Matfield Green - Our first years

Monday, October 30, 2006

High Prairie Cemetery

At dinner on Saturday night, at the home of Annie and John Wilson, conversation turned to the High Prairie Cemetery. Marva Weigelt first mentioned the cemetery to me a few weeks ago, and then last Sunday Bill and Pepper and I took a walk, starting at Jane and Marva's house and then following the farm road across their land, then under a barbed wire fence and over a prairie hill or two to the cemetery.

There are perhaps 100 graves in the fenced yard, which Charlie and Betty Swift, although they live at least 8 miles away, keep mowed and clear. The first striking thing is the gravestones. Only about five or six of the dead are marked by purchased headstones. The rest of the graves, line after symetrical line of them, are marked at head and foot by a simple and small rock of which there are many to be found in the grass that surrounds the place.

The engraved stones indicate that the last time anyone was buried at High Prairie was around 1902, and if the five or six markers speak for all, this is a cemetery full of only women and children. A one month old boy, a fourteen year old girl, a 49-year-old mother.

What happened in this place? Annie Wilson asks the question in a poem she read at dinner - a poem written after Annie stumbled upon the cemetery for the first time, several years ago. Bill and I asked the question last Sunday. What happened in this place? This place so unhospitable to farming and homesteading. This place so remote out in the hills. Are there men in the unidentified graves or was there really some epidemic (of disease or sadness) that claimed only mother and their children?

Tim from El Dorado (who promises he will be checking this entry to make sure I am reporting correctly about the dinner for eleven at which Annie and John served ham and mashed potatoes, garden-fresh sweet corn and sill-ripened tomatoes rescued before the frost) ... Tim told a cemetery of his own - of finding a place called "The Muslim Cemetery" in Butler County just to the south of us. Graves identified in English and Farsi of people burried lately and as long ago as the 1960s. While there are some Muslims in Wichita, there are none that Tim knows of in neighboring Butler County. A little bit of google research reveals that the cemetery is used by members of the Islamic community in Wichita - a contributer to expressed his appreciation for the help of the various police departments, the Kansas Highway Patrol and the courtesy of drivers who yielded to a recent funeral that processed the 40 miles from Wichita to the rural cemetery.

The contributor wrote, "This courtesy and a culture of respect for people of other faiths is endearing and refreshes all that is best about Wichita and Kansas. Speaking for my family and other like-minded folks, this is one among many reasons why we love this country and our hometown."


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