Pioneer Section

Dead Men Talking ...

Pioneer Graves  part of Memorial Day Tribute at Edgar Cemetery

Paris Beacon-News, May 28, 2010

By Jenny Barkley

Section X Pioneers The oldest section of Edgar  Cemetery at the northeast edge of Paris will be part of the 2010 Memorial Day  tribute.

In addition to the numerous American flags which are erected  annually in Edgar Cemetery to pay tribute to Veterans and loved ones, this year  marker flags will be placed on the unmarked graves of pioneers.

Just how this is accomplished requires a special combination  of talent and circumstances.


Long before  Edgar Cemetery was established in 1858, part of the grounds served as a pioneer  burial site, perhaps as early as the 1700s, according to Jim Englum, president  of the Cemetery Board.

“We don’t know the date of the first burial, but earliest cemetery records reveal a stone erected in 1815 to the memory of Henry Clark, with an even earlier presence of some unmarked graves,” Englum  said.

Oral history reveals that along the east side of the ground  which eventually became Edgar Cemetery, pioneers traveled The Chicago  Trail. The local portion of this trail carried wagon trains from north and  south through the areas now known as High Street and the Lower Terre Haute  Road.

Pioneer travelers often stopped to camp northeast of the  area later established as the town of Paris, because water was plentiful from  the streams in low areas nearby. (Portions of these streams are now beneath the  city’s lake system.)

Historians say that local pioneers wanting to travel would  camp on high ground near the streams, waiting to join a wagon train. Transients  who had the misfortune to die en route were buried on the big hill west of the  trail, now part of Edgar Cemetery.

Burials no longer take place in this oldest area, known as  Section X and located immediately next to High Street. All of the graves believed  to be those of pioneers have been marked temporarily with colored flags for the upcoming  holiday.


For those  who can believe in the method of dowsing to find graves, the cemetery’s past is  revealed for all to see during the Memorial Day weekend.

Dowsing for Graves A dowser, by definition, is typically one who uses a rod  [sometimes wires or branches] to search for underground water or minerals. The  rod pulls strongly in a particular direction as it passes over a water source. Many  wells in the rural area are located utilizing the skills of a dowser.

In addition, some dowsers also claim they can locate graves  in a similar manner. They determine whether a male or female, adult or child,  is interred, based on the directional swing of a one or more rods.

Fenton Cash of Paris is a dowser. And, ironically, he lives  on ground where pioneers once established their encampments along The Chicago  Trail. Recently he has focused on the unknown pioneers in Edgar Cemetery.

“He can do it,” said his wife Judy Cash. “I’ve seen him.  When he held a wire above my head, it spun to the left, indicating a female, with  such strength that I could not pull against it.” The same turn of a dowsing rod  determines the sex of a person buried beneath the sod, dowsers claim.

Cash heard the pioneer legends after purchasing property near  the cemetery. When he learned recently about the unmarked graves in Section X,  Cash offered to help locate and provide additional information about the  graves.

Curiosity was peaked, the Cemetery Board agreed, and the  search began.


Beneath one  of the largest and oldest trees on the hill (the area near the sidewalk bench along  High Street), Cash initially discovered 10 bodies by using rods he fashioned  from copper wire.

Flags Mark Pioneer GravesIn the entire Section X, a total of 327 unmarked graves were  detected by Cash and marked. The graves by Cash’s calculation represent 21  adult males, 39 male children, 63 adult females and 204 female children. Some  spectators were on hand to observe the process, which took several days to  complete.

Cash found the first 48 in one row, in one evening. His wife  Judy marked the graves with orange paint until they could be flagged. For  Memorial Day, a yellow flag designates female, orange indicates male, and white  marks a child.

Cash noted that the Illinois Cemetery Association does not  recognize dowsing as fact.

“Their method is to dig up a potential grave and see what’s  beneath the ground,” Cash explained. “However, that disturbs the grave and its  sanctity. I prefer dowsing. I believe it’s the responsibility of the living to  care for the dead, and this is one way I can help.”

No one knows how dowsing works for graves, but some  enthusiasts estimate that 90 percent of people can do so. One practical  application of the process is to help genealogists identify locations of  unmarked graves in lost cemeteries.


Obviously,  skeptics exist. But so do believers.

It’s the reader’s option to believe or not. But from either  persuasion, it makes a good story.

Memorial Day is an appropriate time to remember those pioneers  who came to their final resting place in a quiet hill on the prairie, while blazing  a trail through the wilderness that became Illinois. 

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