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Cholera Hill Cemetery and Cholera Epidemic of June 1851


Posted By: Pat Ryan White (email)
Date: 9/13/2015 at 07:56:25

Section 3 – Tippecanoe Township – Henry County, Iowa
"The Bystander’s Notes". C.S. Rogers, Publisher. - Mt. Pleasant Daily News. Friday, October 11, 1912

As you drive along the old state road toward Rome, and just as you start up the little hill approaching the old home of Uncle William Davis, now owned by Mr. F. S. Finley, you will see gleaming in the sunlight among the trees on a little promontory on the left, a number of marble grave stones, within an enclosure, which while keeping out impious intrusion, fails to keep without the gate that neglect which attends the passing of the years. Few now visit the old cemetery, aside from those drawn there by interest in the victims of the cholera of 1851. Formerly the burying ground was not fenced in and the cattle grazing in the pasture browsed among the tombstones and over the graves. Some years ago, William Davis deeded the tract to the township and a strong wire fence was erected about the area, with a gate for entrance, but aside from that the officials of the township have done nothing for the cemetery and it was growing up to weeds and underbrush until Mr. Finley tried to bring things into a better condition. He has now a bunch of sheep in the enclosure, which are fast killing off the underbrush.

We visited this little burying ground the other day and passed an hour under that melancholy spell which pervades the environs of the dead. The cemetery had fallen into a sad state of decay. The ravages of Time are everywhere proclaiming to the living, the futility of escaping oblivion through chiseled marble or graven granite. Many of the graves were never marked, and are obliterated forever. Here and there were grave stones that had fallen and were covered with mold and vegetation. Some of these we uncovered and traced out the faded lettering to learn the identity of the man or woman to whose memory the stone had been fashioned. One of the oldest was all but gone. After scraping off the mold and moss from the fragment of the headstone, we traced the name “MARY.” That was all. The incident of birth and death had been effaced by the tooth of Time. Who was Mary? Was she wife or maid? Did she die young and good, or had life been long and hard, and death welcome? There may be some still living familiar with the cemetery who remember who Mary was, but in a few short years, they too, will be gone, and the fragment of headstone will be gone and Mary will pass from all remembrance, as if she had never lived. They are all there, the young and the old, the fair and the good, the husband, the wife, the children. Over under a tree, broken and prostrate on the ground, is a large marble headstone graven at the top with the emblems of the Masonic order. The ties of a mighty brotherhood cannot stay the on rolling mists of oblivion from swallowing up the name and memory of Henry D. Driver. A veteran of the Civil War is buried there, but even the glowing affection of comrade for comrade cannot stay the march of years and the G.A.R. emblem that once was erected over the grave of G.R. Crawford, Co. K, 6th Iowa Infantry has long since rusted and fallen.

The grave of the first person buried there, the wife of a Mr. Minter, who built the Lawrence cabin, is obliterated. And even the simple monument over the grave of the last person buried there, Mrs. Anna E. Steele, wife of E. Packenham, who died May 17, 1896, is already bowing to the inevitable and in a few years will topple over like its fellows. Many of the headstones have fallen and been picked up and leaned against trees or other headstones until the exact resting place of many are already lost. Henry Swan, who wearied of life in 1881 and was found in the timber east of the cemetery, finds a long rest among the others. One enclosure is peopled with Scotts, one of whom was a victim of the plaque, and there are the Grahams, the Swans, the Shumans, the Jacksons, the Drivers, the Naus, the Berries, the Loudens, the Loids, and many others.

But the chief interest in the little burying ground is the group of tottering headstones which mark the graves of some of the victims of the cholera scourge of June, 1851, that tragic and shuddering chapter of pioneer days which still is lived over and over again by those who escaped from the devastation of the dread disease. There were altogether thirty-one who died and of these, most are buried in the Sample cemetery, but of them, there remain headstones to but eleven of the victims, namely, John Sample and his wife Ann; William Sample and his wife Amanda; Sam D. Woodworth and his two sons, William and Robert; Nancy Scott, Hugh Swan, Daniel Shuman and Phoebe Jackson. Of the others, their graves were never marked or else the tombstones have been removed. Many were buried over the surrounding country, often near the place where they died. One is buried on the S.T. Hill place, five are buried north of the Dallner place, one is buried northeast of town, and two more on what is now a lawn of a residence property here in town and three down in the Old City cemetery.

The cholera broke out in a log cabin which stood on the site of what is now the residence of Mr. Finley, or better known as the old William Davis home. The original cabin was a two-roomed domicile built in the rude pioneer way in 1839 and stood there until about 1858, when it was torn down and the present home erected. The logs were taken across the road and built into the little house which still stands west of the barn and which has been fixed up by Mr. Finley and painted and used for a helper’s home. Across the road, but farther east still stands the Lawrence home. This was built about the same time as the others and by a man named Minter, who started to prove up his claim, but was bought out by S. D. Woodworth, who was the first county surveyor. There were many other cabins around, indeed it was known as Sampletown, there being so many Samples and their relatives in the neighborhood, but these two are all that are remaining. Of the Driver place only the Driver spring remains; of the Briar/Brier farm only the Briar/Brier spring remains, both now on the Davis farm. At this time emigration westward was heavy and the trail passed through Mt. Pleasant and followed what is now known as the state road or the road to Fairfield. It crossed the creek just north of the present bridge and the river, between the wagon and railroad bridge, passing, of course, by the Davis place. And it is supposed that the germs of the cholera were brought along this trail by some emigrant.

1851 was not only the year of the cholera, but it was the year of the great flood. No such devastation had ever been wrought by the river as was caused that spring. It reached a state of water that seems at this time unbelievable. This is best noted by the markings that have been placed on a large tree on the Oakland river road, and fully vouched for by the old inhabitants. It rained nearly all the time during May, and the river and the creeks became bank full and continued to rise, and it kept on raining and the streams overflowed, the bottom lands were covered and still it rained and the waters rose.

By the first of June the creeks and the river were impassable except in small boats and then at great risk. The river was full of rail fences, log cabins and other debris which was sweeping to the Mississippi. The bottom lands and the second bottoms were under water and nearly all the crops hopelessly ruined. It would rain, then clear up and the sun would pour down hot and pitiless, and then it would rain again, and so it kept up, during May and June, and the river rose to that stage which has gone down into history as the Flood of 1851.

There is a story going the rounds that the first victim of the cholera was an emigrant who was stricken and infected the Sample neighborhood, but this is an error. The first person stricken by the cholera was John Sample, who with his wife, Ann, and their children, lived at the Davis home, as it is better known. A son, William Sample and his wife, Amanda lived nearby. Across the road in what is known as the Lawrence home lived S. D. Woodworth, a son-in-law of John Sample. His wife had died some years before, but there were at home at the time three sons, a twelve-year-old daughter, who afterwards became Mrs. McMillan, and a nine-year-old daughter. Aunt Eliza Davis, of this city, was a daughter of John Sample, and was stricken with the cholera, but survived. John Sample was stricken in the night of June 5th. There was no suspicion as to the nature of the disease. He died the next day, which was Thursday. Word of his death was carried from cabin to cabin and all who could reach the place attended the funeral, for he was a man of affairs in the community. The spread of the disease was no more frightful than its deadly venom. Every pall bearer was stricken and died, four of the Samples and three of the Woodworths died within a week. Eastward toward the creek many more died and even a few died in Mt. Pleasant. Thirty-one was the toll of life before the disease was under control.

The disease worked with horrible abruptness and as a rule, the victims did not survive over twenty-four hours. Cramps was the first symptom which came with violence, followed with chills and vomiting, incoherency and coma and death. The whole country was panic stricken. Those who were stricken had all they could do at their own homes without offering assistance to others in distress. Those who were not visited, shunned the sufferers as from death itself. The horror of the situation could not be better illustrated than to narrate the dreadful experience of Mrs. McMillan, of this city. John Parks was one of the pall bearers for John Sample, the first victim. Before Parks got home, he was stricken with the cholera. The next morning a messenger came to Mr. Woodworth, father of Mrs. McMillan, begging him to go to Rome to get medicine for Mr. Parks. Mr. Woodworth was himself stricken and was just able to get started, but before he got to the ferry, had to return home. He died the next day. So did Parks. The night of the death of her father was one never to be forgotten by the little twelve-year old girl. Her father lay dead of the strange but fatal disease, across the road lay her grandmother and aunt, who had died during the day. Two brothers were sick. It was absolutely necessary to bury the dead at once. She was sent down through the timber for help. It was late at night and raining. Death was about her, the storm over her. Her path lead through thick timber for half a mile to the house of a man named Brier. Weak with fright, she pushed her way to the home and knocking for admittance, begged for help to bury her dead. But, there was no help there. Brier had his own dead to care for. His wife had just died leaving him with three little children, motherless and terror stricken. The little girl returned through the storm and the dark to the home. Her brother Henry, the oldest, fortunately had not caught the disease. So too had escaped a young man, George Green, who was working on the farm. Henry in the meanwhile had fashioned the coffins and dug the graves and at midnight in the almost impenetrable darkness, with the rain beating down upon them, and by the uncertain light of a lantern, this little girl, her brother Henry, a girl who was also of the family, and the hired man, placed the bodies of the dead in the coffins, carried them into the cemetery and lowered them into their graves.

This was on Friday. The following day, Saturday, William Sample died. On the next Tuesday, William Woodworth died and the next day Robert died, too. Hugh Swan was another of the victim and also his daughter, Elizabeth, aged sixteen, both being buried in the Sample cemetery. Aside from Mr. Parks, his mother died and his son Marion, and all three are buried on the north side of the road near the Dallner farm. A young man named Lee, who lived near the creek, was taken sick and came to town for treatment. He died at the doctor’s home and was buried in the edge of town. A Mrs. Miller, living about opposite the present Christian church, was stricken and died and was buried in the edge of town.

While the disease was mostly confined between the creek and the river, it worked east as far as Mt. Pleasant, and a number were stricken and several died. The town was panic stricken, business was practically suspended for the first week. No matter what affected them, the first thought was that the cholera had them. The local doctors did all that could be done. There was Dr. Wellington Bird and his partner, Dr. Clark, and there was Dr. Faris, and not to be forgotten the mysterious Dr. Montague. The local doctors did what they could, but they had never treated the disease before, had never seen it, but what they lacked in experience, they made up in courage and devotion to the afflicted. Dr. Bird was stricken with the cholera, but recovered. Naturally the people shunned all contact with the disease, none crossed the creek, but those who were obliged to, and here in town, people kept to their homes as closely as possible.

Dr. Montague was the man of the hour, however. He drifted into the town just as the cholera broke out, or during the trouble; possibly he came on account of it. Where he came from, no one knew, but his advent was surrounded with mystery and so was his departure a few years later. But, it afterwards was found out that he came from Connecticut, where he had a large practice, but becoming involved in some kind of trouble, he fled to the then wild and woolly west until it was more pleasant at home. There was a story that he fled to escape being a witness in some kind of a case in Boston, but the details are now forgotten. His splendid work among the cholera patients, however, is not forgotten by those who lived through those dreadful weeks. Dr. Montague at once recognized the disease and had had much experience with it. He went right into the Sample neighborhood and started in to stop the disease. He could tell at a glance the chances of a patient and if it was hopeless, would turn to those whom he could help. It is said that he saved every patient that he could reach in time and under his directions, the spread of the disease was stayed. His timely arrival in town saved the life of James Kean, an uncle of Frank Kean west of town. James Kean lived on the old Kean home place next to the S.T. Hill place. He was stricken and given up to die by one of the local physicians. He consulted with Dr. Montague, who accompanied him out to the sick man. As soon as he saw Kean he announced that there was no need of his dying. He sent the local doctor to town for some remedies, enlisted the assistance of several young men of the neighborhood and subjected Kean to a treatment which saved him. It is said that when Dr. Montague first arrived, he was at once asked if he would be willing to assist in the fight on the cholera. He was ready and all he asked was a good riding horse. It was provided by Captain Asbury Porter.

Henry, the oldest son of Mr. Woodworth, was a carpenter, and was home on a visit. Fortunately, he did not contract the cholera, but it was his melancholy duty to fashion the rude boxes for the burial cases of his own family and relatives. The boxes were made of native lumber, which had been sawed. One day during that dreadful week, he was making boxes for his two brothers, both of whom were down sick. So fatal was the disease that as soon as a person was stricken, preparations were made for his funeral . One of his sick brothers heard the hammering and announced to those about him that the box was being made for him. It was too true. For he died the next day.

Among the deaths in Mt. Pleasant was the son of a Dr. Darling. There was also a man died of the cholera in the Mallam house on South Harrison Street, and a stranger who was passing through died in the Tiffany House, which hostelry stood on the site of the Farmers’ and Merchants’ bank on the north side. It is said that all three were buried in the Old City Cemetery.

There are two soldiers of the civil war out in the Sample Cemetery, but so far as we could see the graves are not decorated on Memorial Day. One is Corporal George Crawford of Co. K, Sixth Iowa Infantry. He was desperately wounded in battle and as soon as strong enough to be brought home, an uncle went after him. He was gotten home, but soon died of his wounds. Sometime the emblem of the G.A.R. was placed at his grave, but we found it broken and rusted and evidently no flag had been placed in it for some time. The other grave is that of a soldier who enlisted in an Indiana regiment. At the time of the mustering out of his regiment at the close of the war, he was in an army hospital and somehow or other he never received his discharge papers. As he had moved west and could not prove his rights to a pension without some trouble. He never had it righted and his widow was never able to secure a widow’s pension.

Up in the ridge of the big barn on the Davis farm is fixed a buffalo’s head. It is showing the signs of time and tide and the stress of weather. But a great many people wonder where it came from and how it got there. About thirty years ago, Uncle William Davis, who was always up to the unexpected, started a buffalo farm and to make it interesting added a few elk. The buffalo multiplied and became a nuisance, and would break out through the fences and trample crops and scare the people. So finally the complaint becoming insistent, he began to slaughter them for their meat and the head on the barn is from one of the herd. His elk became so vicious that he was obliged to keep them tied up all the time. Some of our older people may remember Uncle William driving into town one county fair day driving a pair of spanking elk, with Uncle John Winters sitting on the seat with him, but in a state of agonized apprehension, that any time would be the time to jump.

Down near what is known as the Brier/Briar Spring on the old Davis place is the site of an old distillery. Nothing is there now but a lot of brick and some of the foundation, but in its day a great many barrels of whiskey was turned out there and retailed in Mt. Pleasant and surrounding country. After a time it got into trouble with the federal authorities and was closed up.

Uncle William Davis married a daughter of John Sample, Aunt Eliza. He afterwards bought out the heirs of his father-in-law and started out to gather in the surrounding landscape into the present magnificent combination stock and grain farm of 699 acres, and now owned by Mr. F.S. Finley, of this city. In the early days it was covered, aside from the bottoms, with a magnificent growth of timber, but most of it has been cut off and is now fine blue grass pasture. Splendid springs are bursting out of the hills all over the place. The farm is probably the most noted one in this part of Iowa.

Did you ever hear the tragic story of love, duty and death of Penelope Glover, who lies in a lonely and neglected grave in a sheep pasture west of town. As you go out west of town on the Rome road and just after you pass the house on the S.T. Hill place, now occupied by W.E. Young, you will notice a clump of old gnarled apple trees, in a sheep pasture. And over among these trees lie the fragments of the headstone that once had been reared over the grave of a beautiful nineteen year old girl, who was stricken at the bedside of her lover, who was battling with the cholera. In a few years the trees will be taken away and the plowshare will obliterate the last trace of this girl, but her story will be handed down from generation to generation. Penelope Glover was a school teacher, young and fair and still held in beloved remembrance by those now living who went to her school. She was of that well known Glover family of that neighborhood, living over near the river. At the time of the cholera outbreak the winsome girl was teaching the lads and lassies in a log cabin that was located near a spring north of the road near where the present “Pin Hook” school now stands. James Kean, a young man living east of there had known her, wooed her and won her. They were engaged and their wedding day had been set. She was at home when word came that her lover had been stricken with the dread disease, and that the physicians had given no possible hope of his recovery. In spite of the protests of her family, the warnings of the physician and the entreaties of friends, she left home for the bedside of her lover. Her nursing and mysterious Dr. Montague saved his life. But alas, in the midst of the rejoicing over his speedy recovery and the fruition of their tender hopes for a happy future, she was one day seized with the dread cramps and other symptoms of the disease, and in spite of all that could be done, succumbed to the cholera. The dead girl was buried under the apple trees near the home of her lover, where although lost to him in life, he could still keep her in death. For some years the grave was cared for and then began to fall into neglect. Lover, relatives and friends forgot her. The weeds crowded out the flowers, bramble appeared over the grave, and climbed up over the headstone, as if to shield from the gaze of the curious the name of the neglected girl.

James Kean lived, and mourned, and loved again, and married Julia McMillan. Many of the Glover family are still living, but out among the apple trees neglect marks the grave of the maid. The little mound that once was kept green and neat is obliterated, the marble headstone that was erected to her memory is fallen and broken and the mold of the years is filling the lettering, and few now ever take the trouble to go over to the spot where was buried a girl’s fondest hopes. But so it is and so it will always be. As the Sample Cemetery has fallen into decay and neglect, and the headstones have crumbled and the inscriptions faded away, so too out in Forest Home, and every other cemetery, no matter how lasting the stone or ingenious the design to attract and preserve the memory, neglect will creep in, the elements will corrode and eat away the granite, and the waves that ever beat on the shores of time will wash away every vestige of man’s efforts to preserve his name and deeds.


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