Westport Hidden Burial Ground
Westports Hidden Burial Ground
From the Kansas City Star, May 11, 1902
In a grove of locust trees in old Westport they rest, but few of the friends remain to trace out their names. Not a stone stands as those friends placed them and the chisel marks will be beyond tracing in a few more years.
They were laid there when the Shawnees came to the town to buy their calico and blankets, flour and tobacco; when the Delawares crossed the river above to spend their annuities; when the less fortunate Kaws came in after a summer of hunting on the desert that they might trade buffalo furs for winter food. Nearly all the friends gone, the living don't see the little group of graves in among the locust trees. Of the hundreds who pass within throwing distance of the graveyard every day hardly any, know of its presence.
Beyond the dummy station on Westport avenue is a terrace in blue grass, shaded with forest trees. An old fashioned red house of brick stands on the north of the lawn; a leaning frame of many years is at the South. A hundred feet from the street a brown-eyed Jersey nibbles in the wealth of green, a rope holding her just out of reach of a white headstone.
Men who know nearly everything about Westport, like Dr. Love, the aged Indian missionary, and Judge William R. Bernard, who studied Westport by the foot, are in doubt about the graveyard's origin. Allen McGee say many funerals in the little lot, but has forgotten who gave the land. Some of the old settlers think Louis Vogel, who owned many acres in Westport, gave it, while others mention Ed Price and Charles H. Morris as the probable founders of the graveyard. All agree that it was set aside for graves in about 1835 and was the one general graveyard in what is now Kansas City until Judge Bernard and other bought 50 acres on the old Westport road and started what is now Union Cemetery. That was in 1856.
The old Westport graveyard covers a lot about 200 feet square. On one side is the land owned by W. B. THAYER and on the other that of Mrs. Mary C. VAN VOORHIS. A broken rail fence runs through the graveyard and underbrush and weeds hide the stones so that one may be fifty feet from the spot and to see that it is a burial ground. West of the fence is a lot surrounded by a rough stone with about 4 feet high and 2 feet thick. This is a burial place of the Wornalls, a name old in Westport history. Three headstones are standing, cut in the simple style of fifty years ago. On one is the inscription, "C. Thomas Wornall. Died May 26? 1849?, Aged 24 years, 1 month, 20 D'ys". Another reads: "Sacred to the memory of Matilda A. Wornall, wife of John H. Wornall. Born in Taylorsville, KY., died June 25, 1851?, aged 24 years." The third has the inscription, "Sacred to the memory of Judith A. WORNALL, wife of Rich'd WORNALL, born in Buckingham, VA. Died July 2, 1849, aged 48 years." Inside the enclosure is a locust tree with a trunk nearly 2 feet through and off shoots fill the rest of the space, except where someone has thrown an old rocking chair.
Matilda Wornall, the young wife who died at 24, was the daughter of Thomas Johnson, a missionary among the Shawnees in the early days. The Indians lookup upon him as their guide, worldly and well as spiritual, and when they sold their land to the government, he acted as their representative and saw that the Indians didn't suffer in the bargain. Mr. Frank Wornall, now living here, is the grandson of Judith A. Wornall, and a nephew of G. Thomas Wornall. Cholera caused the death of G. Thomas Wornall while he was in charge of freighting expedition on the plains. When the news came to Kansas City, Frank Wornall's father went west for the body. A few years later the Wornalls built their own burial ground near Shawnee Mission and used that until a few years ago, when they bought ground in Forest Hill cemetery. The present generation often proposed that the bodies in old Westport (cemetery) be removed, but their fathers wanted the graves undisturbed and so they remain.
Over against the fence to the North of the ground lies a fine large slab, 5 feet long. This is carved on the face:
In Memory of
Susan A. SPENCER
Wife of W. H. Spencer
Born August 7, 1810
Died May 15, 1846
The lettering is nearly worn away and one word is entirely obliterated. The stone is apparently out of its place so far that it is doubtful if the grave could be found. The rest Susan Spencer asked will probably not be disturbed even if some who remember her should decide to take her dust from under the locust trees.
Leaning till its face nearly touches the ground, is a slab erected "in memory of Robert Cheney Funk, who was born December 20, 1810, in Washington county, Maryland, departed this life May 26 (28?) 1847." None of the old timers seem to be about to recall Robert.
One stone, probably among the last placed in the ground, shows the feeling existing in the years immediately before the Civil War. The East and South were still debating the question of extension of slavery and few dreamed that the people of the United States would be divided into opposing armies when Jerome H. Glanville was killed in what might be called a battle. The stone placed over Glanville's body is now in two pieces among the woods and there is nothing to indicate where the grave was. This much of the inscription can be deciphered:
To the Memory of
JEROME H. GLANVILLE,
Born April 11, 1825 and
Was murdered by four Yankee
Abolitionists on Bull Creek in
_ _ _ _ _ s T _ _ _ _ _ ory
Bull Creek is about 12 miles from the old burial ground, in what was then Kansas territory. Glanville was 21 years old when the Kansans killed him in one of the many shirmishes that were going on for years before the rest of the nation was in arms. It is possible that in the carving of that stone the memory of poor Jerome Glanville was secondary to the desire not to forget the "murdering Yankee abolitionists." From the hillside where the slab lies may be seen boys shouting at the ball game. To them abolitionists and pro-slavery men of Kansas and Missouri are associated with a few paragraphs in the school history.
The Boones were one of the great families about here in those times. All the parts of sarcophagus that fell years ago lie near the dividing rail fence in the burial ground. It must have been a great monument in those Westport days. Of marble, it was about 7 feet long. The face is inscribed: "Zerelda E. Boone. Born May 20, 1816. Died April 9, 1851. A smaller stone near by has this carving: "John Hamlton Boone. Born January 6, 1834. Died June 11, 1847." Markers bear the names, "Edwin" and "Charles". These were descendants of Daniel Boone, the Kentucky pioneer. Many of the family still live South of Kansas City. At one time the settlement there was called Boonestown.
This is inscribed on a sand stone, the letters nearly gone:
SACRED To the memory of
John Munday son of
Powhatten ----- (illegible)
Died August 3? - (illegible)
Suffere the little children to
Come unto me and forbid them not
For of such is the kingdom of heaven. --- R. Duke
Dr. Love ----- (illegible). The father, Powhatan M. H. Munday, was the government's blacksmith for the Shawnee Indians. Captain Park, a Shawnee, owned slaves, among them a Negro woman. John Munday was only a lad, but he offended the woman and she gave him poison. "What did they do with her." Dr. Love was asked.
"Captain Park sent her away at once and sold her," the old missionary answered.
The name, "R. Duke," after the Scriptural quotation, is probably that of the stone cutter who made the monument.
Three plain stones in a row, all standing, bear the names, Jessie Ragan, Mary Ragan and Mary A. Ragan. None has a date. The next stone is marked: "Sacred to the memory of Rance C. Ragan. Born August 3, 1818. Died March 22, 1845." Below is a verse, but it cannot be read. John Ragan of the same family still lives in Westport, a harness dealer.
Far away in a corner is a stone marking the grave of Elizabeth Richters This is the inscription:
April 11, 1847
Died of Cholera
May 3, 1855
That was the year of one of the cholera epidemics in Westport. Emigrants who came to Westport land on the scow boats are said to have brought it. Elizabeth Richter's stone is the only one mentioning the disease, but others who died of it were buried in the old graveyard.
The oldest date is that on the headstone of Luke Lea, who was Indian agent of Westport. The inscription of the large flat stone reads:
LUKE LEA, SR
Formerly of Tennessee
Born Jan. 21, 7183
Died June 17, 1851
Requiescant in pace
None of the old settlers can place Nathan C. Guthrie, who, according to the inscription, on a headstone, was born August 5, 1810, and died April 27, 1858.
On first questioning all remember Guthrie. He was a Presbyterian clergyman, they say, who conducted a seminary for young women in Westport. "A very estimable gentleman, who had a good school, a scholar," is the way both Dr. Love and Judge Bernard expressed themselves about Nathan Guthrie. When they were told he lived in 1858 they concluded it was not the man who taught the young women of old Westport the polite things they were supposed to know in those days. The Prof. Guthrie was alive long after '58. His son's name was William. No, they couldn't place this Nathan Guthrie.
All of the ground is wild with weeds and locust trees, with an old apple tree in one corner. Some of the stones are nearly covered with earth and a stock of old lumber covers others. It is weeds and underbrush until one is nearly startled on reading a little headstone marked:
HARRY CHRISTOPHER BURHAM,
Born the 2 of August; Died the 8? (3?)
Here is a square of blue grass - not a weed. The grass appears to have been there for years and bears no mark of a gardener's care. Henry Christopher Burham's grave is greener than if it received daily care. (Ed.'s note: The stone illustration says Harry, the article says Henry).
Many other old names appear on the stones. Ben Franklin, the son of W. J. and Susan Dillon; Henry Findlay; James, the son of W. A. and E. Heiskell; Sarah A., daughter of Luther M. and Susan H. Carter; Eveline, William A. Heiskell's wife; the two sons of W. J. and M. Wright - all are names from the broken and displaced stones, and few are remembered even by the men who lived about Westport when the graves were made.
The owners of the cemetery, if there be any, are not known by these men. No one claims the ground and on the tax records it is marked exempt. It belongs to the pioneers who found rest there.
The Westport Cemetery was supposedly on a site that was later occupied by a lumberyard in Westport. It is described in "Vital Historical Records of Jackson County," compiled by the DAR in 1934 as being on Westport Avenue (now Road) near Penn Street, at the site then of the Badger Lumber Company According to their note, the cemetery was established about 1835 on land given by Mr. Ed Price.
This page was last updated August 19, 2006.