The Trip to Crawfordsville

    “The Trip to Crawfordsville,” Ensign, Dec. 1990, 38

    The Trip to Crawfordsville

    In the summertime, Crawfordsville, Indiana, looks like any other town in the Midwest. Its roots reach back to the early nineteenth century, when bold frontiersmen pushed America’s borders of civilization west. The early-American feel is still there—old buildings compete for attention with new, and friends and neighbors still greet one another as they pass on the sidewalk. In 1982 my wife, Julie, and I visited this, her hometown, as part of a two-day side trip to do family history research during our move from Florida to our new home in Utah.

    Julie’s Uncle Bob acted as our tour guide and chauffeur, taking us for a drive through the remote areas of Montgomery County surrounding Crawfordsville. We hung on every word Uncle Bob said about the ancestors he had known as a boy. The names he mentioned were practically legends to us. Many had lived through great historical events.

    As we drove farther into the country, Uncle Bob told us that we were nearing the cemetery where “old” Uncle Charlie Stout was buried. “Charles Stout,” we muttered, straining our memories for a clue to our relationship. Uncle Bob helped us. “Charlie is Julie’s great-grandfather’s brother,” he said. “He was caretaker at the cemetery when I was a boy, and once I helped him dig a grave out there.”

    Uncle Bob’s foot eased off the gas pedal as he scanned the scenery for a familiar landmark to help him locate the entrance to the old burial grounds.

    I was filled with anticipation as we neared the cemetery. It had been only thirteen months since the missionaries had taught us the gospel in Florida. Now, as excited converts to the Church, we were eager to compile our family history so that our ancestors could receive the blessings of the temple. Perhaps today we would find a carving on some long-forgotten tombstone that would reveal more of our Stout family’s past.

    “Here it is!” shouted Uncle Bob as he maneuvered the car into the parking lot of an old church. Our eyes zeroed in on the open gates leading to the one-lane road that wound through the chapel’s cemetery. We wondered what secrets awaited us there.

    Uncle Bob eased the car through the rusty gates. We gawked at row upon row of crooked, weather-worn, and sometimes broken tombstones on both sides of the road. Others may have seen this cemetery as the dreary remains of a long forgotten, irrelevant time, but to us it was a historic gold mine just waiting for us to find its treasures.

    What a marvelous place to be buried! I thought to myself. The leaves on the huge limbs of the trees throughout the cemetery provided welcome shelter from the hot Indiana sun and created a beautiful setting. And the view of the Indiana countryside there was spectacular from the small hill where the older section of the cemetery was located.

    “I think Uncle Charlie is buried somewhere along the left side of this road,” Uncle Bob said.

    I was sitting in the backseat behind Uncle Bob. I immediately pressed my face to the window, speed-reading the names on each stone as we crept along, searching carefully for one that read “Stout.”

    We were running out of road. Our path branched out a few yards ahead, forming a giant Y. I searched faster, able to read all the tombstones before we passed them by. Suddenly, my attention focused on a small, rounded stone. Adrenaline began to pump in anticipation, but I didn’t say anything until I was sure of what I saw. The pebbles beneath our tires popped as we crept closer.

    “There’s a Stout!” I shouted as soon as I confirmed my initial sighting.

    “Is it Charlie?” asked Uncle Bob, applying the brakes.

    “No, it’s another one, but there are more on either side!”

    We climbed out of the car and ran to the markers.

    “Dan Y. Stout, Cora J. Stout,” I read aloud, “and this must be a son.”

    “Don’t know who they were,” Bob muttered.

    Julie went back to the car for paper and a pen. Even though we didn’t know how these people were related to us, we thought perhaps one day we could piece the puzzle together.

    As Julie began to write down the names and dates from the tombstones, I wandered farther down the road and off to the left branch of the Y. Surely, Charlie’s grave couldn’t be far off.

    “Here’s another Stout … and two more!” I shouted. We had struck it rich! But the questions remained: Who were these people, and how were we related to them?

    Uncle Bob joined me. He was shocked. “I had no idea all these Stouts were here.”

    “Here’s an interesting marker,” I pointed out. It was a single stone which had the surface divided in half by a single carved line. To the right of the line was the name of the husband, “Harry T. Stout, 1879–1948.” To the left of the line was the name of the wife, “Anna Beam Stout, 1884– .” A vase of flowers, long since dead, had been placed near the marker.

    “Hey, I knew Anna Stout when I was a boy,” said Uncle Bob. “We called her Aunt Anna, although she was really a cousin of some sort.”

    “Is it possible that Anna could still be alive, or do you think her death date was just never filled in?” I asked Bob.

    “She could still be alive, I suppose, but I don’t know.”

    By now, Julie had come over to see what was so interesting.

    “If this lady is still alive,” Julie said, “she’d be ninety-eight years old. If she’s still sharp, perhaps she could tie all this together for us.”

    It certainly was an idealist’s imagining. However, since we had only one day left in Crawfordsville, it didn’t seem wise to try to find her. After all, she could be anywhere.

    We moved on, stone after stone, Stout after Stout, until finally we had located the last of the Stout family markers on the left branch of the road. Julie continued to write down all the information from the markers. I crossed the narrow road to an area above the Y in the road.

    “Perhaps there are more Stouts here,” I thought, as I wandered through the aging monuments. But I did not find more—perhaps we had found them all. Then a thought struck me. I remembered seeing an older section of the cemetery directly in back of the church. Could Charlie Stout be buried there?

    I shouted back across the street to Julie and Uncle Bob that I was going back to the area behind the church.

    The markers in this section were more worn than the other stones. Many—long forgotten—had been broken in two by harsh winters. Some stones lay broken into large pieces, faceup but sunken into the ground. Others were in one piece but were twisted where they stood, and still others were sunken to the point that part of the markings were below the ground. I realized that reading information off these monuments would be very difficult. I wandered around as Julie and Uncle Bob finished their note-taking in the area below and went back to the car.

    “Let’s go,” Uncle Bob shouted to me as he brought the car back up onto the main section of the one-lane road that led back to the rusty gates.

    “Hold on just a minute,” I yelled back. “I don’t think we’ve got it all yet.”

    The family waited patiently as I continued to hunt. Within thirty seconds, I saw a weather-worn stone with “Stout 1798” carved across the top. Two more stones with the Stout name on them were right next to it. My shout brought Julie and Uncle Bob running, abandoning the car in the middle of the narrow road.

    “This is really something,” exclaimed Uncle Bob.

    We ran our fingers across the faces of the old markers as we struggled to decipher the markings. Julie went back to work recording names and dates. When she had finished, we split up, all of us filled with an urgent sense of anticipation.

    Near the rear wall of the church, Julie made the next discovery—a group of five Stout headstones. One was dated 1764 and read “Lydia, wife of J. M. Stout.” Several other stones were in such bad shape that we had to pick them up off the ground and hold them up to the sun so that shadows would form in the depressions to make the worn letters legible.

    Uncle Bob shook his head. “You know, Uncle Charlie always used to say, ‘Nobody cares about this place.’ I never knew what he meant until now. When Charlie died, he left all his money for the care of this cemetery. The family thought he was crazy, but now it finally all makes sense.”

    Uncle Bob paused for a moment and glanced down the hill. “Oh, I’ve got to move the car. I’m blocking somebody.” Julie and I chatted for a moment as we took another look at an old stone.

    A shout from below interrupted our conversation. “Come down here! There’s someone I want you to meet!”

    We went down the hillside. Uncle Bob introduced us to the passenger in the car that ours had been blocking. “This is Aunt Anna,” he said. We stared in utter disbelief.

    Aunt Anna was somewhat hard of hearing but obviously still sharp of mind. Her daughter, Margaret, had driven her to the cemetery to remove the vase of flowers she had placed on her husband’s grave on Memorial Day—seven weeks earlier. I was convinced that the Lord’s hand was involved in this meeting.

    As we moved from the road to the shade of the nearby trees, Aunt Anna recited Julie’s lineage from her Grandmother Mary back to the first Stout to enter the great frontier of the Midwest, Jacomiah Stout. We soon learned that Lydia Stout, whose grave we had discovered a few minutes earlier, was Julie’s fourth great-grandmother. We never did locate Uncle Charlie’s grave, but in those few minutes, Julie’s lineage had been identified back three generations.

    Aunt Anna, who had actively researched the Stout line until twenty-five years before, invited us to her home the following day to see photographs of the Stout family. However, before leaving this moment of moments behind forever, we all posed for a picture of us smiling before the picturesque background of the Indiana countryside, just yards from the two cars fatefully blocking each other on the one-lane road.

    We wondered later if this wonderful lady (who died shortly afterward) had lived so long just to be there that incredible afternoon. Our testimonies grew immensely as a result of that marvelous experience—and so did our family history.

    Illustrated by Larry Winborg