Arnold works to piece together buried ancestors past
Story and photo by Clarke Davis
Stephen Arnold has been back to work restoring tombstones in the Ozawkie Cemetery.
Arnold, a Washington native who first returned to his ancestoral roots in 2005, has spent several months restoring the Puderbaugh Cemetery and working in the Ozawkie Cemetery.
Last week he was working in the path of the 1960 tornado that cut through the Ozawkie Cemetery and destroyed many of the trees. Now a grassy hillside, Arnold is unearthing tombstones that date back to the latter half of the 1800s.
Like a sleuth, he gathers together pieces of gravemarkers, some underground and some lying on top of the grave. He tries to match letters and dates and put the puzzles back together.
“Some are real Humpty Dumptys,” he said.
He cleans the stones and when he believes he has a complete marker, he uses an epoxy compound to glue it back together. He adds tile squares to the backs and corner braces to strengthen his work.
Some of the deceased are veterans. One stone had the 11th Kansas Cavalry, Co. D, engraved on it but the name of the person is gone. The earliest graves belong to a mother and son by the name of Bainter. The date is 1855, a year after the Kansas territory was opened for white settlement.
Arnold carries a book with him of tombstone inscriptions and burial records produced by the Jefferson County Genealogical Society.
“That’s a coffee table book for me,” he said.
An interest in his own family history originally brought him to the area and the first job he tackled was the Puderbaugh Cemetery, also known as the Pleasant Hill Cemetery, located about three miles from the Ozawkie Cemetery.
Arnold has family buried in both, but the Puderbaugh Cemetery had been abandoned and trees had taken over the burial ground. Most of his time during his first visits was spent with a chain saw.
On his first visit he met Leon Brunton and together they discovered they were third cousins once removed.
Brunton mows the Ozawkie Cemetery and serves on the board with Max Scott, Bill Parker, Bill Kramer, and Dale Brunton.
Much of Arnold’s detective work aids the board in that the cemetery records prior to the 1960s have been lost. Brunton said it is difficult to know much about the graves in the older part of the cemetery.
Leon and Nancy Brunton have provided a home for Arnold since he began coming here to work in 2008, usually a month in the spring and a month in the fall.
One of the more interesting aspects of Arnold’s work is meeting the people who visit the cemetery. People come from all over and Arnold enjoys finding common links. He is quick to help them search for their relatives.
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