Modern technology helps with search for lost Iowa cemetery | State and Regional News


A quiet hill about three miles south of Dow City must have seemed a good location to bury loved ones in the 1860s; the spot overlooked a quiet stream and was likely covered with grass and trees.

A small cemetery sat on the spot for many years – but slowly disappeared from sight and memory as the decades passed.

No one alive today knows exactly where the cemetery lies – or who is buried there.

Christy Rickers, an archaeologist from Vail, became interested because of her membership in the Crawford County Historic Preservation Commission, which is planning to focus this year’s county fair booth on cemeteries in Crawford County.

Rickers is a 1985 Ar-We-Va High School graduate; she has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in archaeology from the University of Minnesota.

“Some of the information that came from the courthouse said that there was a cemetery out on Kremin ground,” Rickers said.

The property has been in the Kremin family since the early 1950s.

“I don’t remember seeing any of the cemetery itself,” said Dave Kremin. “I remember Dad (Howard Kremin) talking about how there had been a fence – markers or rocks – around it.”

“If I saw it, I don’t have any memory of it,” said Dave’s brother, Steve.

“Dad kind of knew where it was at, but he‘s long gone. My brother Mark said when he was little there were marker stones around the perimeter of the cemetery, but I don’t remember seeing them; that was probably in the late ‘60s.”

When Rickers contacted the Kremin family, they agreed that an attempt should be made to discover the location of the cemetery and properly mark it.

“We feel we’re obligated to do something about this,” Steve said.

The Kremin brothers, Steve, Dave and Mark, along with Dave’s son-in-law C.W. Miller, drove out to the field on Saturday to watch as Glenn Storey, University of Iowa associate professor of classics and anthropology, scanned part of the field with a ground penetrating radar (GPR) device.

Rickers said Storey was recommended to her by colleagues in the Iowa archeological community.

The University of Iowa is also the location of the Office of the State Archaeologist.

Storey made scans of 25-centimeter-wide strips (about four-fifths of a foot) across a 40-meter by 20-meter rectangle.

He and Rickers marked the area with the hope that it would box in the spot where the cemetery lies – but they did not know for sure if it would.

Rickers said the first records she found at the courthouse marked the cemetery in the wrong location.

Mary Eiten, first deputy county auditor, later found a 1901 deed transferring ownership of the land to the Union Township trustees; the location in the deed was different from what the county map showed.

Mike Schulte, a surveyor from Westside, agreed to try to locate the cemetery according to the deed.

“He came out and marked it – but there is a concern that the description from the deed is based on a center section – and the center of the section was never typically marked during the original government surveys,” Rickers said. “We’re kind of looking at a moving target for our starting point.”

She said the measurement in the deed was given in rods.

“The deed says there are so many rods from that center point, so the surveyor did the best he could,” Rickers said, “He said it could be off by as much as a hundred feet just because it’s hard to locate the original starting point.”

Schulte marked off his best estimate of the location.

Steve Mumm, of Westside, “witched” the location and marked several places where he thought he detected something, Rickers said.

Storey and Rickers boxed in an area much larger than that marked by the surveyor – based on the topography and the memories of the area provided by the Kremin brothers; scanning the plot took from about 10:30 a.m. until about 5 p.m.

“We would have loved to do an even larger area, but it was a lot of work just to do the area we did,” Rickers said.

Storey will take at least a few weeks to process all the information and report on what the scan uncovered; when he tested his GPR equipment before performing the scan, he told the group that something appeared to be buried within the area Schulte marked.

Rickers said she will continue to try to determine who is buried in the cemetery.

“I’ve gone through the ancestral lines of the families that have owned the land,” she said. “I have located most of the immediate families and they are all buried in known cemeteries – either in Shelby County or Crawford County.”

The only individuals who remain unaccounted for are the very earliest settlers on the land – Edmund and Mary Howorth.

“I recently found out that they died in late 1861 and early 1862 – and they died prior to the establishment of the Dow City Cemetery,” Rickers said.

Logic suggests that the Howorths could be in the cemetery, she said.

Rickers said she plans to pay for Storey’s time and lodging; she will look to see if other sources of funding are available to defray the costs.

If his scans show something definitive, Rickers will return to the site to try to confirm the findings.

“I might just do a little small auger hole or test the soil with a soil probe,” she said. “It will be up to the family (the Kremins) how extensively they want to dig because our goal is to leave the graves alone – but it would be good to try to verify their location with the minimal amount of digging.”

Rickers said she feels compelled to see the project through.

“It’s interesting because it’s part of the county history – and it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “You have people buried out there and they need to be found.”

She also has a personal reason for taking on the project.

“My major professor (of archaeology) passed away a couple months ago,” Rickers said. “I had the feeling I should do, in his honor and memory, whatever I could to find this cemetery.”

The writer is a member of the Crawford County Historic Preservation Commission.


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