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  • Ancestors dig for skeletal remains near Nephi City Cemetery


DIGGING FOR RELATIVES • Bill Rust, standing left, Cleve Winkle, in the hole, have been digging west of Nephi City Cemetery for remains of their ancestors that were buried outside of the cemetery. Their wives stay out of the sun and give moral support.
By Myrna Trauntvein
Times-News Correspondent

Several days have been spent by ancestors of William Luke Sr. near the boundaries of the Nephi City Cemetery as they dug for skeletons of that man and two others believed to be buried with him.

"As you probably know, we were not successful in finding the burial site of our ancestor, William Luke Sr.," said Cleve Winkel, following the second excavation attempt.

Winkel, Vera Winkel, Bill Rust and Barbara Robinson have been looking for the remains of the three men outside the boundaries of the cemetery because the men may have been kept out of the cemetery proper since they had not followed ecclesiastical advice.

"Our interest is now focused on the western edge of the cemetery from the south side of 400 North to the north cemetery boundary," he said. "This is based on the possibility that in 1853, the north west corner was set correctly so 400 North Street was the northern cemetery boundary instead of 450 North Street."

In a report made by the Winkels, Rust and Robinson for the ancestors of Luke, the story of the burials began in Nephi in 1853.

A series of events lead to Luke, James Nelson, William Earl Reid and Thomas Clark dying at the hands of Native Americans.

"It started near Springville when a white man tried to defend a squaw being beaten by her (Native American) Indian husband," said Winkel.

The Native American died after being hit on the head by his own gun. Reprisals by Chief Walker's braves started in early July. During the fall of that year, the Walker War, as it had become known, was continuing.

"A group of settlers in Manti made travel plans to Salt Lake City to deliver wheat, to attend October Church Conference and for William Luke to greet his three sons and new daughter-in-law arriving in Salt Lake City from Manchester, England," he said.

They planned to leave Oct. 1, but did not have the horses to pull the more than 12 needed wagons. They used four oxen to pull two wagons full of sacked wheat. The oxen, of course, were slower.

While the group of travelers knew they needed to travel together to defend themselves, especially as they traveled Salt Creek Canyon, it was decided that four men would start one day early with the two ox teams. They would camp at Chester and wait for the main company to join them.

The four men and two wagons must have reached Chester in good time and then must have determined to travel to Uintah Springs. It was there the Native Americans attacked and the four men died, likely near dawn, Oct. 1st.

"Later, the shaken Manti caravan carried only three bodies on to Nephi because Thomas Clark's body was not discovered until later under a pile of wheat," said Winkel.

Winkel said that Gus Henroid, an early Nephi settler wrote much about the early settlement and described the area. Those writings have been helpful.

"After traveling 40 miles, which included a horrifying stop to make room and load three badly mutilated bodies, the tired visitors from Manti likely camped next to their wagons just outside the crowded Nephi fort with plans to bury the victims the next day," Winkel said.

Major George W. Bradley, meanwhile, decided he should question a group of Native Americans camped nearby about the killings. He made a report of his interaction with them to D. H. Wells, General. Because the Indians tried to fight, several were killed and one white man was wounded.

The travelers were probably shown or told where the cemetery was and traveled to the northeast through the sage brush, crossed through Salt Creek and after over one-half mile, reached the southwestern corner of the now 4.5 acre square cemetery.

The streets had been surveyed two years earlier but the stakes may not have extended that far from the town center.

"Zelda Morely Luke (now 95-years old), great granddaughter of Isaac Morely and wife of Theron Luke (now deceased), said her family has always claimed that Isaac Morely was so upset because the four men had disobeyed that they were to be punished by being buried outside the cemetery."

Winkel said that an effort to learn how the boundaries of the cemetery were marked or even changed over time had not been successful.

"The present-day cemetery is offset by about 170 feet to the north probably because early graves were placed too far north before the east-west roads were established," he said.

He said that Rosella Luke Anderson (now 95 years old), family genealogist, teacher and historian, heard from an older family member that the burial site was outside the cemetery in a northwest or southwest direction.

"She has also said that it is now a housing development," he said.

Winkel said that Phillip Baker, city parks and cemeteries superintendent, had reported hearing a story about human remains being found when some Hispanic workers were digging a trench for a water main near the cemetery.

Approximately 10 people have now been interviewed. None were eyewitnesses, he said. These people believed that the bones, all human, were returned to the trench when work was completed.

The incident was reported as occurring between 1944 and 1947.

He said city council minutes do state that 20 Hispanics were hired in April 1944 and were hand digging.

Unfortunately, records of the early cemetery were lost in a fire and so the oldest burial entry is 1856.

The geology department of Brigham Young University has ground penetrating radar equipment but they thought that it wasn't likely they could identify the graves because the trench digging went through the bone site which has been constantly compressed by vehicles.

Baker and his assistant, David Miller, have 20-years experience using 'divining" rods and helped by using that method.

"They did find three grave size 'signal' areas," he said.

The northwest site did seem to be a possibility, said Winkel. It fit the claim of Zelda Morely Luke and Rosella Luke Anderson.

The southwest site was low, did not drain well and bone preservation, according to Kevin Jones, state archeologist, would have been adversely affected.

"It was decided that the northwest site was worth examining by ground penetrating radar," he said.

A one-man company owned by Mark Gramlich called, "Earthview Technology," Salt Lake City, examined the area on April 29.

Radar waves penetrated the ground to a 6-feet depth.

"When it passed over the northwest site a 'general disturbance' was found that fit the seven-foot square painting marks of Baker and Miller."

The southwest site only showed pipe, the northwest found two single possibilities. Another possible site was found 32-feet north of the first site where there were three possible graves.

"Our judgment was that the three bodies did not have caskets or wrappings of any kind because of lack of time, wood and cloth and, or course, were among the oldest (152.2 years)," said Winkel.

In both of the digging sites selected, he said, at a depth of about five-feet, a hard pan of gravel was reached which was hard to penetrate.

"The next area of greatest interest would probably be a 20-foot strip of grass inside the west edge of the cemetery from the southern edge of 400 North Street where it meets the cemetery all the way to the north boundary of the cemetery," he said.

"All involved were disappointed (that nothing was found at the two digging sites) as were interested passers-by," he said.

However, Winkel said, they did appreciate the help of city staff and city crews in assisting with the effort to locate the bones of Luke.

Blair Painter, city recorder, he said, showed the family the plot map of the city lower cemetery and stated that most city records only go back to just before the 1900s.

Randy McKnight, city manager, said Winkel, had given support of city crews with the understanding that, if digging was done, the family would pay the cost.