LECOMPTON, Kan. — A family living outside Lawrence recently stumbled upon history.
The city of LeCompton is preparing a set of Civil War era tombstones, both of which have ties to a significant battle of the day.
In the wooded depths of a Douglas County forest, Dr. Chad Gustin and his two elementary school-aged kids discovered a relic worth keeping handy.
“Ace, remember, you were running down one of these hills?” Gustin asked his 9-year-old son.
The paths leading to that area of LeCompton, which sit on a bluff overlooking the Kansas River, are ragged and overgrown in parts. It’s where the Gustins discovered two large headstones in February, which had been relocated from a previous gravesite in the area.
Local historians believe they belong to two people killed during Quantrill’s Raid, a Civil War era attack during which Confederate soldiers burned the city of Lawrence.
“It was amazing at first. We couldn’t believe it,” Gustin said.
The Gustins own the land nowadays, and they’re donating the tombstones, including the one that paid tribute to James O’Neil, to the LeCompton Historical Society.
Historians in the area believe O’Neil was a bridge worker during that time. One of O’Neil’s family gravemarkers is already part of the Territorial Capital Museum in LeCompton.
Experts at the museum believe the other stone found by the Gustins belongs to an unknown woman of that era.
The historical society plans to relocate the headstones to nearby Maple Grove Cemetery. When the move takes place on Wednesday, historians emphasize they won’t have to worry about moving anyone’s remains or desecrating anyone’s final resting spot.
Paul Bahnmaier, president of the LeCompton Historical Society, said there are no bodies buried in that location, and the remains of those bodies were destroyed by a third party in the 1940’s.
Bahmaier added that the historical society knows of no living descendants who’ve laid claim to the markers.
“There’s also a lot of respect. Stepping back and looking at history and how long that river has been there and the tombstones and how they’re almost 200 years old. It’s really amazing when you sit back and think about it,” Gustin said.
“It’s going to be a major job,” Bahnmaier said. “Thanks to the Gustins, we are able to take a long journey down through the forest to preserve these stones and move them to Maple Grove Cemetery.”
Getting workers to the remote site where those gravestones sit may prove to be challenging.
The dirt paths that lead to the hillside plateau where they sit is rocky and overgrown with greenery, and if the weather is rainy, mud can be prove to be impassible to vehicles.
The big markers weigh as much as 400 pounds apiece, and historians are concerned about the stone structures remaining in one piece while they’re moved.
“We always talk with the kids: The purpose of history is to learn from it. So we don’t make the same mistakes, so we can go forward. We should appreciate it and learn from it ad, hopefully, grow,” Gustin said.
Any questions concerning this project or Douglas County history can be addressed to the LeCompton Historical Society.