Taking Care of Daniel Boone - The Missourian: Features People

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Taking Care of Daniel Boone

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Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 5:32 pm

Jim Jackson, Marthasville, is a friend of Daniel Boone, both literally and figuratively. On some occasions, he even dresses up like him.

The first time was for the Washington Historical Society in 2009 at its annual banquet. He has since portrayed the famous American explorer and trailblazer for both the Boone County Historical Society and the Boone Family Society, a nationwide group of Boone descendants.

“I got the costume, and the flintlock . . . and it went pretty well,” said Jackson, who portrays Boone in 1814, the year after his wife Rebecca (Bryan) Boone was buried in the David Bryan Family Cemetery near present-day Marthasville. (David Bryan was Rebecca Boone’s first cousin.)

When Daniel Boone died in 1820, he was buried in the cemetery next to his wife. Some 25 years later, however, “the larger bones of Daniel Boone” were exhumed and reburied under a monument in Frankfort, Ky., and to this day there has been controversy over whether it was actually Boone’s bones that were removed or, if it was Boone, how much of him was removed and how much had already returned to the soil.

Historian Ralph Gregory has famously said that while the Kentucky delegation may have taken Boone’s bones, his heart and brain remain in Missouri.

Jackson portrays Boone in 1814 specifically to settle the question about where he personally wished to be buried. When someone in the audience invariably asks a question about his burial site, he replies:

“ . . . when my time comes to cross that great gap in the sky, I want to be buried right next to my wife, Rebecca, at the Bryan Family Cemetery.”

Regardless of the controversy, Jackson and others in the area feel a responsibility to look after Boone’s original burial site near Marthasville and those of others in the Bryan Family Cemetery.

They call themselves the Friends of Daniel Boone’s Burial Site in Missouri or FODBBSIM.

Friends of Daniel Boone

Marc Houseman, director of the Washington Historical Society and a volunteer with the Franklin County Cemetery Society, has had an interest in caring for cemeteries since he was young.

So when the circa 1915 bronze plaque marking Boone’s original burial site was stolen in the summer of 2008, Houseman was spurred to action. He put a notice in The Missourian for people who were interested in preserving and caring for the Boone Monument site to attend a meeting that August.

Close to 50 people responded, Houseman recalled.

The cemetery, which is surrounded by the Boone Monument Farm, has been maintained over the years by a number of civic groups, concerned citizens and neighboring landowners, said Houseman. That list includes the St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Marthasville, Marthasville Lions Club, Boy Scouts, the Maurice Brewe family, Boone historian Ken Kamper and Walter and Grace Stemme, who owned Boone Monument Farm until June 2009.

Many people may not realize it, Houseman noted, but all cemeteries are public grounds and anyone can visit them. Only for-profit cemeteries can be bought or sold. Family cemeteries like the Bryans’, even if they are in the middle of someone’s private property, are not actually owned by any one.

That meant officially there was no one person in charge of looking after the Bryan Family Cemetery or the Boone monument, said Houseman. Shortly after the Boone plaque was stolen, the Friends requested that the Warren County Commission, as the local governing body, appoint them as the cemetery’s caretakers, and the commission agreed.

Ground-Penetrating Radar and Other Accomplishments

The Friends take seriously their title of caretakers. Members regularly visit the cemetery to pick up fallen tree branches after serious weather. In the summer of 2011, they planted two swamp white oak trees to replace a persimmon tree they found collapsed one day.

“They are fast growing and rigorous,” said Jackson, who has a degree in forestry and wildlife management from the University of Missouri.

“I came up here with gallons of water and watered them that first year because of the drought.”

Jackson also conducted an inventory of the trees at the cemetery. There are walnut, cedar, maple, bitter nut hickory, hackberry . . .

A cedar might be the oldest. Jackson guesses its age at 75 years.

The Friends installed new signs painted by Jim Peters, one at the road level and one next to the Boone Monument. They removed two of four sides of rotten fencing that surrounds the cemetery and repaired two additional sides “as best we could,” said Houseman.

The “greatest achievement to date” of the Friends of Daniel Boone was having the cemetery surveyed with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to find unmarked graves in September 2012.

“There are about 30 known graves at the cemetery, and only about half are marked,” Houseman noted.

There was no precise record of burials in the cemetery, and after 200 years, several of the tombstones had fallen or been moved somehow from their original location.

Phyllis Steckel, a registered geologist who lives in the Washington area, was instrumental in making the GPR possible, said Houseman. The survey was conducted by a two graduate students from Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla, Stanley Chinedu Nwokebuihe and Evgeniy Torgashov.

The Friends assisted by staking off the cemetery in a grid pattern to make precise rows necessary for mapping results.

“Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR),” according to the Friends website, www.booneburialsite.org., is “a remote sensing technique which transmits high frequency electronic signals into the ground to detect buried objects or soil features. Once the soil has been disturbed, as it is for a burial, it never returns to its former conditions.

“GPR can detect these disturbances even if so much time has passed that no remains appear to still be present.”

GPR has even been used to located prehistoric burials.

The results, while they cannot be completely relied upon, seemed to confirm the locations of graves for David Bryan and Flanders Callaway, who were both Revolutionary War veterans, said Houseman.

“We are working in conjunction with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to mark their graves,” he commented. “We are confident where they are.”

Need for Improvements

From their beginning, the Friends have had big dreams about what they could do with the cemetery, how they could transform it, if only they had more members and funds. The group is funded solely through membership dues ($10 a year) and random donations, which admittedly doesn’t amount to much.

Currently they use the meager funds they have to cover the cost of having the ground mowed and the trees trimmed, said Houseman.

If the group had enough money, they would really like to improve the cemetery’s accessibility. Presently, it leaves a lot to be desired, admits Jackson.

“(It) is located on a hill reachable to the public only by steep concrete steps,” he said, noting one section of the handrail is missing, making the climb even more treacherous.

Making matters worse, the cemetery is located beside Boone Monument Road off of Highway 47 at Marthasville, which means cars can be zipping by as visitors climb the steep steps. And the only space available to park is across the road, where there is room for maybe half a dozen cars.

Any plans to improve accessibility, however, are complicated by the need for more land.

On paper, the Bryan Family Cemetery is said to be 1 acre, and historically the owners of Boone Monument Farm, which surrounds the cemetery, have always been exempt from paying taxes on 1 acre, said Houseman.

But the only known boundary of the cemetery is a wooden fence that surrounds roughly one-third of an acre. So there is two-thirds more to the cemetery, but in which direction, no one knows.

In 1860, when the property was sold, the deed from that transaction has the first mention of the cemetery, said Houseman.

“It identifies that the cemetery is there, that it is 1 acre in size, but that 1 acre is not defined, and nowhere in succeeding deeds or surveys has anyone tried to determine where the four corners (of that 1 acre) are.”

There is speculation that a random post located not too far in the field outside of the cemetery is one corner, Houseman commented. But again, no one knows.

Dream of It Being a State Historic Site

In addition to the Friends’ dream of improving the accessibility of the cemetery is a second wish to have it named a State Historic Site by the Missouri State Parks so that such a designation might facilitate improvements. Houseman and Jackson met with representatives from the Missouri State Parks earlier this year, but so far no success has come of it, mainly due to a lack of funds.

“There is a valid precedent for having it so developed,” said Jackson. “Back in 1987, the Division of State Parks and Historical sites tried, but failed, in efforts to purchase parking space from the adjoining owner.”

Houseman said the cemetery is worthy of being named a State Historic Site, not just because it was the original chosen burial site of Daniel Boone, but also because of others who are buried there as well.

“Augustus Garbs and a number of his family members are buried there, and he was supposedly the first follower of Gottfried Duden,” he commented.

For more information on how to help the FODBBSIM, people can visit the group’s website or call Houseman, 636-239-0280, or Jackson, 636-433-2433.

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