SEVEN RIVERS CEMETERY

 A LOOK BACK

SUBMITTED BY ELAINE WATSON

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In February, with the pending completion of Brantley Dam that will soon Hood the flat lands along County Route 32. a federal study headed by anthropologist Bobbie Ferguson exhumed the 52 skeletons from the cemetery. The scientists studied the remains with the help of forensic experts, examined court records and newspaper clippings and, by the time the cemetery was relocated to a new site 15 miles north, had pieced together a picture of the brief life of Seven Rivers and the pioneers who had settled it.

"I was stunned," Ferguson said. "I had always assumed all those tales about the Wild West were exaggerated. But what I think it comes down to is that these peoples' lives were so hard, so full of physical labor, that there just wasn't much time for tenderness or care or warmth." Of the 15 men between the ages of 18 and 45 buried in Seven Rivers, 10 had died violently. There was Zach Light, a trouble-making cowhand from Texas, shot in the saloon owned by Sheriff Left Dow, his skull bearing a bullet hole just above the left eye; K.S. Keith, killed by one of the two Indian tribes in the region, Apaches or Comanches, who cut off his* right leg above the knee; William Johnson, his head blown off by his father-in-law's shotgun when he mentioned at the dinner table that he had fought for the Union side in the Civil War; a man about 30, who had lived more than a year with a knife blade embedded in his shoulder, and whose cause of death was listed as "buckshot in the chest area": and John Northern, for whom the Golden Era had predicted "a serene and happy life, cloudless, save with rare and roseate shadows" when he took a teen-age bride, Julia, just before Christmas in 1685. Less than two years later he, too, was dead, at the age of 27, shot in the saloon where he worked "In the West," wrote the English novelist Anthony Trollope in 1862, "I found men gloomy and silent I might almost say sullen. A dozen of them will set for hours round a stove, speechless. They chew tobacco and ruminate. They are not offended if you speak to them, but they are not pleased. They answer with monosyllables. ... They drink but are seldom drunk to the eye; they begin it early in the morning and take it in a solemn, sullen, ugly manner. standing always at a bar. ... They drink often and to great excess. ... I cannot part with the West without saying in its favor that there is a certain manliness about its men, which give them a dignity of their own. ...

It seems to me that no race of men requires less outward assistance than these pioneers of civilization." Surely that wasn't the stuff of Randolph Scott or of Louis L'Amour. But if life on the prairies was so miserable, how did we come to believe that it was a glamorous era of our past? Seven Rivers not with- standing, many historians believe violence in the Old West was not markedly higher than that in Eastern cities. Most also agree that Western cities today are far more dangerous than were Western towns of a century ago. Roger McGrath, a professor at the University of California at Lob Angeles, has studied violence in Western mining towns and concluded that one of wildest, Bodie, Calif, had a robbery rate comparable to Boston's in the late 1880s.

Using the FBI's crime statistics, he also found that Miami's burglary rate in 1980 was 25 times higher than Bodie's a century earlier, that the theft rate in the United States as a whole is 17 times higher today than it was in Bodie. He did not find a single instance of rape in the towns he studied and juvenile offenses were seldom more serious than the use of obscene language. "Yes, there was a high homicide rate in the Old West, but the killing was usually between willing combatants," McGrath said.

This article appeared it is believed in the EL Paso Times Date unknown

Submitter Note:

The name K. S. Keith should be W. S. Keith.
 
Wilson S. Keith was born June 25, 1849  and was killed August 28, 1873 by Indians while on a cattle drive near the Pecos River.
Wilson S. Keith was the son of James Harvey Keith and Nancy O'Neal.
He was the grandson of Stephen Keith and Rebecca Crane.

 

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