Cemetery Stomping

While I consider myself a writer, I also consider myself as a link in the history of it all:  my family of origin, my family we created, my extended family, the eclectic  friends from all walks as well as the oddballs who have my heart and keep me smiling no matter what.

In our new normal, we have a commuter marriage.  The King visits the Queen and the Queen visits the King. We have a honeymoon cottage in addition to our main residence.  It is a lovely situation by and large.  I have the hubby trained that I don’t like to come home to a bachelor pad filled with dirty dishes.  He doesn’t like to come home to an extensive honey-do list so I keep the must dos to a minimum so we can just be.  Together.

As I have mentioned before, I DIG genealogy.  I have dragged my family to remote graveyards to see old relatives graves.  It is fascinating to me.  Found a couple of felons, a counterfeiter, horse thief, first mayor of a small Iowa town, and a Revolutionary war hero as well as my original family homestead back in Ireland.  To my family?  Eh, maybe not so much.  But they are fairly tolerant if I don’t do it too often.  Payback for all the years of bench warming at soccer, ballet, piano, basketball, golf, cross country, and well, you get the idea.

Our commuter route is pretty remote.  There are small towns with services about every sixty or seventy miles on the route I take.  SMALL towns.  On the odd time I have driven some of this route after dusk, I pass by trailer homes that I would have sworn were abandoned only to see lights on.  It gives one pause to think.

My chosen route takes me between towns about thirty to fifty miles apart on state highways.  While not a wimp it gives me the comfort of cell service and more traffic.  (Sort of).  The wild west can be harsh, especially during the winter months.

On this route, there is a very small town.  Marmarth, North Dakota.  The population currently looks to be about 30.  But the Past Time Cafe is still there in this former booming railroad town.   Ironically, it has been allegedly featured on the Food Network.  But what is more intriguing to me is something I discovered a couple of sojourns ago.  The first building encountered is the old abandoned railroad depot.

Just before entering Marmarth, right when the speed level drops from 65 to 30, I happened to glance to the right as I was about the cross the Missouri River.  Up on a hill, just about fifty feet up on a bluff.  There is a cross.  Not only a cross, but a small iron piping enclosure around it.  I had to stop.

Marmarth Grave.jpgThis is very intriguing to me. The cross was very old and slightly tilted (toward the highway, ironically).  When I hiked up, the name on the cross was Hickey.

So, who was Hickey?  Obviously, judging from the age of the cross, he or she had died a long time ago.  Why did someone take the time to enclose it, let alone build a cairn at the base?  Is that car rounding the bend going to notice this site or am I the only one?

The next sojourn showed me that someone had put a small bouquet of plastic flowers and it had been recently mowed and tended.  Now I was hooked.

It took a bit of digging but I found a website.  The current population is about one hundred and forty people.  One of these days, I am going to swing through and take a picture of the white clapboard church just off main street.

I called the number on the website and rang through to the world famous Past Time Cafe.   (I have promised myself to stop by there some time between commutes.)  People in small towns like to talk.  This should please my husband who is one of the most genuinely curious people on the planet.  He loves finding out about people.  Usually the conversations include the person at the other end of his curiosity saying “I’ve never told anyone this before but…..”.  An odd and genuine gift indeed.

The gal at the world famous Past Time Cafe was very willing to chat for about a half hour.  She told me that the grave was there because that is where she wished to be buried.  Overlooking the scenic Missouri River in this amazing landscape for all eternity was her specific last wish.  People out here honor a handshake as binding, and honor last wishes as sacred.

She gave me the phone number of the a couple in town who would be able to answer my questions.  I called after a few days and found another history buff on the other end of the line.  We talked for the best part of an hour.  Even though the official cemetery is about a half mile east of the town, this was where Myrtle Woods Hickey expressly designated for her eternal rest.  She came from Nebraska with her family and settled into the new life. She was born in 1891 and died in 1910. People have offered to move her to the official cemetery.  But, someone long ago promised a dying nineteen year old that her wish would be honored and it is to this day.

Oh, and the gentleman I spoke with invested in a metal detector and is the sextant of the official cemetery.  He finds the bodies of those who died anonymously in the are during the time of the westward expansion.  The local funeral home provides plaques that honor the perpetuity of it all.

I did a bit more digging and could find no more.  Was she married?  Did she die in childbirth?  (There are a slew of Hickeys in the official cemetery.) Death certificates were practically nonexistent.  She has faded into history with a great view of the scenic Missouri River.  I get the feeling that she knew what she wanted — exacting to the end.  That is as far as I can take the story.

But I smile and wave as I drive by.

The gentleman who illuminated this for me?  Myrtle Woods Hickey’s father or uncle shot his great grandfather over a horse….

Gotta love the wild west.



About marysigmond

After four generations in Chicago, a big city transplant to the "wild west" of western South Dakota in 2004. Mom, domestic goddess, CEO of my world and fond of musing about what is becoming the second half of my life. It's a big old goofy world.
This entry was posted in A View from the Wild West, Finding Normal, Oddities and Amusements, One of Those Square States in the Middle, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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