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Honoring our Vets at a lost cemetery

By Staff | Dec 22, 2014

Dave Hanson, Veterans Service Officer for Faribault County, and A.B. Russ, of the Faribault County Historical Society, have been on a mission for the last few years.

Their goal? Get a headstone on the grave of every military veteran buried in Faribault County.

No matter if they were killed in battle or not. No matter when they died.

And, no matter if they are buried in a remote, long abandoned cemetery that is virtually inaccessible.

Hanson reported to the Faribault County Commissioners recently that they have achieved some success for two more long forgotten county veterans.

“We have finally been successful for getting a headstone for George Schermerhorn and Thaddeus Smith,” Hanson said. “We are getting these stones for people who never had one or that have been destroyed. A lot of people worked very hard to put this request together and make it happen.”

It was not easy, says LuAnn Schrader, historian for Schermerhorn Cemetery, where the two men are buried.

“I was asked to write a letter stating that George Schermerhorn was indeed buried there, that there is no current government marker in place or that it was lost or destroyed and make the formal request for a new marker,” Schrader said. “I also needed to state that any family members had been found and notified.”

Then they needed information from muster rolls and military records to prove he actually was in the military.

Russ says part of the problem was that Schermerhorn was living in Illinois when he entered the military to go fight in the Civil War.

“He was wounded twice,” Russ says. “Once was minor and he returned to battle. The second time was a leg wound and they removed his leg.”

By the time he got out of the army in 1866, his ily had moved from Illinois to Minnesota Lake Township in Faribault County.

“He came here and lived here one year, then he died in 1867 at the age of 23,” Russ says. “That is another problem, because death records didn’t start being kept in this county until three years later, in 1870.”

Hanson gathered up all the information and sent in the request this past April. That application was rejected and the group started over.

“We put together another set of information which was submitted on Nov. 4,” Schrader says. “That one was accepted.”

The other application was for Thaddeus Smith, who served this country even before the Civil War.

“Smith was a veteran of the War of 1812,” Russ says. “He was from New York State, but moved to Minnesota Lake Township in 1866.”

Smith died in 1875 and is buried in the same Schermerhorn Cemetery. He is the only War of 1812 veteran buried in this county, Russ says.

Smith’s death is actually recorded in the county records, Russ adds, because his death occurred five years after the records started being kept.

There is a stone marker for Smith at what is left of the cemetery, but it is broken in half. Hanson, Russ and Schrader want to replace it with a new one.

Schermerhorn Cemetery is hard to find. It is located just northeast of Easton and is in the middle of a field with no way to get to it except by walking a half mile over a field or along a drainage ditch.

It has been abandoned for more than a century.

George Schermerhorn’s parents, Phillip and Mary, moved to Minnesota Lake Township in 1864, before there was a railroad, before the town of Easton was platted in 1873.

In 1874 the couple deeded two acres of their land to the Schermerhorn Cemetery Association.

Schrader says there were burials at the site even before it became an official cemetery.

“The first burial is dated 1865 for Elmer Wing,” she says. “William Bell was buried there in 1866.”

In the 1880s, Hosea Quimby purchased the Schermerhorn land which included the cemetery property. In 1891, after the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Peter Lutheran of Easton, organized, Quimby deeded the south half of the Schermerhorn Cemetery to them.

Schrader says a fence was put up between the two areas, right down the middle of the cemetery.

Then in 1903, land along County Road 19 north of Easton was donated for a new Lutheran cemetery.

The Schermerhorn Cemetery was then abandoned and has not been used since.

“My first trip out to this cemetery in the middle of a field was about 1975 with my mother-in-law, Elsie Schrader and local historian Evelyn Halligan,” Schrader recalls. “We struggled through the trees, bushes, weeds and overgrowth looking for a headstone for a baby named Heise, and we found it.”

In 1981, the Barber Flyers 4-H Club attempted a cleanup of the forgotten cemetery. Schrader helped find the stones and try and identify them.

Then in 1987, John Wettlaufer initiated another cleanup project on behalf of St. Peter’s Church.

At that time a cement pad six feet wide and 30 feet long was laid. All the headstones that could be found were cleaned and placed on this cement pad, where they are still located to this day.

Schrader calls herself the default “sexton” of the Schermerhorn Cemetery, having spent considerable time trying to find out as much as she can about who is buried there.

She laments that some of the headstones found in the past are now missing.

“The baby Heise stone has not been found since I saw it on my very first visit to the cemetery,” she says. “The Schermerhorn family stone was not found in 1987, but I had located it and had made a ‘rubbing’ of it in 1981.”

While some of the stones are missing, and those that are there are at least 100 years old, two new modern headstones will be added to the grouping. One each for war veterans George Schermerhorn and Thaddeus Smith.

“I want to thank Dave Hanson for the push, the persistence and all of the coordination necessary to get this done,” Schrader says.

Hanson, Russ and Schrader are planning a dedication ceremony for the two new headstones on Memorial Day weekend next May.

“We plan on having an honor guard, speakers, chaplain and some dignitaries to attend the ceremony,” Schrader says. “Of course, we will all have to walk to the cemetery across a plowed field, but it will be worth it.”