Most people have nightmares about losing their family. Television shows and books visit this topic regularly. The sad truth, though, is it takes place more often in real life than people care to admit, especially during unsettled and chaotic times.
This very situation supposedly happened to a family crossing the North Raccoon River during the pioneer era in Dallas County. The family got into trouble during the crossing, and everyone except the father drowned. The grief-stricken man buried his family on a hill overlooking the river on land owned by the Roush family.
The name of this man and what eventually happened to him remain a mystery.
What we do know is that the little family plot became township cemetery for several other families, and at least nine people ended up there. Members of the Jordan and Liggit families were buried there, along with Franklin Lickinteller and his mother, Hannah.
Franklin’s father, John, was a pioneer general store owner on what became the Guy Haney farm south of Perry. He was buried during the Civil War in 1862, a year after his mother Hannah.
Sometime after 1900, burials ceased and by the middle of the century, the little cemetery was in disrepair. During the 1960s, a man named H. I. Carlisle got a court order to build a house next to the cemetery. Theo and Yvonne Streed, caretakers of Forest Park Museum, took nine existing headstones belonging to the three families to the museum where they stayed in storage until 2013.
Most people would probably not want to build in such a place, but it does offer a sweeping view of the river valley. A beautiful house with large windows and a nicely landscaped yard were the result of Mr. Carlisle’s efforts.
The Diddy family and then Ray and Kay Peoples owned the property for the next several decades and kept it as a showplace. The Peoples added a kitchen on the south side of the house and ended up digging up some bones. Whether those bones were reinterred or moved is a mystery.
One of Kay’s children is the current property owner. My efforts to contact them have so far proved unsuccessful.
In 2013 I moved the headstones from our store room to the Mowrer Cemetery. The nine stones look like they belong there, and I viewed the whole issue as largely put to rest.
However, researchers continue to come by Forest Park, and the mystery deepens. A call to the Washington Township trustees revealed that all the township records were burned under unknown circumstances while in the possession of a previous trustee.
Other research in old history books claims that far more than 9 people are buried there. One account claims a total of 36 people are buried in this location!
How many people ended up in this cemetery? Are those bodies still there? Will court records reveal the official date of abandonment of the cemetery and any other information that might still be available?
A trip to the once well maintained property reveals a troubling site. The yard is still mowed, but the once stately house has no front windows and is deteriorating badly. An army of friendly cats eagerly greets visitors from a landscape of aging trees and bushes. A feeling of decay permeates the once beautiful place.
What will be the fate of this property and its inhabitants, both living and dead?
Many unanswered questions remain about this Dallas County mystery, questions that might never be answered.