Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Nearly Forgotten Country Cemetery

Martin Cemetery in Stafford County, KS
Most people driving by on Highway 50 do not notice the small cemetery with its few stones on the north side of the highway.  Busy Highway 281 is just a mile and a half to the east, and the town of St. John is about a mile to the north.

Those of you who visit my blog regularly know that I am fascinated with the history to be found in old country cemeteries.  (See "Finding Isaac's Grave," 1-13-2012; "Visit to Wernersville," 2-16-2012; Woodmen's Gravestones," 3-8-2012; "Naron--an early settler, a town, and a cemetery," 8-9-2012; and "Cemetery on the Hill," 2-7-2013; in the blog archives.)  It should come as no surprise that I asked my husband to stop to explore the Martin Cemetery.

I had learned that the Martin Cemetery was the burial place for early Black settlers in Stafford County.  Isaac's journal mentions a Black hired hand helping plant wheat on land he had rented to a neighbor, and he described a Black speaker at a People's Party rally in St. John.  (See "1st Black Female Lawyer," 3-27-2013 in the blog archives.)  I knew there were other Black families that had come to the area after the Civil War, and I was curious to visit this cemetery.

Unfortunately, few stones remain in Martin Cemetery.  In 2006 Linda Brower and Renee Wright walked through the cemetery and documented the stones they could read, and those were the only stones I found as well.  (See

The newest and most legible stone belongs to married couple George & Dora Hilton.  According to the 1900 Federal Census for Clear Creek Township in Stafford County, they had been married for 2 years.  George was born in Tennessee, as were both of his parents.  Dora was born in Missouri, but her parents were born in Kentucky.  Twenty-five years later, the Kansas census for Clear Creek shows not only their daughter, May L. Hilton, age 16, living with the couple, but also a 5-year-old niece named Sarah M. Martin.  In the 1940 Federal Census, the couple was living in Naron Township, just across the county line in Pratt County, and 20-year-old Sarah was still with them, identified as their "adopted daughter."  Because Sarah was identified as a "niece" in the 1925 state census, I cannot help but wonder if Dora's maiden name might have been Martin.

F.C.H. inscribed stone
Nearby is a small stone bearing only the initials "F. C. H" without any dates.  Since the last initial is "H" it suggests the possibility that a member of the Hilton family is buried there, perhaps an infant that lived only briefly.  However, that is only supposition.

Because the cemetery is known as the "Martin" cemetery, and because the only other stone is of the Martin family, I was curious to see what I might learn about them.

The 1900 Federal Census for Clear Creek Township showed, in addition to Dora and George, four other Black residents.  Lewis Martin, born Sept. 1872 in Illinois, his wife Maud, born 1877 in Kansas, and their 4-month old son Joseph, born in Kansas comprised one household.  The only other Black township resident was William Martin, a single man born January 1877 in the household of John Hart, for whom he was working as a farm laborer.

Family Stone of Joseph & Sarah Martin
However, in Rose Valley Township in 1900, the Federal Census record shows the family of Joseph Martin, born 1827 in Kentucky, his wife Sarah J., born in Kentucky, Son Wilson J., born 1879 in Kansas.  Also in that household were daughter Ella M. Bowen, born 1881 in Kansas, and her daughter Mary A., born 1888.  In the next residence listed on the census was Joanna Gardner, born 1866 in Illinois, her son and two daughters, James L., born 1884, Bessie A., born 1888, and Estella, born 1891, all three in Kansas.  A boarder named William H. Glass was also living in the house.

Tracing Joseph and Sarah Martin's family back to the 1880 Federal Census, I found them living in St. John Township with six children:  Johanna 15; Charles 10; Lewis 7 (See 1900 Fed. Census for Clear Creek Township referenced above); William 4; Missouri 2; and Isaac 3 months.  Only Isaac was born in Kansas, while 2-year-old Missouri had been born in the state after which she was named, indicating that the family had come to Kansas within the past two years.  Also in their household was Mellissa Armstend, described as "mother," age 70 and born in Kentucky.

Stafford County 8th Grade Graduates about 1926
The family stone of Joseph & Sarah Martin is difficult to read (even printed in black & white to enhance the engraving somewhat), but the Martin names recorded from the stone by Linda Brower are as follows:  Joseph, 1828-1920; Sarah, 1831-1906; Wilson I., 1880-1907; Ella, 1881 (only date); and Perkins, 1922 (only date).  

Ella M. Bowen was living at the time of the 1900 census, so the date on the family stone would appear to be her birthdate, with the intention of adding her death date later.  The identity of Perkins does not appear in the census records consulted for this blog.

The arrival of Joseph and Sarah Martin sometime between 1878 and 1880 corresponds with the arrival of many settlers to Stafford County.  The Stafford County 8th Grade Graduation photograph shows Black students among the graduates.  The role these settlers played in Stafford County's history is too infrequently mentioned, and although my brief research of those buried in the Martin Cemetery leaves many unresolved clues, perhaps this blog will encourage others to investigate the history of the community of Black Americans in Stafford County.  

When my husband and I visited the cemetery, there were flowers at each stone, making it apparent that those buried in Martin Cemetery are still remembered.  I hope anyone with information about the Martin Cemetery and those buried there who reads this blog will share their comments.

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

Wonderfully interesting post. Many thanks.