Local Historians Make Cemetery Come Alive

Those participating in the tour were lead by lantern through Willow Grove Cemetery like the old days. By Hannah Stepenoff.
Those participating in the tour were lead by lantern through Willow Grove Cemetery like the old days. By Hannah Stepenoff.

A fair share of spirits visited a local cemetery in Johnson County as part of a museum education program.


This is Ruth Holland Cook. She settled with her family in the Buffalo area in the late 1870s. She is just one of the many former Johnson County residents who were depicted by local historical enthusiasts at Willow Creek Cemetery.

Local Pepper Williams said she had a blast learning Cook's mannerisms from her living family in the area.

Cook made a perfect example of how tough life could be for a pioneer woman in the West, she said, as the woman dealt with flood, fire and the loss of her husband, all while keeping her head up.

The cemetery was alive with spirits like Cook last week, as the annual Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum Echoes of the Past Cemetery Tours began. The nightly re-enactment shows began on Wednesday and ran through Saturday. The week's spirits included Cook, a woman of the plains, a mountain man and three local Basque immigrants.

Francine Russell is in her fourth year as a performer for the event. She chose to depict a forgotten women of the plains who worked the oldest and hardest profession in the late 1800's. If women were not teachers in the old west, they could either get married or become prostitutes, she lamented in character.

She said at the end of the 19th century, there were 15 saloons in Buffalo that served a tiny population of 700. The Occidental Hotel and Saloon was considered to have a high end brothel, while the low end versions were called Hog Ranches.

Local Jean Urruty depicted his family member Martin Urruty, a basque man who came to Kaycee to become a sheepherder without knowing any English, and eventually came to own his own ranch.

There will be another set of performances to begin this Wednesday and run through Saturday. Tickets cost $25 and all funds go back in to the museum's education fund.

Next Week expect to see Vivianne Hess portrayed by Carla Faircloth, Christian Hepp portrayed by Steve Laird, Louise Richter portrayed by Kim Harvey, Margaret Thom portrayed by Cathy Swafford, Ella Bryant French lott portrayed by Marcie Scarlett and Martin Tisdale portrayed by Shane Scrader. (Note: Laird and Faircloth also performed on Wednesday and Thursday of last week)

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Willow Grove Cemetery at Night. Photo by Hannah Stepenoff.
Francine Russell Depicts a "Woman of the Plains." Photo by Hannah Stepenoff.
The actors talk with the audience after the walking tour. Photo by Hannah Stepenoff.
Chris Boggs who depicts a "Wandering Mountain Man" and Jean Urruty who depicts "Martin Urruty" talk to the audience. Photo by Hannah Stepenoff.
Russell who depicts "A Woman of the Plains, Kathy Camnio who depicts "Marie Urrizaga Cubiade" and Amy Pierson who depicts "Grace Irigaray" speak with the audience. Photo by Hannah Stepenoff.
Pepper Williams who depicts "Ruth Holland Cook" addresses the audience. Photo by Hannah Stepenoff.
Here is the full list of actors and who they portray. (Courtesy of the Jim Gatchell Museum).