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.

Stranger Creek becomes a barrier
Grady, Wistuba started Sacred Heart Cemetery for Tonganoxie Catholics
by L. Candy Ruff (Times Lifestyles Editor)
Leavenworth Times, 1988

When the wooden bridge over Stranger Creek washed out in 1900, two southern Leavenworth County farmers felt this was the last straw. Burying their dead had just become more difficult. Owen Grady and Andrew Wistuba decided it was time for a Catholic cemetery in Tonganoxie.

Two descendants of today say their ancesters found crossing Stranger Creek between Tonganoxie and Basehor a formidable task. It was, however, the only way to get their dead to Holy Angel Cemetery, near the pioneer community of Hogue.

"When the bridge washed out, that was the straw that broke the camel's back," Grady's great-grandson, Ransley McNulty, said Tuesday afternoon. "From what I remember, it must have been nearly impossible to get over that creek when the weather was bad. They had to take a train in some instances."

After the funeral of Theresia Lisson Wistuba at the turn of the century, family and friends boarded the train at Tonganoxie. Up the line a few miles, they were met by a team and wagon. The procession then moved to Holy Angel.

Information passed down from fathers to sons to grandsons indicates that once home, Grady and Wistuba began planning the cemetery. By 1902, the first burial took place.

"My baby sister was the one they buried," Wistuba's step-grandson, Joe Lisson, said Tuesday. "Her little grave was never marked. They called her Josephine, but she only lived a few weeks."

Land has been secured east of Maple Grove Cemetery. Wistuba and Grady donated several hundred dollars and a survey was commissioned. When the title to the land was finalized, the pair worked with Father Goldman to number lots and mark rows.

Regular burials began. Grady's wife, Bridget, died in 1904, leaving 14 children. The death of 21-year-old John McEnulty Jr. in 1907 came as a tragic blow to his family, McNulty said. The young man was working in a lumber railway car when lumber shifted. He and two others were crushed to death.

Grady's death occurred four months before the cemetery was dedicated Nov. 26, 1910. Nine families owned lots by this time. Grady and Wistuba were joined by William Bruce, George Weller, F. W. Lenahan, Charles Kunasek, Martin Coyne, James McEnulty and John McEnulty Sr. The Rev. J. A. Budreau was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish at the time.

Owen McNulty is 105 years old today. He moved to Tonganoxie in 1889 as a boy of 6. A grandson of Grady, he now lives in Woodburn, Ore. He may have attended the dedication along with Margaret McCaffrey. The Tonganoxie native celebrates her 100th birthday Dec. 7.

Miss McCaffrey is the daughter Mary Ervin and John Lyman McCaffrey. The couple died within one day of one another in 1929. A double funeral was held.

"At one time, they were going to extend Pleasant street all the way to Sacred Heart, but the county commissioners felt the cost would outweigh the benefits. I wished they had," McNulty explains.

In recent years, he spents more time there, especially after the death of his father, Tom, in 1973. He said the Tonganoxie Veterans of Foreign Wars post provides an avenue of flags at the cemetery. It makes for an impressive sight on Memorial and Veteran days, he says.

"There used to be a big old wooden cross in the middle of the cemetery and for years we would try to keep it standing straight. We finally had to take it down," Lisson said.

Sacred Heart Parish historian Connie Putthoff says the late Nick Morrell built the memorial marker that stands at the center of the cemetery today. Construction probably took place in the 1950s. She is working to update the cemetery records.

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

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