Fremont County, Iowa

Thurman Cemetery
by Lona Lewis & Nancy Newlon

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of 26 April 2012

In 1846, a valley cutting through the Loess Hills bluffs, was settled in what would become Fremont County Iowa. Settlement started when the Mormon Battalion, who were volunteering to fight in the Mexican War, overnighted in the area. Plenty of water and good land led to several staying thus beginning Thurman, Iowa. The town began with a place to worship and a school.

Eventually, Thurman needed a cemetery. On February 10, 1852, Barbara Ewell, nine-days-old, was the first burial on a grassy knoll in the Loess Hills, two miles east of the town of Thurman. John and Elizabeth Ewell gave the first section of land. In 1852, one could walk through the cemetery and enjoy the vistas of the hills with no trees blocking the view.

Gradually, the cemetery grew as one family after another donated land. Six sections bear the names of these families - Ewell, Forney, Greenwood, Leeka, Baylor and Schooley. Today there are eight sections.

Over the years, trees became part of the cemetery, some were planted by families, to honor their deceased loved ones. Others such as Cedars grew on the hills because, with the stamping out of regular fires, the Loess Hills vegetation changed.

After 150 years, Thurman residents decided to restore the gravestones. Starting in 2009, the Scott Township Trustees and the Friends of Thurman Cemetery had restored over 500 headstones. Those standing were cleaned, their foundations reinforced. Early stones that were in pieces were laid out on a slab of flat cement pieced together to provide a full view of the old headstones. When possible, families helped, but there were a large number of headstones in which the family members were gone. Enough had been accomplished that for the last two biannual festivals held by Thurman, a featured program was a cemetery walk with stories about the early settlers buried there.

Saturday evening, April 14, 2012, a tornado tore through Thurman. The aftermath is a town that will have to be rebuilt. The tornado lifted as it came to the east end of the town, skipped over two miles and came down again on the cemetery, then lifted continuing northeast. Trees were ripped out of the ground and fell on the old stones. Efforts are underway to remove the debris caused by the 25 destroyed trees. Only two trees are left standing at the north end of the cemetery.

The trustees have yearly funds for maintaining the property, mowing and a limited fund for emergencies. Families and friends will need to once again step up to restore the headstones. Those graves with no family will only be fixed through donations from the public. Friends of Thurman Cemetery is ready to help. They can refer families to companies that repair headstones and they are collecting donations to help with the clean-up.

Thurman will come back. Homes will be rebuilt. The challenge will be to bring back the cemetery to help preserve the history of the community. If restoration does not occur, history will be lost and the tornado will have claimed another victim.

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Page updated on May 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau