|High Prairie Cemetery|
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From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
A headstone in the southeast section of the High Prairie Cemetery tells a story of heartache for James A. and Mary Hill. From 1861 to 1865 seven of their children died and all were buried in the family plot. Next to the headstone is a smaller one of their eighth child, who died in 1871.
Gordon Barnhardt, longtime caretaker, walked through the cemetery not long ago and told stories of the rural county residents who lived and died in the High Prairie township during the last century. He spun tales of epidemics, suicides, children drowning and horse thieves hanging.
Every once in a while, he interjected some of his own family history, including a great-grandfather who helped clear the land for the town company that first settled Leavenworth in 1854.
"They say all my great-grandfather Henry B. Keller got for the job was $1,500 and the timber he cut down, but it was some good timber," Barnhardt explained. "He and his brother, George Keller, did the work and split the money. My great-grandfather owned one of the first saw mills in town and he put that lumber to good use."
George Keller found a place in pioneer Leavenworth history by operating the first hotel in town, but Barnhardt will tell you, "he was the big blow in the family, a real wheeler dealer. My great-grandfather wasn't as flashy. He bought a farm out here in the High Prairie township and lived quietly."
Henry Keller died Aug. 11, 1897 at the age of 87. He is buried next to his wife, Mary Kirk Keller. On the Keller headstone is engraved, "He loved the gospel and has gone to his reward."
Barnhardt says he cares for the cemetery because "nobody else does" and he sees to the mowing, trimming and repair of broken headstones.
The headstone for the seven Hill children had been broken into several pieces at one time, but Barnhardt made a cement frame and put the pieces back together.
"The story about this family is a sad one. It was about the time that all the children were dying, that the family fell on some hard times. Back in those days, the sheriff would come out to a home, put all the belongings on the road and sell them.
"Well, when the sheriff showed up, the people out here let him know that if he tried to do that to this poor family that had lost all their children, he just might not get back to Leavenworth. I believe he took the gentle hint."
People stuck together in those day, Barnhardt says, even when it came to horse thieves. Two unmarked graves bear the remains of two such men.
"Those two had a cabin north of here in the woods, but when people found out what they were doing, they up and hanged them. In those days, horse thieving was bad business. People depended on horses for their livelihood."
Barnhardt walked to two small headstones of the McCausiland boys, who drowned in Stranger Creek during the 1880s. The younger one, age seven, fell into the water, and his brother, age 10, went in after him, he said. They both lost their lives in the process.
The cemetery was part of a small community that included a school house and the High Prairie Cumberland Presbyterian Church. By the turn of the century, the first school was burnt down and the first church destroyed by a tornado.
The High Prairie Cemetery Association was formed Aug. 6, 1881. The largest portion of land donated to the cemetery came from Frances Ann and Benjamin McCreary.
Barnhardt says his earliest memories of the cemetery start when he was four years old.
"My mother would bring me up here to visit my father's grave. I didn't like coming up here one bit, because it made my mother so sad. Her people are buried up here, too."
Barnhardt's grandfather was a well known country doctor during the later part of the 1800s. Dr. T.G.V. Boling also served as a state legislator.
"The 'T.G.V.' was a family story. When he was born, I guess his mother was reading a lot of ancient history. She named him Titus Gordon Vespasian Boling, but granddad would tell people it stood for tough, good and virtuous."
Portions of the cemetery are planted with tall, blue stem prairie grass. He says this was the type ground cover that filled this portion of Kansas and other midwestern states before the pioneers settled.
BARNHARDT TAKES PRIDE IN CARE OF CEMETERY -- Gordon Barnhardt, longtime caretaker, walks through the High Prairie Cemetery and stands near the McCune headstone, one of the largest and best preserved in the cemetery. (Times Photo)
HILL FAMILY PLOT -- During the Civil War, James A. and Mary Hill buried seven of their children in the family plot, above, at High Prairie Cemetery. The headstone, right, was broken into pieces not long ago, but Gordon Barnhardt made a frame and put it back together. The headstone of their eighth child, who died in 1871, is next to it. (Times Photo by J. J. Zeman)