It is written that the winds that whisper across the Great Plains tell the stories of our ancestors. For Bev Kennedy, the whispers of stories about those lost in the early days of Custer County, moved to paper as she set out on a great voyage several years ago. Inspired by local folklore, a simple map and a personal challenge, she set out to document the locations of each and every registered cemetery in Custer County.
A crowd of near 30 gathered at the Custer County Historical Museum, last Saturday afternoon. As Bev prepared to open her presentation, she joked that she would be finished by kick off time. Those in attendance, mostly decked in Husker red, were attentive and inquisitive, often adding unique bits of information to Bev’s forum, and murmuring in wonder at other times.
Even the most senior residents of Custer County express surprise when learning that there are 73 registered cemeteries in Custer County. Indeed, the number is staggering. When considering the vast number, Bev reminded the crowd that it is important to note that many were family plots, or contained just a small number of human remains. Her research all began with a simple map that noted approximate locations of cemeteries in each township, and her adventurous spirit drove her after that.
Bev featured over 20 of the cemeteries in her presentation at the historical society. She made careful notes of her discoveries at each location, as well as documented each of them with photos. Even with the most careful attention to detail and map study, there were often no visible signs that could be located in many of the locations.
Mother Nature is cruel to the memory of these lost pioneers. Years of rain, wind, snow, hail and sleet have eroded the writing on stones, knocked them over and buried them. The additional tampering of vandals and even livestock have additionally complicated efforts to locate and identify the existence of buried members in certain cemeteries. Additionally, many of them are located on private property and in remote locations where tending them becomes complicated.
Still, Bev recalls stories of riding on a 4-wheeler or tractor with a local land owner to visit each site. Many have gone to the expense of fencing around them or finding other measures to try and protect what remains.