My great grandfather, Cornelius Byer was a kind and a fair man. He was generous and honest. It was these qualities that earned him the respect of the Indian tribes in the Gordon, Nebraska area. Great Grandpa passed away on October 23, 1930, but the celebration of life, really began before the day of the funeral, and even before he passed away. Over the years of his life, my great grandfather became a great friend of the Indians. He was invited to their pow wows, he was asked his opinions on things…and they listened when he spoke. He was helpful to the Indian tribes, and they, in turn treated him with great respect.
The Indians would often show up at his home…something that would most likely panic most people. Most often the women and children would stay outside, while the men went in to visit with Great Grandpa. It was another show of respect. The Indians often camped near the house when the men were visiting. I’m sure it was a very interesting lifestyle for my grandmother.
While all that was interesting, probably the most interesting thing happened as Great Grandpa was dying and after his passing. When he lay dying, the Indians came…long lines of them. Each one, including the women and children, passed by his bed. They spoke words of respect and admiration. I’m sure it took hours, but none were turned away. Great Grandma knew how much they loved him, and how much they needed to say goodbye. I would love to have had the chance to see that scene. These were two groups of people who normally didn’t get along, and yet they showed so much love and respect for one another. There was no warring with, no stealing from, no depriving of one another. There was simply love and respect. I’m sure it made my Great Grandmother Edna (Fishburn) Byer and their children feel very safe over the years.
My grandfather, George Byer arrived at the homestead on October 20, 1930. My grandmother, Hattie Byer stayed home with their newborn daughter, Virginia, who was just 4 months old at the time. Grandpa brought almost 2 year old Evelyn with him. His letter at the time said that all the children were there, or soon would be. Three days later, Great Grandpa Cornelius Byer passed away. I’m so glad my grandpa got to see his dad before he passed. When it was time to have the funeral, they would have to travel into Gordon, Nebraska. We would never think of transporting our own loved one to the funeral, but those were different times. Nevertheless, the Indians would not leave their dear friend to go alone. With the casket in a wagon, and his son driving, Great Grandpa went to his funeral. Little Evelyn sat in the back of the wagon, wide-eyed in wonder as a long line of Indians followed the procession to the cemetery. In death, as in life, their respect for this man, who was my great grandfather, was on display. I can’t think of a greater honor than this. Cornelius Byer was truly loved and respected by all who knew him.
As we have traveled through six states in ten days, we have not only been connecting with family members, previously known and those previously unknown to us, but we have been somewhat following in the footsteps of our ancestors. Our travels have taken us to several of the places that our ancestors lived and died. Some graves have been easy to find, and some not so much. I think it is sad that more of the records have not been put into sites like findagrave.com, and I think I will set myself to the task of putting as many in as I can, so that more of my family members can find the graves of their ancestors, should they decide they would like to do that. The graves that had been listed and included the plot and block numbers, were so easy to find. Such was the case with my dad’s parents’ graves. We thought it was going to be hard to find them, even though Mom thought she knew where they were, and was actually very close, but in the end, Find A Grave told us exactly where it was, and we found it easily.
Our trek then took us to Webster City, Iowa, where my great great grandfather, Allen Spenser was buried. We aren’t sure why his stone spells Spencer with “s” or if that was simply an error that was made when the stone was placed, but it was definitely the wrong spelling, since his wife, Lydia’s stone in Oklahoma is spelled Spencer. This grave was a surprising find in that while I had seen a picture of the stone, from when my Uncle Bill made the trip, I had no block or plot number. We started into the cemetery, and I remembered that the picture showed a building in the background. I saw a building and a hillside, and decided to take a little walk. I didn’t have to go very far before I found what I was looking for, Allen Spenser’s grave. The odd thing was that while the stone was standing up when Uncle Bill was there, it was laying down when I was there, and while the picture taken by someone else years earlier had an old house in it, Uncle Bill’s picture had none. Think what you would like, I personally think it was God’s guiding that found that grave at the first place we stopped to look.
The next memorial we found was the United Airlines Flight 232 Crash Memorial, and while it was not a grave, I must say it was beautiful. My Great Aunt Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed in that crash, and since we were going right by there, I wanted to stop at the memorial the people of Sioux City put up in honor of the victims and the brave people who saved as many lives as possible. That memorial had a deep impact on me. Aunt Gladys’ tragic death was something that I felt deeply, because I had always loved her very much. To find a place that was dedicated to her memory was so heartwarming. It felt like a place of peace and reverence. No, the victims aren’t buried there, but they are remembered there, and it is a beautiful, well maintained place to remember them…and one I’ll never forget.
We stopped in Gordon, Nebraska and were again guided by Mom’s memory and a picture of the stone. Before long, we were at my mom’s grandfather, Cornelius George Byer’s grave. The record I had also showed his dad buried there in Gordon, but we could not find that one, even with the directory, so the records I had found could be wrong. I really wished that we could have found that one too, because it would have cleared up some possible errors in the spelling of the Byer name too, but I guess that one will be a story for another day and another trek.