(Note: I don’t usually post on Mondays but circumstances required it in this case.)
We left Norman and headed for Sarah’s hometown of Lawton, which is about a 1.5 hour drive. We had an important stop to make at Elgin Memorial Cemetery first. It’s currently has 485 memorials on Find a Grave. The earliest marked burial was in 1915. It’s located a little outside of town so it’s fairly quiet.
Brothers and Sisters
Sarah’s parents, Roy and Martha Zimmerman, are buried in Elgin Memorial Cemetery. They were dear, salt of the earth people who had lived in Oklahoma pretty much their entire lives. Sarah’s maternal grandparents are also buried there.
When I visited Oklahoma with Sarah back in 1999, I got to spend time with Roy and Martha. I also met Martha’s brother, Otis Stevens, and Roy’s sister, Alice Zimmerman Stevens. Roy was Alice’s brother and Otis was Martha’s brother. There were times I had to stop and ask Sarah to explain again how everyone was related. I truly enjoyed hearing all their stories.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Lawton back then was to talk to Sara’s family about their recollections of the 1930s and the Dust Bowl days they experienced in rural Oklahoma. Their families did not leave in search of jobs in California as described in John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” They stayed and stuck it out, which was not easy.
At that time, I was thinking of writing a novel set in that era that would involve characters who participated in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). I’ll talk about those programs shortly. Sarah told me later that they had told me things about those days even she didn’t know.
Otis passed away in 2001 and Alice died in 2009. They are buried together over at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Lawton. Alice’s first husband, Robert, was killed while fighting in World War II in 1945. Otis, who also fought in WW II, returned home to Lawton and married Alice in 1946. I could tell the pair was still deeply in love.
Sarah’s mother Martha died in 2006, and Roy passed away in 2010. Like Otis and Alice, they were very much been a love match.
Great-Great-Grandson of Quanah Parker
Not far from Martha and Roy’s graves was this one for Richard James Wahkinney. I photographed it because it’s shaped like an arrowhead and I’d never seen a marker like that before. I knew I wanted to look him up later. This is the front.
This week when I looked up Richard’s information, I got a surprise. Born in 1930, Richard was the great-great-grandson of Quanah Parker, war leader of the Kwahadi band of the Comanche Nation. I photographed Quanah Parker’s grave the following day over at Fort Sill Cemetery, not knowing Richard’s connection to him.
According to Richard’s obituary: “He was a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma and the Comanche Little Ponies. He enjoyed fishing, artwork, building things, his motorcycles, learning his Comanche culture and heritage and most of all enjoyed watching his grandchildren at play, attending powwows and gourd dancing.”
Old Elgin Cemetery
A mile down the road from Elgin Memorial Cemetery is Old Elgin Cemetery. The first marked burial recorded on Find a Grave is 1902. That’s five years before Oklahoma became a state. Over the years, Elgin grew and the cemetery is now in the middle of several public schools and a football field. The Elgin Performing Arts Center was being built on the cemetery’s southern border when we were there. You could hear children playing and laughing as we walked among the graves.
Some of Sarah’s aunts and uncles are buried here. Two of them died in childhood. Another was Dale Burnett Stevens, born in 1914. He was a true “CCC boy” (as they were called) and a prime example of the kind of young man the program was aimed to help.
In 1933, Congress enacted legislation creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the first New Deal programs initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. The CCC was designed to relieve the economic hardships caused by the Great Depression. In the early 1930s, large numbers of young men were desperately looking for work.
In 1999, Sarah, took me to the nearby 59,000-acre Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Yes, Oklahoma has mountains! Mount Scott is located there at 2,464 feet above sea level. During the 1930s, many CCC and WPA participants worked to complete dams and carve out roads at the Refuge. One of the dams built then was Quanah Parker Dam, pictured below. It is still in use today.
To be a junior CCC enrollee, a young man had to be between 18 and 25, unmarried, and a U.S. citizen. One of the conditions of enrollment was that out of an enrollee’s monthly $35 pay, $25 would be sent home to assist their dependent family.
Dale Stevens signed up and was accepted into the program. He was sent to work at a CCC camp in eastern Oklahoma, exactly which one I don’t know. Dale contracted typhoid, which was common in those days, and returned home to his family in a greatly weakened state. Because typhoid is highly contagious, the family had to get vaccinated. As payment for the vaccinations, Sarah’s grandfather arranged to plow the local doctor’s field. Dale died on Sept. 15, 1937 at age 22.
“There Will Be a Glorious Dawn”
I discovered a curiosity while at Old Elgin Cemetery. Amid the stones was this plot surrounded by a cast iron fence with a single marker within it. It is the only fenced plot there. Such things always attract my interest and Lillie Carter’s grave was no exception.
I did find a memorial item for Lillie in the Fletcher Herald. Born in Wisconsin in 1874, Lillie Brandenburg wed Joseph Carter in 1905 in Columbar, Kansas. According to the 1910 Census, the couple had a child at some point after they wed but it died. Lillie’s brother, Oscar, was living with them in 1910.
In September 1912, the trio moved to Elgin. According to the article, Lillie was “sick but a few hours when the death angel summoned”. She died on June 28, 1913 at the age of 38. I don’t know if Joe is buried with her in the plot. A short four-line poem was printed just below her memorial article.
The curious aspect I mentioned has to do with the fence that surrounds the Carter plot. It was made by the Valley Forge Iron Fence Co. of Knoxville, Tenn. This got my attention because my husband is from Knoxville and we visit his family there often. I couldn’t remember having seen a cemetery fence made by this company before.
I learned that the company was established by H.O. Larsen in 1873 and is thought to have manufactured wrought steel fences exclusively. I would see two more Valley Forge fences in other Lawton area cemeteries. But what is truly curious is that the company is thought to have closed in 1903. I did find a December 1901 article reporting that the company sustained a disastrous fire.
So this situation raises a few questions. If the Valley Forge Fence Works ended their business sometime in 1902 or 1903, how did this fence end up in Lawton, Okla. in 1913? From the research I did, it appears that Larsen did a booming business and sold his products in many states. Being perhaps one of only a few Southern companies that produced wrought steel fences at that time, there were plenty of customers wanting such things.
That still doesn’t answer the question of how it ended up around a plot for a woman who died in 1913. Perhaps there were unmarked Carters in this plot before Lillie was buried and the fence was placed then. That I don’t know and probably never will.
I’ll be sharing more stories from Old Elgin Cemetery next time.