Kansas pioneer children’s graves finally marked
Resting place of as many as 17 children was unknown for more than a centuryBy Tim Huber
PEABODY, Kan. — During the mass immigration of Russian Mennonites to Kansas in 1874, tragedy swiftly struck a group of families.
The group, of Swiss ancestry from the western Russian province of Volhynia, got off the train at Peabody, and the men headed west across the mostly unsettled prairie to scout land in McPherson and Harvey counties.
When they returned to their families three weeks later, they discovered almost all the children were sick. More than a dozen had died from an unknown illness and were buried without coffins in a farmer’s field.
It is believed that women and elderly men dug the graves. There were no funerals. The burial locations were forgotten, and over the next century the lost children became a mystery.
“I think these people were immigrant people and were in a hurry to get established and get their own homes built. They were more worried about survival than marking graves,” said Brian Stucky of Goessel, who led a recent initiative to locate the graves. “I don’t know that any of those survivors ever went back to Peabody to mark them.”
Now, after 138 years, the children’s resting place has been located. In early July a memorial stone was placed in the cemetery that Stucky and others determined the survivors created. A dedication ceremony is set for 3 p.m. Sept. 23.
From a young age, Stucky grew up with the mystery. His grandmother in Moundridge would tell him stories.
“My grandpa’s baby sister was buried there,” Stucky said. “And she would tell me this story, with tears in her eyes, of these children who died there.
“My grandpa had another sister who died at sea and was buried at sea,” he said of the family that lost two of four daughters on the journey. “I’ve always wondered, if they knew they were going to lose two of their girls, would they have come from Russia?”
His grandmother searched but could never locate the cemetery.
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