drummond Smart (1811-1886) tombstone, 
second wife of Andrew, Cooksville Cemetery
 “It may be interesting to note how my grandfather Andrew Smart came to leave Scotland and locate in the new State of Wisconsin. It came about in this way. He was a landowner, and that made his name on any financial obligation worth par. In the village of Auchtermuchty a man the name of John White was a cloth manufacturer, employing several people to do weaving…White was a dishonest man, and got into difficulty with his creditors I conclude, and was arrested under some proceedings under the laws of that country for imprisoning men of that character…. [H]e was released upon a bond signed by my grandfather Andrew Smart, and he at once bade adieu to the hills and heather of his native land, and located in Wisconsin. My grandfather had to sell his farm to pay this obligation, and concluded that he would take his children, all then unmarried except my father, and follow this man White to the United States and endeavor to collect.

 “About ten days before my grandfather was to leave Scotland with his family, my father visited him and concluded that the old gentleman was not equal to the task, and he at once made up his mind that he would accompany his father to the new land, which he did, leaving my mother with her sister in the old country. This was in the spring of 1849, and they landed at Janesville, Wisconsin, then a small village, in Rock County. 

 “My grandfather purchased a small farm about nine miles west of Edgerton, Wisconsin, near the little village of Cooksville, where he lived the remainder of his days. He never collected the obligation from Mr. White, although for many years they were neighbors…

 “In the early spring of 1850, my mother with her two children, one about 20 months old, and the other about 7, left Scotland on a sailing vessel for New York. She was seven weeks on the Atlantic Ocean. Arriving in New York, she made her way by rail, canal and lake boats, to Milwaukee, 65 miles from Janesville. It will be remembered there was neither railroad nor stagecoach, nor any other regular method of passenger conveyance between Milwaukee and Janesville at that time. The country was new. The roads were mere trails cut through the woods. There was no telegraphic or other means of communication, so it was quite impossible for my father to know when she would arrive in Milwaukee. The best she could do was to employ a teamster who had drawn grain from Janesville to Milwaukee and was engaged in taking merchandise back on his return trip, and with him she secured transportation, crude as it was, between these two points. It took them about two days to make the trip. My father had erected a small house in the little village of Janesville where he and my mother at once commenced their new home in the new land.

 “I have omitted to state that my father was a carpenter and builder of high order, and about the time that my mother arrived, together with Robert Hodge, the husband of his sister, opened a small wagon shop in Janesville that has since grown to be the Janesville Carriage Works. My father remained in that business until 1855, when he purchased the farm of 80 acres, five miles west of Edgerton, Wisconsin, where I was born [half-way to Cooksville]. 

 “Neither he nor my mother had any knowledge of farming. While his father had owned a small farm in Scotland, I do not understand that he ever worked upon it, and this venture at farming was indeed a dreary undertaking. This little eighty-acre tract was reached by a winding trail through the heavy timber, 15 miles from Janesville. There were practically no improvements on the farm except a little log cabin built in the midst of heavy timber by the side of a little lake. 

 “There was no way of knowing just where the public highways would be located, and when a public highway was located, it proved to be about a quarter of a mile away from this cabin. It was fifteen years before my mother returned to Janesville. All of the children except the oldest three were born on this farm. The farm was a poor one, and my father was a poor farmer. The net result of this combination was the direst poverty. The family lived in this log cabin until about 1868, when my father purchased another eighty acres of land, upon which there were some frame buildings that he moved to the site of the old log cabin, and made out of them a reasonably comfortable house. The long years spent in clearing up his farm, by clearing, I mean grubbing out timber and breaking up the ground, entailed great hardships.

 “My father was never out of debt until he left and sold that farm. I can well remember of hearing the word ‘mortgage’ long years before I had the slightest conception of what it was. I only knew that it was a thing that consumed that net proceeds of the poor farm in the fall. My father never would have been able to retain the farm had it not been for the fact that his services were in demand as a carpenter, though wages were small.  Both before and after the great fire in Chicago [1871], he spent many months in that city as a contractor, leaving my mother at home with the children on the farm. She often said later in life, that she never could think of any one moving onto a farm, without a shutter.

 “It may be interesting to those who read this little story, to have explained a little more in detail, the log cabin in which we lived. It was a very crude structure, about 20 feet square, built of rough logs of different lengths. That is to say, at the corners on the outside the logs would protrude some three feet, some four, leaving a very convenient stairway for the boys to climb to the loft.  The roof was made of what they call in the back woods of Wisconsin, shakes, which were imitation shingles, split out of rough timber. The floors, both the lower and upper one, were of rough boards. The chamber, or rather the garret, was reached at one time I remember, by a crude ladder, but when the ladder gave way by reason of the assaults upon it by a crowd of healthy, vigorous boys, it was never replaced, and those of us who used the garret as sleeping quarters, reached that apartment by climbing the logs, and we became experts. Of course my mother couldn't get up there, and so we boys were the only clamber [sic] maids that ever visited that particular locality. There was but one door and no porch. There were three windows, as I remember, and screens were unknown at the time, even in houses of greater pretensions. On extra special occasions, when the meals were spread, some one of the children was delegated to stand by the table with a small branch of tree and ‘shoo’ the flies.

 “Depressing as the situation was, our lives in the log cabin were not entirely without fun. One incident will suffice. Some kind neighbor gave to one of the boys a little lamb. It was the first of its kind that we ever had, and it was a great pet. We named it Nellie, and Nellie grew with the same rapidity that the boys did, and we shared each other’s joys and sorrows. When Nellie was about a year old, my father commenced to talk about shearing her. We boys had no knowledge of just what that meant, or what the operation would be. Neither did Nellie. And I am persuaded that my father was about as ignorant touching the situation as we were. But the time came when Nellie was to be shorn, and my father undertook the job about sundown one summer night. He undertook to do the work with a pair of dull scissors, and instead of keeping the fleeces as a unit, as is the custom with sheep shearers, he took each separate lock when clipped and laid it aside. 

 “Poor Nellie was forced into some diverse and sundry positions during the hours that were consumed in de-fleecing her. Sometimes she would sit upright and make a bold attempt to assume an appearance of contentment. Then again she would be placed prone upon her back with a child holding each foot, while my father proceeded to pluck the wool, more after the style of picking a chicken than shearing a sheep... I don't know just how long this process continued, because one by one the children grew sleepy and retired. Now to retire frequently meant to curl up in one corner on the floor and go to sleep…. 

Robert (1824-1903) and Euphemia (1825-1915) Smart
 “My mother…Euphemia McArthur Smart… Her early life illy fitted her for the hardships she encountered in the new land. Although her parents were poor people in Scotland, she was tenderly reared…. I well remember as a boy, of thinking as I observed my mother from day to day, and more especially on Sundays, that I could observe in her demeanor a longing to return to the hills of Scotland, and to the place where as a girl she had been tenderly and happily reared, and as I have grown older, I believe my thoughts of her were correct, although as the years passed by and old age commenced to creep over her, she frequently said that she had no desire to return to Scotland. I have never quite understood why she did not keep up a correspondence with her people there. My father frequently wrote letters to her people and received letters from them, but I don't remember of my mother writing to them at all. This is the more strange to me when I reflect that in her later years, even after she had passed the eighty mark, she was a voluminous writer, and had the ability to concentrate. That is, to say much in few words….”

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[A copy of Judge Charles Smart’s story of his youth is available in the Cooksville Archives, as is a brief biography of the Judge’s later life. Both were edited and updated by Kenneth C. Bower in 2010, and were recently given by Arielle Olson to the Archives. Thanks to Arielle for sharing this story. Excerpts are printed here with permission.  Edited by Larry Reed.]