Mount Aurora is just a memory now, but started as city's first cemetery
by L. Candy Ruff, Times Lifestyles Editor
Leavenworth Times, Sunday, Aug. 9, 1957

Issac Cody operated a tavern and inn along the Fort Riley Road in the Salt Creek Valley. His was the free-state cause of Kansas during the 1850s, but his convictions cost him his life in 1854. He was killed by a southern sympathizer from Missouri.

From his home in the Salt Creek Valley, the funeral procession headed south to the outskits of the newly formed city of Leavenworth, winding its way through heavily timbered land to the Pilot Knob Cemetery. Legend has it this very area, where now the city's water reservoir is located, was the site of an ancient Indian burial ground.

W. W. Backus donated the land in 1856 and it become known as Mount Aurora Cemetery. For years to come, Issac's son, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody visited the area, searching for his father's grave.

At the time Mount Aurora was layed out between Halderman and Santa Fe, up on the hill behind where Leavenworth High School stands today. It was believed to be a cemetery that would last for years. But other cemeteries were being organized too, like Greenwood in 1863, followed by Mount Muncie in 1866.

Like many communities throughout the Midwest, a water company was replacing age-old cisterns and storage spaces was needed to hold the millions of gallons of water necessary to operate the system. Mount Aurora Cemetery was located on high ground.

"This was the highest ground in the area," Beau Kansteiner, manager of production and distribution for the Leavenworth Waterworks Department, said Thursday morning. "And it had the right kind of rock formation that would hold six million gallons of water. At that time, this was considered by Leavenworth people to be the eighth wonder of the world."

That wonder necessitated the removal of the caskets and a total of 160 were moved to local cemeteries. Many of them were cast iron and some in the shape of a man. The production manager of today's Leavenworth Waterworks, said an article in The Leavenworth Times dated Dec. 12, 1938 told of the second time caskets were found.

The Times reporter then had spoken to coroner Ted Sexton.
He (Sexton) says the cast iron casket was buried six feet deep and it was broken open by the shears of a tractor-drawn plow. The body of a man was revealed, a man with brownish red hair, a beard by the same color. He was dressed in an excellent clothing of an earlier period. He wore a black Prince Albert coat, elaborate vest and fancy white shirt."

James C. Davis, who The Times referred to as "the dean of Leavenworth undertakers," did his own speculating.
"This type casket is similar to ones manufactured 70 years ago. It is entirely probable this is Issac Cody. My father, Thadius Davis, and Buffalo Bill were good friends. Every time Cody came to Leavenworth with his show, he asked my father to accompany him to Pilot Knob and search for his father's grave. My father knew definitely that Buffalo Bill's father was buried there, because he himself buried him and always said the grave was near the reservoir."

But is was a 97-year-old woman who had the final word in 1938. Lizzie Allen has been a girl when Abraham Lincoln visited Leavenworth in 1859 and by the 1930s was one of the town's oldest residents. Her memory was still sharp and she recalled the elder Cody as having a dark beard, mustache and hair.

"And besides, he was never much of a dresser."

Two days after the first discovery two more caskets and bodies were found.

The old Mount Aurora Cemetery near the present site of Pilot Knob reservoir today yielded two more caskets and bodies as workers continued removing dirt with which to cover the now concrete-sealed water basin."

A woman and child were identified by Sexton and he ordered the bodies of all three re-interred in Mount Muncie.

Article donated by Debra Graden, President
Leavenworth County Genealogical Society, 1998