Last week, I introduced you to Elgin Memorial Cemetery and nearby Old Elgin Cemetery (OEC). When I was at OEC, I saw some homemade markers that I was curious about. When I say homemade, they look to have been hand carved by someone who didn’t do it as a trade. These are the kinds of stones that can truly tug at your heart because many times, the person that carved them knew the deceased well.
Often, there is no way to discern who did the work. But sometimes you get lucky and find a signature or name.
The grave marker of Vernice Whittley is simple yet poignant, even without knowing how she died. She was born in 1905 in Oklahoma, the eldest child of Newton “Nute” Washington Whittley and Rachel Geneva Campbell Whittley.
“She Will Arise”
According to her obituary, Vernice died at the family home in Parker, Okla. on July 22, 1916 at the age of 10. The cause of death was typhoid, an ailment I told you about in Part I that took many lives. Without sharing the details, I can say the account of Vernice’s last hours was heartbreaking. The author of her death notice said, “The attending physician reports that this was the worst case of typhoid fever that he ever saw.”
I don’t think this stone was carved until 15 years after she died. Nute’s stone is beside Vernice’s and is very similar. You’ll notice that on Nute’s stone it says “Erected by H.K. Galey”. I think this person also carved Vernice’s. But who was H.K. Galey?
H.K. Galey was the husband of Belvia G. Whittley, Vernice’s younger sister. Born in 1914, Belvia was only two years old when her sister died. She married Hesa Kirah Galey in 1929 at age 16. Hesa was only 10 when Vernice died so he couldn’t have carved it at that time. The Galeys were living in Holdenville, Okla. when Nute died, which is about two hours northeast of Elgin near Oklahoma City.
Nute Whittley died on July 22, 1931 at age 53. I could not find an obituary for him. Rachel moved to Holdenville, where Beliva and Hesa were living. Rachel’s son and Belvia’s brother, Thomas, listed Rachel as a reference on his World War I draft card. When Thomas registered for the draft, he was working at a CCC camp. Rachel remarried in 1955 to Robert Climer and died in 1978 at age 104. She is buried with Robert in Highland Cemetery in Casper, Wy.
There are other markers from the 1930s that look so similar to Vernice and Nute’s that I think that it’s highly probable that H.K. Galey carved those as well. Money was tight in the 1930s and it’s possible that he offered to do it for others. I’d like to share some of those with you.
A Deadly Fire
When I see a grave shared by a mother and child, I can often conclude that one (or both) of them died at the time of the birth. But that’s not always the case. When I saw the dates for Minnie Tucker Dees and her son, Olean, I wanted to know more.
Minnie married Ira Dees in 1924 at age 18. She gave birth to their son, Olean, on July 9, 1925. The family of three was living in a one-room home on the property of Ira’s father, J.Z. Dees. Minnie tried to start a fire with some kerosene and an explosion occurred. Both Minnie and Olean were killed and according to newspaper accounts, Ira barely survived.
I don’t know when the marker for Minnie and Olean was carved. H.K. Galey’s name is not on it, but I think he carved it. The lettering looks the same as that on Whittley markers and the branch-like symbols look like his style.
Ira remarried in 1959 to Ora Mae Baugh. He died in 1968. He and Ora Mae are buried beside Minnie and Olean.
Then there are the graves of Emma Lewis Melrose and her son, Isaac, who are buried beside each other. Note that Isaac’s grave is not homemade like his mother’s and has a drove on top.
A native of Illinois, Emma Lewis married Theodore Franklin Melrose in 1896 in Chandler, Okla. They had 11 children together, with two of them dying in childhood. One of those children was Isaac. He was born on Aug. 5, 1910 and died on Feb. 13, 1922. Emma died on Dec. 31, 1932 at age 53.
I tried to find obituaries for Emma and Isaac but was unsuccessful. When I looked on Find a Grave this week, I saw that Emma’s daughter, (and Isaac’s sister) Lydia, also had a Galey-style homemade stone and died in 1945 at age 32. I did find Lydia’s obituary. She had been in the hospital for a week before she died. Before that, she was employed as a nurse.
If you look to the rear of Emma’s stone, you can glimpse a small, flat stone that says “Mother” on it.
The last “Galey-esque”grave marker I want to share was for two little ones whose names are on one marker. There are no other graves with the same last name. I believe their marker is another example as a backdated marker that was made many years after they died.
Eva Combs, born on Aug. 20, 1905, died on Sept. 25, 1906. Her little brother, Billy, was born on Aug. 3, 1907. He died almost two months later on Sept. 25, 1907. That’s exactly a year to the day from the day Eva died.
I have no idea who their parents were. I did find some article that mentioned a W.W. Combs who owned the Combs Hotel in Lawton. Combs was actually stabbed by a customer who refused to pay on Sept. 18, 1906, just days before Eva died. But I cannot say for sure that he was their father.
You’ll notice that there are also flat stones to to the left and right of the marker that say “EVA” and BILLY”. There’s also a stone with the word “BABY” behind it. Notice that there is a broken “BA” stone behind the “BILLY” stone.
“How Desolate Our Home Bereft of Thee”
By contrast, the white bronze (zinc) monument I found for farmer Henry Reich was definitely not homemade. White bronze markers were made (mostly) by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Ct. and sold by regional agents around the country. A client often chose the marker they wanted from a catalog, which was usually then shipped in pieces to them by train.
I’m not sure when German-born Henry Reich and his Swiss wife, Anna, were married. But I do know they had two children, Fred and Mary. Baby Mary was born on Feb. 2, 1906, just a few weeks before her father died. Henry sold farm implements and was working to build the family farm into a productive enterprise.
The Reichs moved to Lawton from Hinton, Okla. in 1905. According to his obituary, Henry was injured when fell behind a stalk cutter while working on his farm. He died about a week later from his injuries on Feb. 27, 1906. He was only 43.
From what I could piece together, Anna raised Mary and Fred on the farm on her own. She married Emil Mauersberger sometime between 1910 and 1920. Anna died on Oct. 4, 1929 at age 56. Interestingly, her marker in OEC has her former last name of Reich inscribed on it.
Henry and Anna’s daughter, Mary, married Nelson Horschler. She died on May 20, 1996 at age 90 and is also buried at OEC. Son Fred died in 1984 and is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery in Oklahoma City.
Murder of a Railroad Mechanic
While going through my OEC photos, I found one I’d forgotten about. The Star of David at the top got my attention as it had then. I’m willing to bet John Knight was likely the only Jewish person buried at OEC. I had to find out more about him.
Born on March 17, 1896 in Nubia, Texas (which no longer exists), John C. Knight was the son of J.J. and Mollie Knight. He served in the U.S. Army during World War I as a soldier in the 141st Infantry, 36th Division. After the war, he moved to Comanche County, Okla. to live with his sister, Jewell “Jule” Knight Lamb, and her family. I noted that Jule’s middle name was Palestine, perhaps a hint of her Jewish heritage.
Later, John went to work as a mechanic in the Katy railroad shop in Osage Junction outside of Tulsa. On the night of Sept. 22, 1922, John was attacked by an unknown assailant wielding a hammer. It was alleged that John’s attacker belonged to the local union but John did not. John was found unconscious, his skull fractured, and taken to a Tulsa hospital. He died the next day from his injuries.
John’s remains were sent to Elgin by train for burial at OEC. I can’t imagine the pain his father, his sister Jule, and other family members felt as the body of this young man of only 26 years was lowered into the ground.
John Knight does have a memorial on Find a Grave. But it had his death date listed as his birth date with no other information. Jule and her husband are buried in nearby Fletcher Cemetery while she and John’s parents are buried in Texas.
There was nobody left to fill in the blanks of John’s story. How he was loved by his family and fought for his country in World War I. That he came home and found a job to support himself, only to be murdered by a co-worker and left to die alone in a supply car.
I feel honored to tell John’s story here so he won’t be forgotten. He’s one of the reasons I continue to tell the stories behind the stones.
Join me next time as the Oklahoma Road Trip 2019 continues at the Fort Sill Post Cemetery.
Donna Vines said:
I really enjoyed this blog. The lives these headstones represent leaves so much to the imagination. Thanks for filling in some of the blanks.
Hi, Donna! Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. I’ll have a lot more Oklahoma cemeteries coming in the weeks ahead.