DENNY CUSTER and FINDING HIS ANCESTOR MARKWELL STONE
October 27, 2003
Boy Scouts Uncover Grave Stones Never Before Recorded
History was uncovered and documented last Saturday and Sunday as Boy Scout troop 54 -- who are sponsored by the Central Presbyterian Church and Petersburg Rotary -- worked tirelessly through rainy and windy conditions to clean up the badly neglected Smoot Cemetery in Menard County. Located off of the Curtis Blacktop, the cemetery is in the middle of some of the most beautiful farm land in the county. The view is spectacular, however the disrepair of the grave sites of these early pioneers was heartbreaking.
J.J. Davis, gained approval from the Abraham Lincoln Council, to clean up Smoot Cemetery as part of his Eagle Scout project. As word of the project became known, descendants began contacting J.J. in hopes that he could find their lost ancestors who they thought might be buried in Smoot. The project became almost a personal mission to some of the scouts as they searched for specific ancestors who had been lost for decades to their descendants.
J.J. Coordinated the project and did a fantastic job of leading the effort according to a descendent from Michigan who came to Petersburg especially for the event. Denny Custer and his wife, came to help with the cleanup and in hopes that perhaps the stone of Denny's ancestor -- Alexander G. Markwell -- would be found. He said he would donate one hundred dollars to the troop if the stone was found.
Boy Scouts worked all day Saturday cutting down brush and briars and removing it from the graves. They carefully used probes to identify stones that had fallen and were partially or totally buried under years of dirt and debris. They carefully marked stones so the mowers wouldn't accidentally damage any of the stones. Once the cemetery was clean, they eagerly searched and uncovered more stones. There were a few names that the boys were especially keeping an eye out for, including Lewis Ferguson, the Revolutionary War soldier and also Alexander G. Markwell.
The call came from the far side of the cemetery, "we found a Markwell" -- and Denny Custer headed to the grave site. With help from the scouts, he was able to dig the dirt that hid his ancestor's stone and lift it out of the ground. Alexander G. Markwell, who had died on December 12, 1857, had been found. Denny said that it was so rewarding to be there when his great great grandfather's stone was found and to see these young people so dedicated to cleaning up a neglected cemetery.
Denny commended the boy scouts on an outstanding job and said that without so many of them working so hard that his ancestor's stone may never have been recovered. He doubled his donation to $200 and proudly presented it to the troop. Denny has researched his family history for years and now his allusive ancestor has been found and all because of Troop 54 and their dedication.
The Boy Scout's enjoyed a number of visitors during their two-day project. Rep. Rich Brauer came by and had lunch with the boys on Saturday and then hiked with them back to the cemetery and commended them on their efforts. Attorney for the Cemetery Association, Sam Blane, came out on Saturday and was able to see the boys in action. Sheriff Larry Smith came by on Sunday and brought word back to the parents waiting at the road that the Boy Scouts had found three more unrecorded stones.
"These boy scouts are hard-working and a tribute to our community," said MAGA volunteer Stan Lowe. "This project was well coordinated with all interested parties and everyone worked together to make this cemetery the dignified burial ground it once was. The stones will need to be set up at a later time, but the bulk of the work has been completed by the scouts and we're proud to have been part of it."
The farmer of the ground around Smoot Cemetery, Richard Holliday worked closely with the troop leaders throughout the project development. He offered to let them park the mowing tractor at his home so they wouldn't have to leave it overnight in the cemetery the night before. He also helped them find the perfect location for a port-a-potty that the boy scout troop had taken out for the event. There were a number of parents and ladies who really appreciated the thoughtfulness of a port-a-potty since it was quite a hike back to the road and drive back into town. Mrs. Holliday drove back to the cemetery on Saturday and was able to see the scouts working.
Boy Scouts involved in the project included: J.J. Davis, David Sullivan, Scott Tisdale, D.J. Rudd, Nick Territo, David Devine, Adam Devine, Zach Knous, Chris Wilhite, Peter Schnoenherr, Cody Schnirring, and Stephen Barbee. Troop Leaders included: Steve Territo, Scoutmaster; Alicia Davis, David Devine, and Joe Davis.
Volunteers included: Janet Davis, Denny Custer, Karen Custer, Peter Schnoenherr, Tom Schnirring, Rick Bilyeu (Pastor of Lighthouse Community Church), Tom Jacque, Kristina Barbee, Wayne Thomas, Norm & Gloria Claussen, & Daniel Meyer. Also assisting were members of the Morgan Area Genealogy Association (MAGA) Duane & Betty Albert, Stan & Jeanie Lowe, Brianna Boggs, and Brandy Boosinger.
More than 20 stones were found and documented that had never before been recorded in this cemetery. All of them were dated before the county began keeping death certificates. Among stones found include: Fieldon Ballard, James Ballard, Margaret Ballard, Mary J. Chapman, James H. Chapman, Harriett J. Killion, Thomas H. Killion, Charles Knowles, Mary Knowles, Alex G. Markwell, Charles McAtee, Thomas McAtee, Tirzah Meeker, Alexander Parry, George Pentecost Jr., Charles E. Perviance, Francis A. Pond, Samuel Reed, Cornelius Sampson, Ellen Sampson and three Sullivan stones which were all buried together in a common hole. They include a Sullivan Infant, Seeley Sullivan and William F. Sullivan. Also found were Sarah Taylor, wife of Solomon Taylor. In addition, stones were recovered of people whose names were included in previous readings.Norm Claussen's great great grandfather's stone was not yet recovered, but plans are being made to search for it again. In addition, the stone of Revolutionary War Soldier, Lewis Ferguson, was not located. Volunteers will be looking into the possibility of having a stone placed in his memory if it can not be found. Betty Albert's ancestor, Gilbert Stott's stone was not found, but she and her family are not giving up the search and now will have an easier time looking for it now that the cemetery is clean. With multiple stones being found in a common hole on two separate occasions -- once in March and now again last weekend with the Sullivan stones -- it is likely that many more stones could be found in a similar situation. It is more difficult to find those stones as they have been deliberately buried and are in deeper holes than the stones which have simply fallen over and been covered by nature.
Pictures of the project and stones found along with an updated reading will be available online at the Morgan Area Genealogy Association (MAGA) web site https://sites.rootsweb.com/~ilmaga/index_men-cass.html."