Visiting with Osawatomie High school alumni is only one of the reasons that I enjoy volunteering at the Oz History and Depot Museum on Memorial Day weekend.
The other is even better. I have the chance to help people locate the graves of their family members and other loved ones. This year was a banner year for that.
It started when Jim Coffelt asked me about a neglected cemetery south of town. He and friends had come across it years ago, and Jim was hoping that it was now being tended. As I often do these days, I asked for time to think about it and check it out. (Recall and memory just aren’t as quick or as accurate as they used to be.)
While checking names in the county cemetery books for visitors from South Dakota, I remembered. It had to be the old Lessenden Cemetery, also called Crescent Hill.
I also remembered that Gary Ford, former news editor for the Graphic, had once written about the place. Sure enough, there in the newspaper files were Gary’s stories from 1980. I am about to share those with you.
Gary had received an anonymous letter telling of one grave in that cemetery, requesting that flowers be placed on that plot and enclosing money for that to be done. It was. Gary, Wayne and Vera Mae Day, Myrtress Griffith and Kathleen McDougal blazed a trail through the undergrowth that was then on the I.H. McMahon farm.
There, amid “broken stones and crumbled marble under fallen trees,” they found the burial place of Leander Martin, who died during the Civil War.
Once the headstone was set upright, it read “In Memory of Leander Martin, 1st Lieut. of Co. a 18th U.S.C.I. Killed in a skirmish with guerrillas on Sand Mountain, Ala. Jan. 27, 1865 Aged 34 years, 4 mos. 14 ds.”
The small group placed a yellow mum plant and added a small United States flag, paid respects and hiked out of the woods, hoping that someone would renovate the cemetery.
Ford informed the letter writer of their actions and enclosed a picture of the decorated grave. His friend Jim Osborn researched Civil War records in Alabama and found that Martin had been instantly killed in that battle, the only fatality of the U.S. Colored Infantry that day. He must have been an outstanding individual since he was an officer when other officers in colored units at that time were white.
We don’t know how or why Leander Martin was brought to Osawatomie for burial. His is not the only Martin name found in that graveyard. Diadamia and Daniel rest nearby. A Martin family once lived near that area, and they could have been related. The cemetery itself was once owned by J.A. Lessenden, who, with his wife, is also buried there.
The earliest grave, though, belongs to an infant son of Osawatomie founders. That is Henry Everett. His father, John, was one of the first settlers here. He and his wife Sarah are honored because their letters to family during the earliest years of our area’s history remain a valued source of information regarding living conditions, politics, community relationships and even the second Battle of Osawatomie.
In all, 22 persons are interred in this cemetery. Surnames include Wagner, Martin, Everett, Allen, Snode, Lessenden, Banning and Dryden.
Gary’s story was noticed and in the middle 1980s, Boy Scouts from Troop 106, led by Eagle candidates from the Irwin family, cleaned and restored the graveyard, bringing dignity back to the “honored dead.”
Jim Coffelt and I are among those believing that similar caring is the rightful heritage of those who have gone before and especially for those like Leander Martin, who died in the service of our country.
Let’s not let any of them be forgotten again.