INFORUM.com | WDAZ.com

WDAY: The News Leader

Published July 01, 2013, 08:52 AM

Ranchers convince Mercer County to move road over graves

GOLDEN VALLEY, N.D. (AP) — Upgrading a gravel road in western North Dakota's Mercer County will also mean moving it away from the unmarked graves of homesteaders.

GOLDEN VALLEY, N.D. (AP) — Upgrading a gravel road in western North Dakota's Mercer County will also mean moving it away from the unmarked graves of homesteaders.

The County Commission on Tuesday likely is to approve a change to a $900,000 contract it awarded in the spring for the road project, The Bismarck Tribune reported. Not only will the 4-mile stretch of road be widened, flattened and straightened as planned, it likely will also curve to bypass the burial ground.

County engineer Steve Mamer said he has acquired verbal agreements from two landowners to move the road slightly south to avoid the burial sites.

"I got everything all straightened out," he said.

The move comes at the request of ranch families in the Golden Valley area who felt the buried homesteaders were being disrespected. They even erected a sign saying. "You are now driving on unmarked graves."

"I don't know of a cemetery that's driven on except for this one," rancher Gary Gierke said.

The ranchers named the unmarked burial area "Johannes Gemeinde," for the old-time German Lutheran group that met in nearby schoolhouses.

The graves — under the road and on a hillside outside a small fenced cemetery — have been general knowledge for years, but no one knew for certain how many there were or where they were located since markers have disappeared over the past century.

Ranchers turned to a local woman, Peggy Wolff, who has long witched for water and in recent years has worked with dowsing for graves. Some people believe the method works, while others discount it as nonsense.

Wolff said she found nearly 200 graves, and with the help of local ranch families, flagged each spot. Soon, a familiar burial pattern emerged in the grass: Row upon row of burials, possibly once marked with a wooden cross, but no longer detectable except by the mysterious reaction of copper wire to human remains in the hands of someone supposedly sensitive to the pull.

Gierke said he was skeptical of Wolff's findings, but bones uncovered in the area have made him a believer.

Commissioner Wayne Entze said had there been only a few graves, the county would have moved them.

"But there's too many and it would have been cost-prohibitive to do that," Entze said. "We'll try to do our best and try to go around that so we won't even touch that area."

Gierke said he thinks this is the last chance to move the road, because later generations might not know about the graves or even care.

"If they (county officials) do what they say they're going to, we'll have the peace of mind that we're not driving over them anymore and their resting place is secured forever," he said.

Tags: