Four miles south of Carthage, Highway 71. Side road on the right. Cemetery on the hill.
After making this note in my notebook, I closed it and placed the reference book on the reshelving cart. Then I left the library and headed home. In two weeks, we would be leaving for Pennsylvania–an annual summer route that took us through a number of states before arriving there. I was working on my Ph.D. at that time in a summers-only program at Indiana, Pennsylvania. Our seven-summer journey lasted from 1992-1998, when I graduated! In May 1994, we would head to Pennsylvania by way of Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas with Jasper County, Missouri as a highlight of our trip. I planned to visit my great grandfather’s grave there.
Adniram Hopper was my maternal grandmother’s father. Grandma’s name was Oda Elizabeth Hopper Spence (1894-1981). Grandma was born in Shellsburg, Iowa and lived with her parents and sister on a farm there. In 1908, the Adniram Hopper family left Shellsburg and moved to Jasper County, Missouri–an area that was reportedly a Mecca at the time. Grandma met my maternal grandfather there–William Franklin Spence (1884-1973). They were married August 25, 1916. My mother was born in Pittsburg, Kansas July 6, 1917. She was followed by a brother and sister: William Gordon Spence (1918-1983) and Marian Elizabeth Spence Van Fossen (1925-2012). My great-grandfather, Adniram Hopper, died May 29, 1920 and was buried in what was then Walker Cemetery. Shortly after his death, my great grandmother–Elmyra Jane Stern Hopper (1871-1943) and my grandmother’s sister–Elva Mary Hopper Bammert (1900-1986)–returned to Linn County, Iowa. When my mom’s sister was still a baby, Grandpa moved the family to Iowa. He never returned to Missouri. Some of his relatives still reside in Jasper County. Few would remember Grandpa, let alone his father in-law!
Adniram Hopper (1861-1920)–a notation I added to my notebook entry. I already informed my mother what I planned to do.
“Oh!” she responded. “I remember visiting his grave when I was little.”
“He’s in Fullerton Cemetery,” I told her.
She frowned and then looked at me.
“Wasn’t the name Walker? I barely remember the sign leading in there.”
“Well, that’s what his death certificate said,” I told her. “But I couldn’t find a Walker Cemetery in Jasper County. They changed the name to Fullerton later. Anyway, I found his grave listed in Fullerton in a book in the library. And I know exactly how to get there.”
Four miles south of Carthage, Highway 71. Side road on the right. Cemetery on the hill.
I must have read those instructions ten times aloud as we entered Carthage.
“You’re sure!” Howard responded.
“Yeah–you just go south on Highway 71 where the Confederate Armies marched up and down during the Civil War.”
“Then you take the side road on the right, and it’s down there.”
Now, I had his full attention. That was something else I read about in the library.
“The Confederates marched up and down this road during the Civil War and the Union soldiers marched up and down what is today Highway 69 on the Kansas side.”
“Hmmm!” he responded, almost missing the turn onto the side road. “I wonder whether my great grandfather marched here.”
“Probably–if he fought at Wilson’s Creek.”
“So, where is this cemetery?”
By now, we were on the side road.
I stared at my notebook.
“I think we go left.”
For the next hour and a half, we did exactly what the Confederates did during the Civil War. Instead of marching, we drove up and down that road looking for that cemetery. We could not find the entrance anywhere.
“Are you sure we’re on the right road?”
“Maybe it is on the other side of the highway.”
“No–it is four miles south of Carthage on the right.”
“Okay, we’ll go back to Carthage and start all over again.”
We did this a number of times, clocking that four miles each time we headed south and turning onto the side road. Then we drove north until the road reached a deadend.
“That did it! I’m going to stop at a house and ask! We should have done that a long time ago.”
We turned down a lane leading to a house and came to a stop. Howard could hear splashing water behind the house and called out, “Hello! Is someone there?”
The loud splash from the pool was followed by scurrying feet and a loud slam of a door. I suppose our car would frighten many people. A 1987 Cadillac Deville with dark tinted windows and Colorado plates would frighten many people living in secluded places.
“So much for that!” Howard said, returning to the car. “We’ll try another place.”
We drove slowly down the lane to the entrance of the side road. A car was parked at the entrance, and a man and a woman sat in the front seat.
“They weren’t here earlier,” I said.
“No, but I’m going to ask them a question.”
“They look creepy!” I suggested, the image of Bonnie and Clyde suddenly flashing before my eyes. I tried to stop him, but he was already on his way over there.
“Say, could I ask you a question?” Howard asked as he approached the car. “We’re looking for a cemetery.”
The occupants of the other car glanced at one another. No, they had no idea where it was. Never heard of it. I could see the man shaking his head and the woman taking drags from her cigarette.
“Well, thanks!” Howard said, as he returned to our car.
The man swiped his brow with his hand and shook his head laughing. The woman smiled and started the engine. Both of them were laughing. I described what I saw to Howard once he started our motor. He watched them through the rear view mirror as we headed down the side row and noticed they turned back toward Carthage.
“Mules!” he decided.
“Druggies looking for a pickup. Someone may have called them that we were in the area, or they saw us in town and followed us out here.”
“Well, it’s a wonder they didn’t shoot you when you walked over to their car!”
We returned to Carthage ourselves and clocked the four miles back to the entrance to the side road. Only this time, we turned left and drove south.
“I’ve got to stop and ask someone!” Howard said. “Otherwise, we’re going to be looking for this place all night.”
A woman emerged from the house with her telephone in hand. Yes, she knew about the cemetery. We couldn’t miss it. All we had to do was go past the large church they were building down the way, and the cemetery was just beyond that. Her dog followed her from the house, gritting his teeth. I don’t know what breed of dog he was, but he knew how to grit his teeth and glare at Howard’s leg. His nose was only inches away from it. Howard left the car door open on the driver’s side. The dog soon climbed into the car and sat on the driver’s side, gritting his teeth at me.
The woman called the dog by name. He climbed down out of the car and sat beside her, gritting his teeth at both of us. We thanked her and headed toward the church.
“She said it was just beyond there!” I reported.
Only we couldn’t find it again!
“That did it!” Howard exploded.
He pulled up into the church lot–one of those huge mega churches that were in the early stages of popularity. The leader or pastor or whatever he was knew exactly where that cemetery was located and exactly how to get up in there. We followed his instructions to a T and soon found ourselves entering the Fullerton Cemetery. Next problem? Finding the grave.
“Oh, my! Here we go again!” I said, wondering which area to search.
Fortunately, I saw a woman placing flowers on a nearby grave, so I headed toward her immediately.
“Have you seen any Hoppers in here?” I asked. “My great grandfather–Adniram Hopper–is buried in here. We drove all the way from Colorado to visit his grave.”
We started talking. I learned that she was a descendant of the Fullerton family–the cemetery now bearing her family name–and that her great odd-back grandmother was–
“–the first white woman in the territory!”
Just then, Howard’s voice rang out.
“ADRINON HOPPER! A-D-R-I–”
“Oh, he found it! Thank you so much!” I told the woman.
And I raced the short distance to the grave.
“What kind of a name is ADRINON?” Howard asked.
“Adniram!” I responded. “The stone carver must have been dyslexic!”
Yes, we found the cemetery. Yes, we found the grave. And then I encountered a mystery that still bothers me today.
A small paper cup sat at the base of the tombstone bearing the head of a yellow iris. I picked it up and turned it over in my hand. It had probably been there a week or longer. The water was gone, and the iris was very dry.
“Now, who put this here?” I asked.
Glancing around, I noticed Adniram had the only iris cup. The other graves were beginning to blossom with bouquets since Memorial Day was on the horizon.
“One of your relatives!” Howard said.
“None of my relatives would know about Adniram, let alone remember him. My mom remembers seeing him once. She said he had dark features and black hair–part Indian on his mother’s side of the family. Who would put this here?”
“Well, we need to get going. So you’d better take some pictures.”
I put the iris down before taking several pictures of the headstone. Howard took one of me posing behind it. Then we waved goodbye to the Fullerton descendant, jumped inside the car, slammed the door, and drove away.
“I’m glad that’s over!” Howard commented.
I grew quiet, thinking about our whole adventure. We headed down the road to Harrison, Arkansas after stopping next at Fidelity Cemetery. Howard’s mother lived in Harrison at the time, and we spent the night with her. The next morning, we headed out for Pennsylvania. I would have a story to tell my mother on our return trip to Colorado through Iowa later that summer.
I still think about that experience each spring when the yellow irises bloom in my yard. I remember that one lonely iris head in a paper cup on my great-grandfather’s grave. And I still wonder–