Luke 12:2 (New Living Translation): The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.
Long ago a group of children from a one room school went with their teacher on a bright spring morning before Memorial Day, to a small nearby cemetery. As they had in past years, they came to clean the small 30 by 30 foot plot and make it presentable for the day of remembrance. They would clean the grounds, pick up the twigs and leaves left from last year, and place flowers on the graves. These acts of respect for the dead gave the children happiness and pride, for they had been taught to respect the memory of those who had come before them. It was a civilized and decent thing to do, and it brought them close to the community of all eras that made the place they knew as home. They came as little citizens, proud of the part they were playing, but this year was to be different. They were to suffer a crushing disappointment and witness what they considered, and those still alive continue to consider, a grim injustice. That year, probably 1941, they found the cemetery gone, and where it had been there stood a barn. They were told that the farmer who owned the land had torn down the monuments and the fence that protected the little cemetery, and had erected a large barn-like shed right over the graves. They returned to school downcast and outraged, but they never forgot.
One day I was asked by a younger relative of those children, now well advanced in age, if I had ever heard this story. I had not. I took notes and began asking and researching. I found that the township on which the barn stood did have a designated tax exempt burial ground. No record was found to show who might be buried there. I asked Karen Reese of the Grant County Genealogical Society for help. She set the highly competent members of her group to work. They found an article from the Fennimore Times of April 12, 1905 entitled "The Old Morrison Homestead" which contained the following information:
"The farm consists of 312 acres, all but 80 acres, in Liberty, being in the town of North Lancaster. It is the old homestead of William T. Morrison, the original and pioneer settler of Lancaster, who came here in 1826, and after whom it was proposed to name the north part of the town of Lancaster, when it was decided last year to divide the town. His remains lie buried in a little square cemetery, sheltered by a mammoth pine tree, only a few rods west of the house, itself an old-timer, having been built over half a century ago. In the little graveyard there are also seven others, children and relatives of Mr. Morrison, one of them his son-in-law, Dr Charles Bradshaw, who practiced medicine in Lancaster, and two Hollingsead young ladies."
Altogether, about nine bodies lie in the ground beneath the barn. If we think of them as only ancient remains then, possibly we could wipe their final memorials off the earth to re-purpose the ground for a barn, as that ignoble farmer did years ago. But these were people who lived through hardship, joy and pain just like we do. Here is a short history of the family and its life on that farm:
WILLIAM AND FRANCES MORRISON
He was on the frontier when he was nineteen. He was searching for a home of his own and enough land to clear in the slow, painstaking manner of the virgin frontier. His name was William T. Morrison. He was a friend of Major Rountree of Platteville, Judge J. T. Mills, Joel Allen Barber and James Vineyard. By all accounts he was industrious and successful. At his death the farm was large and prosperous, perhaps the best in the Lancaster area.
When he first saw the Lancaster area, he saw, as the 1881 History of Grant County described it “a beautifully-rounded knoll, covered with low brush at intervals, through which forest trees, singly or in groves, spread their sheltering branches. At the foot of this knoll bubbled forth a limpid spring, clear as the purest crystal... Past this spring poured a brawling brook, fed by this and lesser neighboring fountains.”
He did not marry until he was 28, a late age in those days. His bride, Frances Jane Locey Hollingshead, was already widowed and the mother of two. Her husband, a doctor named Daniel Hollingshead whom she married in 1827, had drowned crossing a swollen stream on his way to minister to the sick. Her grandparents, Daniel and Phoebe Locey, had taken ship from Scotland for America in 1763. The voyage by sail took six weeks. On the way smallpox broke out among the passengers. Both died, leaving five small children to make their way in the new world. Frances’s father, Daniel, was the youngest of those five. He grew up in Sullivan, New York and then moved to Carlyle, Illinois in 1826, raising 16 children. This story is not very different from the stories of our own forebears as they spread across the continent.
Frances probably moved from Carlyle, Illinois to Platteville with her older brother, A. R. T. (Alexander Robert Thompson) Locey, who was a doctor. Dr. Locey and his sister came to Platteville in 1835 after the death of both parents in that year. The first school in Grant County was established in Platteville in 1834 by an eccentric teacher and prospector named Samuel Huntington, who taught about 25 children for about two years and then disappeared. No one knew where he went. The school was moved (1836) to the rear of a house where “Dr. A. T. Locey gathered about forty pupils, who were taught in the main by his sister, Miss Locey.” The Rountree and Vineyard children were among their students. The next year Hanmer Robbins established a log schoolhouse and the teaching duties fell to him.
William T. Morrison apparently was well acquainted with Platteville and the Locey family. On June 22, 1836 he married Frances in Platteville and brought her to his Farm near Lancaster, along with her two children, Sarah Hollingshead, age seven and Martha Hollingshead, age five. William and Frances had five children. Frances’s brother John Newkirk Locey, Known as “Uncle Jud” also came to live on the farm. William and his family settled down to work the farm. Each succeeding year bought the routine of farm life. There is little news or historical record to document the life of the family in these years.
In 1845 William was a juror, along with James R. Vineyard and Frances’s oldest brother Nehemiah (called Meyer) among others in proceedings involving a James C. Campbell, an apparent crackpot who billed himself as a Surgeon and “Botanic Physician of the Reformed School.” As a result of these proceedings Campbell was forbidden to visit, medicate or treat patients on credit. The same James Campbell took a full page in the newspaper to defend himself and demean his detractors including the jurors. Apparently his histrionics stirred little emotion or sympathy.
A December 4, 1847 advertisement in the Lancaster Herald reads: “TAKEN UP: By the subscriber, ten days ago, on his premises, about two miles northeast of Lancaster, a red yearling bull with the lower half of the tail white, some white under the belly and no ear marks. The owner is requested to prove property, pay charges and take him away. W. T. Morrison.” Losing livestock was a big deal to a farmer then, and still is.
Frances’s brother Dr. Alexander R. T. Locey, was elected Grant County Coroner in 1841 and Register of Deeds in 1842. He moved to Lancaster where he apparently suffered business reverses and went bankrupt. In addition to his tenuous finances Alexander and his wife Abigail lost an infant son, Alvin, in August of 1839. William provided the plot in which the child was buried a short distance west of his home, and this plot became the family cemetery. In November 1842 Alexander’s wife died. She was buried in the same cemetery with her infant son. In April 1846 Doctor A. R. T. Locey, left for Oregon in a wagon pulled by oxen. The trip took six months. He left his sons Joseph and Cyrus with his trustworthy brother in law, William T. Morrison. In 1849 Dr. Locey left Oregon for Coloma, California, the place where gold had been discovered. He operated a drug store and hospital for a time and then returned to the Midwest. In 1852 he and his family crossed the plains again with his sons to Oregon. There Dr. Locey died of tuberculosis in 1853.
William's immediate family suffered losses also. His four year old son, Daniel, died on February 14, 1844. His stepdaughter, Sarah Ann Hollingshead, died of tuberculosis at the age of 15 on June 2, 1844. They were buried in the little family cemetery near the house.
The gold rush fever must have been too much for William Morrison, the old pioneer, to resist. He left his farm in the care of his family and in-laws and traveled to California. As the 1938 Locey family history reported: "William Morrison and his elder sons drove an ox-team to California in 1849. He made money, returned to Wisconsin by way of Cape Horn, and built a fine home near Lancaster." Upon his return the Wisconsin Statesman newspaper carried the following report on October 8, 1850:
“MORE GOLD.--Mr. William T. MORRISON, of this town, returned from California on Monday last, well ladened with gold, we expect. He says he has seen the elephant, and recommends all, no matter what may be their situation, to stay at home. All the gold a man can get in California, he says, will not pay him for half the suffering and privations he endures.--Grant County Herald.”
In December of 1852 Martha Hollingshead, William's other stepdaughter and a favorite, died at the age of 22 of tuberculosis. She was buried in the family cemetery. William continued his labors on the farm, working and improving it, but the thread of life was run out for him. On the first of April in the year of 1856, he died of an injury suffered on His farm. He was buried in the little family cemetery, and a large stone bearing his name was set above his resting place.
Today, cemetery vandalism is a bigger problem than ever. On August 10, 2011 three teenagers were charged with 75 counts each of criminal damage after breaking and knocking over markers at the Rock Church Cemetery in the Town of Clifton, near Livingston. The damage was $500,000.00. State law now gives the State Historical society the authority to prevent individuals from damaging burial sites. Even the owner of property may not destroy a burial site on his land.
The saddest aspect of grave desecration is what it says about those who commit the act. You have another hog pen or barn; a little more dirt to work. Heedless of the dead, the spirit meaning nothing and memory a waste of time, you lower yourself to parity with the base creatures that root away their livelihoods in the mud. In the end you pass into eternity with a black cloud hanging over your name, if your name is remembered at all.