Lost And Found
In spring 1952, University of Kansas Chancellor Franklin Murphy took his two daughters, Martha and Joyce, hiking through the countryside west of present-day Iowa Street. At the time, this area was the undeveloped, western edge of Lawrence.
On their walk, the trio stumbled on an old graveyard, long-since abandoned and overgrown with bushes, sunflowers and other native plants. The burial ground, named Pioneer Cemetery, offered a guide – literally etched in stone – to the early histories of Lawrence and Kansas.
The story of Chancellor Murphy’s “discovery” of Pioneer Cemetery first appeared in an article in the Kansas City Star on May 31, 1952. It has since become part of the lore surrounding the old burial ground. But this “find” resulted in more than some passing press coverage for the chancellor and his daughters.
Murphy took a personal interest in the forgotten graveyard and persuaded the Kansas University Endowment Association to examine the possibilities for acquiring the property. Not quite a full year later – on May 26, 1953 – the City of Lawrence deeded Pioneer Cemetery to the Endowment Association.
Oddly, the embrace of Pioneer Cemetery by Chancellor Murphy and KU is but one chapter in the burial ground’s long, cyclical history of abandonment and recovery.
On an almost generational basis, this original Lawrence cemetery has been neglected, overlooked, and then found by one or more advocates who press for its restoration.
During this process, it has served as the final resting place for a number of early Lawrence settlers, some notable free-state martyrs of the “Bleeding Kansas” period, Union soldiers from Wisconsin who never made it into battle, victims of William Clarke Quantrill’s 1863 raid on Lawrence, and the ashes of numerous KU chancellors, faculty members, and other members of the University community.
The land that became Pioneer Cemetery was used as a burial ground within weeks after the first settlers arrived in Lawrence under the auspices of the Emigrant Aid Company in the summer of 1854. In September of that year, a young man named Moses Pomeroy – a relative of Samuel C. Pomeroy, an Emigrant Aid Company agent who would become one of the first two US senators from Kansas – died of an illness recorded as “Illinois Fever.”
At this early stage in Lawrence’s history, there apparently were no provisions for a public cemetery. However, Aaron Perry, a man who owned a section of land comprising a portion of present-day West Campus, allowed the burial of the deceased on his property.
What few records there are concerning Perry do not indicate whether he received any compensation for permitting the interment or even why he agreed to it in the first place.
But a precedent had been set and this bit of acreage became Lawrence’s earliest burial ground. It was known as Oread Cemetery, and like neighboring Mount Oread, was named after Oread Seminary, reputedly the last building Emigrant Aid Company parties saw as they departed Worcester, Massachusetts, for Kansas.
Not all of Oread Cemetery’s early interments were the result of illness or natural causes. Some notable burials were the consequence of violence between proslavery sympathizers and free-state adherents that characterized the “Bleeding Kansas” period.
One of the most prominent of these was Thomas Barber, who was killed by proslavery partisans on December 6, 1855, on a road outside Lawrence during the so-called Wakarusa War.
The death of this abolitionist, immortalized by John Greenleaf Whittier in the poem “Burial of Barber,” received national attention and gave renewed impetus to the antislavery movement in Kansas. Barber’s obelisk tombstone was a prominent feature of Oread Cemetery for many years until it was toppled. Restored in the late 1990s, it once again commemorates this free-state martyr.
Oread Cemetery also became the final resting place for David Buffum, a member of the second party organized by the Emigrant Aid Company to arrive in Lawrence. A known abolitionist, Buffum settled near Lawrence and became a farmer. On September 12, 1856, he died after being shot in the stomach by Charles Hays, a member of the proslavery Kickapoo Rangers.
Buffum’s epitaph, inscribed on his headstone, included what were reputedly his dying words – “I am willing to die for the cause of Freedom in Kansas” – that became a rallying cry for free-state supporters in Kansas and across the country.
The headstone is considered one of the most valuable in Kansas history. Missing from Oread Cemetery since the early twentieth century, it is now in the possession of the Kansas State Historical Society and was a featured artifact in the territorial sesquicentennial exhibit in 2004.
Property records indicate Aaron Perry sold land including the plot occupied by Oread Cemetery to Matilda Fry on August 10, 1858. Under new ownership the burials continued.
The largest group of interments occurred during spring 1862, when 18 members of the 13th Wisconsin Volunteers died of typhoid fever during their encampment in Lawrence while en route to Corinth, Mississippi, following the Battle of Shiloh.
A year later, Oread Cemetery was again pressed into service after the most violent day in Lawrence history – August 21, 1863 – when approximately 200 men and boys died at the hands of pro-Confederate William Clarke Quantrill and his raiders. Some 70 of these victims were buried in Oread, a few with headstones and most in a mass grave.
In the year following Quantrill’s raid, many citizens of Lawrence pleaded with the city to create a new public burial ground that would honor those who died in the massacre. “There ought to be some measures taken to perpetuate the identity of the resting place of each martyr,” editorialized the Kansas Tribune.
The result was the opening of Oak Hill Cemetery on the east side of town in 1865. It replaced Oread as the city’s main burial ground. Between 1865 and 1872, Lawrence re-interred from Oread all but six of the bodies of the Quantrill Raid casualties in the new cemetery.
A monument to the victims was erected in 1895, and in 1942, William Allen White – a KU alum and editor of the Emporia Gazette who had become known as the “Sage of Emporia” – further solidified Oak Hill’s prominence. He called it “the Kansas Arlington” and contended the cemetery contained “more notable men than any other of God’s acres in this state.”
Although the establishment of Oak Hill diminished the primacy of Oread, Lawrence did not lose complete interest in its initial burial ground. In a City Council meeting in January 1867, the Committee on Cemeteries recommended the purchase of Oread by the city. “Your Committee believes that a proper respect for the memory of the dead, demands some action on the part of the City for the protection and preservation of the grounds formerly used for burial purposes.”
The City Commission agreed with this assessment. It voted funds to purchase the land – which at this point was owned by two local farmers, George Gilbert and Newell Deming – and took possession on April 1, 1867. The city also constructed a dry rock wall to enclose the property.
Despite Lawrence's acquisition of Oread, few burials occurred there in the years that followed. Most residents seemed to prefer to inter their dead in Oak Hill, as well as another new cemetery in north Lawrence called Maple Grove.
In 1882, nearly a decade after the previous burial had taken place in Oread, a local farmer, Alfred Peake, and his wife, Sarah, became the last people buried there during the nineteenth century.
Oread fell into disrepair and suffered from neglect and vandalism. Local youths used grave markers as target practice, while KU students reportedly stole headstones for their Halloween parties. Even the rock wall surrounding the cemetery began to collapse, partly due to boys knocking over stones while chasing rabbits.
The dawn of the twentieth century brought renewed interest in Oread Cemetery. Charles W. Smith, a Lawrence undertaker and owner of Bailey and Smith Funeral Services, joined with the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union Army veterans, to apply for government markers for the graves of the Wisconsin soldiers. In 1906, the GAR officially dedicated these headstones as well as a monument to “the Unknown Dead Union Soldiers of the Civil War.”
Smith delivered a speech during this ceremony, praising those who died during the war and chastising the city for its neglect of Oread. “We erect and dedicate this monument in honor of them,” said Smith, “and let us hope that our action today will cause the city authorities of Lawrence to take shame to themselves, that they have so long allowed these beautiful grounds to be overrun with brush and weeds, and left in such a condition as to be a lasting disgrace to our people and our city.”
Though the GAR and local citizens attempted to maintain the grounds, the city failed to do its part. Once again, Oread Cemetery faded from public attention.
A decade later, another concerned Lawrence citizen, W.C. Simons, took up the cause. In 1915, Simons, the owner and editor of the Lawrence Journal-World, wrote an article for his newspaper headlined “Beautiful Old Forgotten Cemetery.” Simons provided a history of the cemetery, as well as the first inventory of the bodies buried there.
But even with this media exposure, Oread Cemetery remained in disrepair. In 1921, as a reporter for the University Daily Kansan noted, “many of the stones are broken, some have fallen over and are practically embedded in the ground, and some are covered with sod and weeds.”
In 1928, however, the cemetery’s fortunes took a turn for the better. Lawrence Mayor Robert Rankin renamed the burial ground Pioneer Cemetery and assigned work crews to clean it up and build a new barbed wire fence.
Rankin also placed a glacial boulder inscribed with the cemetery’s new name at its entrance. Nevertheless, the mayor’s enthusiasm for what was now Pioneer Cemetery did not translate into a permanent municipal commitment.
By the mid-1930s the cemetery was once again falling into disrepair, in part a function of the city’s decision to “maintain” Pioneer by permitting owners of the surrounding land to allow their animals to graze on the cemetery’s weeds and brush. This approach, complained the Lawrence Democrat, resulted in the toppling and destruction of the some of the graveyard’s markers.
KU students also bemoaned the continuing neglect of the burial site. In a 1940 Kansan editorial, Bill Koester blamed “picnickers, children at play, scavenger hunters, and general ‘edifice defacers’” for tearing up the historic site.
Koester also found the remains of charred fire pits for “wiener roasting” and “steak fries.” Students and locals obviously ignored an old sign that read “No slingshots, rifles, or defacing tolerated on this property.” Even with its new name, Pioneer Cemetery was lost again to nature and the actions of an unconcerned populace.
It was under these conditions of decrepitude that Chancellor Murphy and his daughters happened upon Pioneer in the spring of 1952. With the help of Irvin Youngberg, the executive secretary of the KU Endowment Association, Murphy approached the City of Lawrence to seek transfer of the property to the University.
Some citizens distrusted the University’s intent, claiming KU’s growth plans would eventually encompass development of the cemetery property for other uses. Yet, after support from the Douglas County Historical Society, and with the promise by the University to maintain the property as a burial ground, the city sold Pioneer to the Endowment Association for one dollar.
On behalf of KUEA, Youngberg accepted the cemetery under the conditions of preserving the area as a burial site. He believed it could be “integrated into the campus and made an attractive part of it.”
Although KUEA performed no major restoration work on Pioneer for more than 15 years after obtaining the deed, KU student organizations did help maintain the cemetery on a volunteer basis. For example, the Circle K Club, a student service organization sponsored by the Kiwanis, straightened headstones and provided general maintenance for the cemetery in the spring of 1957.
Others dreamed of bigger plans. Alton C. Thomas, the University’s landscape architect, saw Pioneer Cemetery as an integral component of KU’s comprehensive plan for what was then called “Campus West.”
Beginning in 1966, Thomas called for the restoration of the burial ground and the landscaping of the surrounding area. Thomas envisioned Pioneer Cemetery as the centerpiece of a “historical park” that also would include a public picnic area and museum. In this conception, Pioneer Cemetery would become a place where the people of Lawrence and the University could celebrate the early history of the town.
While Thomas was contemplating this rebirth of Pioneer Cemetery, it was, ironically, the death of a notable KU alum that breathed new life into the old burial ground. Dr. Elmer McCollum, a KU graduate who had gone on to become an eminent scientist and the discoverer of Vitamins A and D – as well as the namesake of McCollum Residence Hall – had spent the majority of his career away from Kansas.
But he retained fond memories of Lawrence and KU, and before he died, he informed his wife of his desire to be buried in Pioneer Cemetery. This wish would be granted. On May 6, 1968, some 86 years after the last burial had taken place in Pioneer Cemetery, McCollum’s ashes were interred there.
McCollum’s final act gave KUEA’s Youngberg a plan of action. “It is my hope that we can ‘quietly’ make it known publicly that Dr. McCollum’s ashes have been placed in the Cemetery,” he wrote to Keith Lawton, the University’s physical plant vice chancellor, “for I think that his idea may well have appeal to others.”
Youngberg was right on the mark. The renewed availability of Pioneer struck a chord with many members of the KU community, and it became a functioning cemetery again.
McCollum’s burial also spurred Thomas to continue pressing his “historical park” proposal for Pioneer and the adjacent property. In a July 30, 1968, letter to Youngberg, Thomas detailed plans that included a restoration of the cemetery, the replacement of the decrepit stone and barbed-wire fence with a redwood and concrete enclosure supplemented by rows of barberry hedges, the incorporation of new lighting in the area, the installation of historical markers, and the removal or relocation of many trees and shrubs that had taken root in the cemetery.
The high cost of Thomas’ full vision prevented it from receiving the necessary funding, but in September 1968, KUEA did approve a grant of $11,000 for restoration of the cemetery itself. Completed in 1970, the work included construction of a new redwood and concrete fence, a new gate and lighting. Additionally, KU’s buildings and grounds crews installed some new plantings.
Since this time, interments at Pioneer Cemetery have proceeded apace – some 450 as of 2004. It has become the final resting ground for the ashes of scores of notable KU scholars and administrators and their spouses.
Three chancellors – Deane Malott and his wife, Eleanor; W. Clarke Wescoe and his wife, Barbara; and Raymond Nichols – are buried there, as are Takeru Higuchi, the “father of physical pharmacy”; Charles Oldfather, law professor and KU benefactor; Lawrence Woodruff, former dean of students and namesake of Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union; Raymond Moore, longtime leader of the Kansas Geological Survey; Fred Ellsworth, veteran executive of the KU Alumni Association and namesake of the Fred Ellsworth Medallion Distinguished Service Citation; and fittingly, the Endowment Association’s Irvin Youngberg.
In May 1994, the growing popularity of Pioneer Cemetery caused the KUEA Board of Trustees to establish regulations and eligibility requirements for interment in there.
For full-time faculty and staff, at least 15 years of service to the University is required. In addition, chancellors, deans, and others who have given distinguished service to the University, including trustees of the Endowment Association and directors of the Alumni Association, are also eligible for burial in Pioneer.
Due to limited space, the Endowment Association only accepts ashes for the cemetery’s small 2-by-2 foot plots. All plots are free for those who qualify.
The cemetery’s historic importance resurfaced again in the mid-1990s when local historians found the obelisk monument to Thomas Barber.
“There may be someone on the face of the earth that knew where it was,” said local historian Katie Armitage in a 1996 Journal-World article about the discovery, “but none of us doing local history had ever seen it.” The nine-foot-tall monument had broken into three pieces and an evergreen bush hid the segments from view.
Additionally in 1996, the Historic Mount Oread Fund (HMOF), which focuses on promoting historic preservation at KU, commissioned local historian Karl Gridley to conduct a survey of the cemetery.
More thorough than the Simons inventory, Gridley’s accounting systematically retold the history of the burial ground, focusing on the 70 remaining headstones.
In addition, Gridley recommended ways to maintain and restore Pioneer Cemetery, including resetting headstones, monitoring stones for deterioration, and increasing measures to thwart “possible theft by Civil War souvenir seekers.”
Over the next several years, Gridley and members of HMOF as well as other volunteers, reset most of the headstones. Meanwhile, in spring 1997, the Barber monument was restored and HMOF organized a ceremony to commemorate this latest manifestation of Pioneer’s revival.
It was something of a Gridley family affair. Roy Gridley, Karl’s father and a retired KU professor of English, read the Whittier poem, and HMOF's Marilyn Gridley, a professor emeritus of art history at UMKC, gave a brief speech in which she declared “as long as the Endowment runs the land as a burial ground and the Historic Mount Oread Fund is willing to preserve it, Pioneer Cemetery should not fall into disrepair ever again.”
Ken Armitage, distinguished professor emeritus of biology at KU, rounded out the event by planting an Ohio Buckeye tree just east of the Barber monument (as per the Whittier poem, “Plant the Buckeye on his grave”).
In 2000, someone found the headstone of George Sargent, one of the victims of Quantrill’s raid, in the woods near the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center on 15th Street and gave it to the Watkins Community Museum. Sargent’s marker was one of seven headstones reset in concrete by volunteers in October 2003. And in fall 2004, HMOF placed Whittier’s poem on stones next to the Barber Monument.
As of 2004, several hundred people had reserved a spot on the cemetery’s burial list, a firm indication of Pioneer’s re-establishment. The current master plan for the cemetery indicates nearly 500 plots remain, though Daryl Beene, senior vice president for property management at the Endowment Association, told the Journal-World in May 2003 that should demand warrant, “the cemetery could be expanded by as many as 10 acres.”
In the same article, Beene tried to explain Pioneer’s renewed popularity. “We don’t have hometowns,” he said, noting that many KU faculty and staff come from elsewhere. “A lot of people don’t have roots, but they have a love for the University.” This affection for KU has resurrected a cemetery, in a way giving it a form of life after death.
American Studies Program
University of Kansas
University correspondence from 1968-1970 between Irvin Youngberg, Alton Thomas, Keith Lawton, and others located in Pioneer Cemetery- Historical Park (Landscape) File in University Archive.
For more details see, University Daily Kansan: February 9, 1921, p.3, c.3; April 18, 1940, p. 6; August 2, 1977; November 16, 2002. University of Kansas History Scrapbook: Vol. 14, p. 117. University of Kansas Activities Scrapbook: v. 18, p. 38. Graduate Magazine: (November 1968), 67, no. 3, p.14. Lawrence Journal-World: August 11, 1889; July 28, 1905; April 19, 1952; September 6, 1981; May 26, 1996; April 10, 1997; May 26, 2003. Kansas City Star: February 16, 1942; May 31, 1952;
For a brief overview see, Sandra Swanson Wiechert’s Historic Mount Oread: A catalog of KU’s Landmarks, Historic Mound Oread Fund, 1999, p. 39.
City Council Meeting Minutes: January 18, 1867; February 7, 1867; March 4, 1867; March 21, 1867.
Excellent resources include: B. Jean Snedeger, et. Al, Complete Tombstone Census of Douglas County, Vol. 1 (1987) and Vol. 2 (1989), Douglas County Genealogical Society, Inc. William L. Hastie, Rural Cemeteries of Douglas County, Kansas, Douglas County Historical Society, 1941. Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, Self-Guided Tour, Historic Cemeteries Tour of Lawrence.
Also, good secondary sources are William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas (1883), available online at http://www.kancoll.org/books/cutler/douglas/douglas-co-p4.html#LAWRENCE, and Richard Cordley’s A History of Lawrence, Kansas: from Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Rebellion. (1895).
Information about William Allen White may be found at http://www.kshs.org/portraits/white_william.htm]