Sunday, October 19, 2014

Where the Grass is Green

Fairbury Cemetery
Prairie View From Fairbury Cemetery
Green Grass of a Peaceful Setting
Common Grave
Finding the Graves
Recording the Story
Finding My Granduncle Cob
East Station at Rock Creek
On the Trail of a Story
Clipped green grass covers the graves of my 4th-great grandaunt and 4th-great granduncle in Fairbury, Nebraska. The setting sun reflects colorful shafts of light, illuminating the long shadows of trees and gravestones. It's peaceful as a Victorian park; a proper resting ground for a couple who endured the best and worst of times in their decade of marriage.

The sun shone down with gladdening rays/ Sweet breezes fanned its groves/ and cheerful birds beguiled the days/ In gleeful songs of love. ~ Jas. McC.

Who knows where the grass is greener? Ask a horse or a heifer and they'll tell you it tastes sweetest beyond the fence. Ask a man with an itch to seek a better life or more excitement and he'll tell you it's greener out west. Ask a wife betrayed and she might remain as tight-lipped as the mistress, but with eyes red-rimmed from crying.

I'll see the forest like a dove/ And weep there for his sake,/ And wail my disappointed love/ Until this heart will break. ~ Jas. McC.

Having traveled from Idaho to Nebraska to find this resting spot, I look at the grave of Mary Green McCanles Hughes and read what is omitted from etched granite. Her stone renounces all her surnames. She was born a Green in the Blue Ridge region of western North Carolina. At the age of 17 she married D. C. McCanles and before she was 30 she was a widow on the tumultuous prairie with five children to raise. She married John Hughes a few years later, had a daughter and then divorced him.

Her granite gravestone reads simply, Mary.

Yet, telling beyond her name is that she still felt connected to the North Carolinian man she loved and married as a mountain girl. Despite the betrayal, the stunning death, the Awful War, the tribulations of pioneer homesteading, she still lay claim in death to her position: wife of D. C. McCanles.

May some kind Seraph on his flight/ Light on our earthly plain, In rapturous love our souls unite,/ And bring past joys again. ~ Jas. McC.
Mary's grave settles into the lawn next to her husband's. If you didn't know the story, it might be odd to see a single gravestone etched with the names of two men: D.C. McCanles and James Woods July 12, 1861. That's it. No claim to fame such as, "First man shot and killed by Wild Bill Hickok" or "Notorious Gang" or "Cheats on wife and gets shot."

 But woe to her that stabbed my peace,/ And crushed my youthful joy,/ My sorrow and my tears increase/ And my fond hopes destroy. ~ Jas. McC.

I'm going to tell you the story...but not today. It's an historical work of fiction called, Rock Creek. And I'm writing it from Elmira Pond after years of tinkering with research out of curiosity. Both Mary and D. C. McCanles are related to me through both my Green and McCanles lines so I've known about the incident for a while. It was through writing flash fiction that I began to see a story emerge.

My big questions revolve around greener pastures. Why did D. C. have an affair? Why did he leave North Carolina? Why settle at Rock Creek? Why did Mary follow? To understand D. C. and his women is to better understand why D. C. and Hickok came to violence.

Where the grass is greenest is where the story holds its enigma, waiting to be explored and understood.

NOTE: Verses are excerpts from poetry by my 5th-greatgrandfather, James McCanles. He was the father of D. C. whom I call Cob in my WIP. Cob is a family nickname, short for his middle name Colbert. The poetry is from my own personal collection, a gift from my Grandfather Sonny, along with his research and notes about the 1861 incident. Photos are from my recent trip to Nebraska. Thanks to my research companions for finding and documenting these graves with me.

No comments:

Post a Comment