Stories bring the past to life at cemetery tour


Tecumseh resident and local historian Bob Elliott to present cemetery tours July 20. Submitted Photo

Cemeteries are often a place of mystery, filled with gravestones that mark the life and death timelines of long-ago residents that are forgotten as their descendants eventually succumb to mortality. But in Tecumseh’s Brookside Cemetery, many of the names on those markers made of stone are remembered and their stories are shared, thanks to local historian Bob Elliott.

Elliott, a board member of the Tecumseh Area Historical Society, has made it his business to learn about those who made Tecumseh their home and who left their own contributions to the history of the city. Last year he published “Tecumseh’s Hometown Heroes,” a book highlighting the heroism of local military members from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War, but most people know him as the man who has for years dedicated himself to leading groups of students and adults on tours of the cemetery. On Saturday, July 20, he and historian Ray Lennard will bring the stories of the dead to life with tours of the cemetery as part of Tecumseh’s Bicentennial Celebration happening July 18-21.

“There are some great stories in there. They’re all pretty moving,” said Elliott. One of the stories is that of an escaped slave, Patrick Blair, who fought for his freedom during the Civil War. Elliott’s friend, Xavier Allen, will portray Blair during the cemetery tours.

Blair served in the 42nd United States Colored Infantry during the war after escaping from his life as a slave in Virginia. He died in 1912 and is buried at the front of the cemetery near the Civil War monument that Elliott worked to raised funds for and restore several years ago.

“He ended up right in Tecumseh after the war as a farmer,” Elliott said, noting that abolitionist Frederick Douglass had told President Abraham Lincoln that slaves should be given the opportunity to fight for their freedom. “There’s twenty-five soldiers that won a Medal of Honor in the Civil War.”

Another important person laid to rest at Brookside is Civil War nurse Elizabeth Marion Bannister, who was one of only two nurses from the state who received a pension for her services during the war. “What nurses did was keep wounds clean, writing letters for soldiers to their parents and wives. It was a very difficult time,” he said. “There were 50,000 casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg.” He told of a nurse who came to a soldiers’ reunion after the war and received a standing ovation from all of those in attendance in recognition of her service. Bannister is also buried near the Civil War monument. Elliott’s sister-in-law, Jill Elliott, will portray Bannister.

Dr. Amy Hammond will portray Abi Evans, the wife of Musgrove Evans and one of the original settlers of Tecumseh. Evans was born in the 1700s and died in 1832 at the age of 41. “Local settler Francis Dewey said that when Abi died it was like the town had lost their own mother. They were so sad. They lived in a little bark hut in early days, and she helped early settlers. She came to town with six children, and she loses two of them,” said Elliott. The Evans’ daughter, Pamela, likely died of malaria, and their son, Charlie, drowned in the River Raisin. Their seventh son, James Spafford Evans, the first white child born in Tecumseh in 1828, went on to become a general in the Civil War, a Texas Ranger, the mayor of Stockton, Calif., and a state representative, among other notable successes. He returned to Tecumseh in 1871 to visit his mother’s grave, according to Elliott.

He said he will give some history of early settlers, and some of the stories will focus on the heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg as well as the 32nd Division in World War I. “The guys that actually broke the lines in World War I were guys from Michigan, guys from Tecumseh, and a lot of them were killed. That’s an epic story to be told,” he said.

One Civil War soldier of the Tecumseh Volunteers was captured at Gettysburg and became a prisoner of war. He will be portrayed by Nathan Ewing. “That’s a sad story. His dad goes down and gets him back home on Christmas Day of 1863 and he comes back to Tecumseh and dies six days later,” said Elliott. “It says right on his headstone, ‘Captured, Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.’ At the bottom it says, ‘Died as a victim of Rebel cruelty.’”

Faron Anderson, the son of a wealthy Tecumseh businessman, wanted to join the Civil War like all the other young men who were going off to fight. “His dad paid another guy to go in his son’s spot. You could do that in the day,” Elliott said. “Faron finally ends up running away and joining the 2nd Michigan and gets shot in the hip at the battle of Petersburg in 1864, and slowly bleeds to death. His letters are epic, writing home to his brother, ‘Don’t enlist. You should know when you’re well off.’” Elliott will read some of the letters during the tours.

Another Tecumseh soldier wrote to the elder Anderson to tell him about his son being shot and that he was with him the night he died. “I buried his body at a plantation down here in Virginia. I’ve drawn a map,” the soldier wrote. He wrote that he made a wooden grave marker out of an old headboard, “… if you want to come down and bring your son’s body back to Tecumseh.” The father traveled south to collect his son’s body and brought him back to be buried at Brookside Cemetery.

The tours will give a view into the early years of Tecumseh and those who made their mark on the community. “A lot of it’s just going to be us telling the stories of some of Tecumseh’s finest,” said Elliott.


Tecumseh Herald


110 E. Logan St.
P.O. Box 218
Tecumseh, MI 49286

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