Fremont County, Iowa

Civil Bend's Lost Cemeteries
by Lynn Handy

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of January 23, 2012

I live close to the bend in the Missouri River known as Civil Bend. Just as in 2011, the River always affects human activity on the land in the Bend. My interest is history and during the recent flood I started to wonder about the area cemeteries and how the water may have impacted them.

There were three known cemeteries in the Civil Bend area from the late 1840s and 1850s. One was the Blanchard Cemetery two miles west and two miles south of Percival. Today, a State Historical Society marker identifies its location. In those early days the Civil Bend area saw many travelers moving through the area because of the river's prominence in transporting people. It is quite possible strangers to Fremont County were buried there. But records indicate that the graves were mostly locals from many different families.

The second cemetery, Hoyt/McElroy Cemetery, was located one mile east of the Blanchard Cemetery on a large sand ridge. This would be an example of a family cemetery, which was common in those days. Typical of family cemeteries, the graves were eventually moved, these to the Grandview Cemetery up on the Bluffs. All the graves moved were buried under one head stone.

The third cemetery was the Lambert/Clark Cemetery that was located two miles north of Blanchard or the north end of Civil Bend. These people were from Kentucky and Tennessee and were at odds with the congregational members from Oberlin, Ohio who lived closer to the Blanchard Cemetery. This difference in thinking may have been their respective attitudes toward helping the slaves.

On an early map, a Lambert sawmill is shown at the south end of Civil Bend. Eventually all the trees in that area were cut for the steamboats and the sawmill had to relocate. This is when the Lambert family relocated to the north end of Civil Bend where there were still trees to cut. What is known as the Sheldon farm today, was then called the Lambert farm.

Historical accounts talk about the Lambert and Clark families selling and loading wood on a steamboat. In doing this, they contracted Cholera from some of the passengers on board and they became very ill. Their cure for the disease was to consume large amounts of whiskey. They were not getting better and Dr. Blanchard went to help them. His cure was to have those that were sick take considerable amounts of salt. As the story goes some did survive.

This cemetery was eventually lost. One theory is the flood of 1881 laid large sand dunes over the entire cemetery covering it with one to two feet of sand. This area is now on the Sheldon farm, and they have in the course of building fence, hit and dug up two or three stones from this graveyard.

I am intrigued by what may have happened in 2011. Wouldn't be interesting if the Lambert cemetery was once more exposed by the shifting sands from this recent flood? It would be worth a walk in the area to see if any more tombstones are exposed. Maybe sonar or radar could be brought in to locate the stones so they could be dug up and then put the sand back so those early pioneers can rest in peace.

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau