Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday Woodmen of the World

In February of this year I had the good fortune to travel to Oklahoma and visit with a friend prior to attending and presenting a “lecture” on historical and genealogical video’s I produced. My good friend Verdie Triplett and I had a few days to kill before we had to travel from Spiro, Oklahoma to Tulsa for the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen Heritage Conference and Reunion, so we did what any good researchers would do with time on their hands.



We made day trips to various locations throughout eastern Oklahoma visiting friends and locations that were significant to the history of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen in that part of Oklahoma. Verdie being the gracious host took me to several cemeteries by way of back roads and briar patches. I had to endure “cow pies” barbed wire and damn near freezing temperatures in pursuit of elusive gravesites that would be added to my collection of stock photographs for use in future videos.

It was on one day trip that we visited a little cemetery in the Spiro area known as New Hope that he wanted to show me some headstones that had significance to his family history. Verdie has ties to the Choctaw Nation and his grandmother was the daughter of a Choctaw Indian named Silas Darneal.

So naturally I wanted to photograph the Darneal gravesite (never know when you will need a photo) and while canvassing the cemetery on that cold afternoon with the metal camera body causing my hands to go numb (I brought gloves but for some reason never thought to put them on until AFTER my hands went numb) I spotted three unique headstones.

I’ve done some limited cemetery work so I was enthusiastic about the opportunity to be in old Indian Territory and getting the opportunity to photograph a cemetery. However, Verdie informed me that this particular cemetery was not a freedmen cemetery and since that was our main agenda I only wanted to capture the unique headstones before we headed off to go check on the Freedmen burial ground known as Brazil that was not too far from where we were. Before we left and before my hands totally froze, I was able to capture a few images of the cemetery and the three unique headstones that caught my attention earlier.

These three stones didn’t look like any headstones I had ever seen before in my limited excursions doing cemetery work. Yet, my keen photographer’s eye knew enough to capture the stones; again, you never know when you might need something down the road.
Finally having time to go through some of the more than five hundred images taken on the trip, I took a closer look at the three unique stones and discovered there was more too them than met the eye.

Certainly just looking at them you could tell they had something in common about them. They all look as if they were tree stumps with intricate carvings throughout. With a closer look you could see an emblem of some kind at the top of the piece but all three were similar but different. I didn’t pay much attention to them until recently and began taking a more in depth look at the design and the names of the people who were buried beneath them.

It was when I began cropping the images and getting a closer look at the emblems did I get the sense that there was more there than met the eyes.

The names of the individuals did not ring a bell. I couldn’t and have not found any of the three on the Dawes Choctaw Rolls but that could only mean they were possibly settlers and married into the Choctaw Nation but did not receive citizenship.

While looking for the names of the men on the Dawes rolls and all three stones were men; their dates of birth and death were curious. All three were relatively young when they died.

It wasn’t until I took a good look at the emblems atop the stones did I begin to really get curious about this cluster of three headstones. Each of the men died before World War I and none of them lived past the age of 35. They didn’t appear to be related because all three had different surnames but somehow the three unique headstones above their burial plot indicated they had some connection.

That connection I’ve come to discover was indicated in the emblem atop the headstone. All three had an inscription that connected them to some organization called Woodmen of the World. Being the curious individual I am it was just a matter of Googling that name to see if there was a clue to what these three headstones might have had in common.

It didn’t take long! Apparently Woodmen of the World is a fraternal organization not unlike Free Masonry. These three young men having died at such an early age all had a connection to an organization that had as part of its mission the erection of monuments over member’s gravesites among other things.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodmen_of_the_World

Apparently I am not the only one that finds these headstones interesting. There are sites dedicated to capturing the design where ever they are located.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/woodmenoftheworld/

There is a man in Colorado who has done some extensive photography capturing these unique stones and has gone as far as publishing a book about Woodmen of the World memorials.

http://www.interment.net/wow/index.htm

So far I haven’t seen where the three I photographed have been captured but I’ll keep looking and at some point I guess I’ll just have to contact one of these sites to determine if I have something to contribute to this legacy.

4 comments:

  1. My, those are some very interesting headstones. Funny how they were located near each other and are not related. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. These are great! I have not seen any tombstones like these before. Your posts always have such interesting content and I look forward to reading them!

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  3. Greetings Ms Vicky,

    I suspect there is some real interesting story connected to these three individuals. They could have been cousins, related by marriage or just their affiliation with the Woodmen of the World organization brought them together in death. It would be interesting to see them in the 1900 census that might be the only time you will find them alive.

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  4. Greetings Lisa,

    Thank you for the compliment this whole experience of maintaining a blog has been beneficial for me. I've been entertaining so many thoughts about the history of Indian Territory but never truly expressed them and this has been a way for me to be constructive and discipline about my thoughts on various topics.

    I hope that others develop the habit of visiting cemeteries and recording the headstones. The Find-a-Grave is such a great site and demonstrates how a dedicated community of researchers can benefit each other, which was part of my motivation for photographing that particular site.

    I truly appreciate your comments as well as Ms Vicky's because it lets me know I'm doing something right! THANX!!!

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