MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - Learning history is like reading a detective story--pretty soon you can't put it down. But history offers no final chapter where everything is explained. With history, the surprises just keep coming.
For example, I learned about one contentious burial here in my own community at the end of the nineteenth century that at first seemed a simple case of racism. In 1869, the Estes family migrated from North Carolina to McDowell Creek, where they helped to found the Briggs community.
They brought an African-American household servant and her daughter with them. The daughter grew up, married a soldier from the fort, and moved to New York, but the mother -- Delilah Estes, or "Lila," as she was known -- stayed with the family until her death in the 1890s. Joe Estes wanted Lila buried in the Briggs Cemetery, but the township board refused.
A fellow North Carolinian named Maxwell Ramsour -- who had provided the land for the cemetery in the first place -- contacted Joe and offered to bury Delilah on his own land. Ramsour's property adjoined the cemetery, and he dug a grave just outside the cemetery fence. That's where Delilah Estes was laid to rest. This solution did not soothe Joe's anger, however, and he immediately changed his own burial plans. "If Briggs Cemetery is too good for a Christian woman like Lila, then it's too good for me," he is reputed to have said. Indeed, when his own time came, he was buried in Fairview Cemetery, not Briggs Cemetery.