"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Infant graves--the hard life in Indian Territory

I stopped counting the infant graves, as I wandered through the Oakwood Cemetery on east 15th street near Arcadia Lake yesterday. There were so many.

I don't know why I'm drawn to cemeteries, except there are so many stories there, and perhaps somber realization that someday I'll visit one permanently.

But after photographing the Civil War veteran's grave, and seeing an infant's tombstone near by, I kept walking, and kept seeing small red bricks with infant names on them, and some without a name. That next tombstone was the oldest with a date, 1892, of an infant boy named Loid, the same year Central Normal School for teaching teachers was founded on a treeless prairie less than 10 miles miles northwest.

A darling baby daughter
There were others too of one year olds, and darling daughters. Most were undated, but the other early graves made it likely they were before statehood. Many have little lambs curled up on top of the stones,or doves carved into stone, eroded by time like the letter on the stones.

A few months old son
They may be gone and forgotten, but they're monuments to the grief and hard times the first settlers of Indian Territory endured to stay here. No air conditioning in brutal heat. No heating other than a wood stove. No running water. Manual labor. And the hard times that killed mothers in childbirth and children as infants or only a few months old.
At Oakwood, there are new graves, up into the 1990s at least. A central display shows all the plots and available names is near an American flag. The grass is recently been mowed. Someone is attempting to care for this small plot of history. There are phone numbers to call. They've updated the infant graves and marked them the best they can after all these years.

A lonely Civil War vet's long shadow
Another Civil War vet's grave stands at a tilt, lonely. I can make out that he was from Iowa, but that is about it. Then there are the decorated graves of what I think must have been related, an eight-year-old girl who died in 1943, and a five-month old boy in 1940, linked with gravel and trinkets and other offerings. Nearby, you can sit on a broken marble bench and stare down at an eroded stone almost covered with grass, the name illegible. Flowers and more decorate the shrines.

Double heartbreak...two graves of a boy and girl
The old stones, the pillars and crosses and different shapes that catch my attention most. Unlike most modern gravestones that are boring in their uniformity, the old ones have so much individuality and tell stories of grief and love and hope eternal, read in the simple words, "Infant." 

Come and sit a spell and ponder mortality, and eternity
I think these people were much more in touch with life than we, because they were so much in touch with death, while we try to isolate ourselves from it.
The old stones...stories of hard lives and faith, and so much individuality

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