Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Mystery in the Field

Cavel House Built by Grandad Fred in 1911

This is a story I heard numerous times as my Dad, Charley Hall, and his brothers sat around and talked after meals. It must have happened when Dad was about 11 or 12, as the family was living in the house on Highway 7 near Velma then, and that's where the story took place.  

The boys had been told by their Dad to clear and plow a previously unbroken field. They had cleared the brush from the field and were plowing (with a mule). They were picking out rocks and throwing them in a pile at the edge of the field as they turned them up. After several passes across the field one of them remarked that the rocks they'd been picking up seemed to lay in a regular pattern, a series of circles. This piqued their interest, and they began to pay more close attention to the position of the stones. 

Soon it was clear that the rocks were not only laid in circles, but that the circles got closer together as they neared the middle of the field. By the time they got to the middle their boyish imaginations were on fire. The final ring of stones lay in a small circle a couple of feet across. They were sure they had found the spot where the famous Jesse James' gang had hid their loot. (Apparently everyone in Oklahoma and Texas had a theory about where this stashed treasure lay - my Granddad Clark used to go hunting for it every summer.) 

The boys dug the rocks from the middle of the circle and found a large flat stone. They pried it up, to find a stone-lined vault, a fold of calico fabric and another rock beneath. At this point they ran to get their dad, sure they'd found treasure and were bursting to uncover it. But when he arrived he scolded them, saying they had disturbed a child's grave. He made them replace the stone on top and cover the hole back in. He then sent them to clear a different field and told them to leave that one alone.

One thing the Cavel boys did not do was disobey their father. They dared not investigate their find further. But in the night they went out and set up markers in the adjoining woods, took sightings and made notes, so that in the future they could come back to the spot. 

Before the farm was sold, which must have been after my Granddad Cavel passed away in 1941, the brothers went back to the site. They hunted up the markers in the woods and paced off the steps. With great expectation they dug where they'd found the vault some 25 years before, but there was no sign of it. There was nothing but dirt. They rechecked their markers and notes, and paced it out again, which brought them to the same spot. 

They were as mystified as men as they had been as boys, but for a different reason. Now they couldn't understand what had happened to the rings and the stones. They speculated endlessly; had their father moved the markers, had they paced it out wrongly somehow, had he dug the whole affair up and moved it? Whatever happened, the secret went to the grave with someone. 

After I discovered Kizziah Crouch's family origins I began to read about the culture of the Tuscarora people. They were described as light-hearted people, who easily bore every misfortune except one, the death of a loved one. They considered the departed still part of the family, and when they moved they carried generations of ancestor's bones with them.

The Tuscarora burial was in a cypress-lined vault in the earth. The body was laid on a bed of boughs, covered with boughs and roofed over with bark. It was left until the bones had been entirely cleaned by "the little creatures of the earth", then the bones were taken up and placed in a clay jar. They were kept in the home, or buried nearby, to be taken up when the family moved on. I found record of one Tuscarora family, long since melded into the "White" community, having moved through four successive states, still in possession of a great-grandfather's bones 75 years after his death. 

Which makes me wonder. Kizziah Crouch and Enoch Jones Smith had a little girl named Mahalia who died between the ages of five and ten years. Could the "grave" the Cavel boys discovered have been the temporary resting place for her little jar of bones? And if so what happened to them? Perhaps they were dug up when Kizziah Crouch Smith Carter died in 1921 and placed in her coffin with her? 

I am puzzled by Kizziah Crouch Smith Carter's position in the Velma Cemetery. She is buried in an aisle, not in the row of graves. She lies in the aisle between the plots of her children William Wesley Smith and Eliza Ann Smith Seely, both of whom died years after she did. I thought for years she might have been buried first on the farm, and moved to the Velma cemetery later, maybe when Granddad and Grandma left the farm in Velma years before they sold it. They moved to Hastings in 1935, and both WW Smith and Eliza Seely had died and were buried in the Velma Cemetery by then. But I now have a copy of Kizziah's death certificate which states she was buried in the Velma Cemetery the day after her death.

I may be letting my imagination get the better of me, but it's one explanation for where the "child's grave" went, but I can think of no good reason why Granny K herself is buried in such an unusual spot. She is the only person in the entire huge cemetery who is buried in an aisle. 

In the last few years the descendants of Randolph Carter have placed a stone on her unmarked grave, for which I am very grateful. I feel a deep connection to her for some reason, in part maybe because I look a good deal like her but even before I'd ever seen a picture about her I felt a connection to her. I asked Dad what she was like once. It was one of the few times in my life I ever saw him tear up, but his eyes filled with tears which he brushed away before saying, "She was wonderful." 

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