Volume III, No. 1, Fall 1975
Cemeteries, a very common sight in the Ozarks, often slip by with the landscape as we drive by without us giving them a second glance. Many consider a cemetery only an emblem of death, something they want no part of, feeling that cemeteries are of no value to anyone but a corpse. But those of us who choose to accept them in a more realistic manner find them interesting and intriguing, as well as beautiful and overwhelmingly peaceful.
Cemeteries are not a place of the dead, but rather an emblem of the fulfillment of life, since death is the perfectly natural end of life. The dead do not need the markers, for only the living care about dates of birth and death, inscriptions and favorite objects. Because of this, cemeteries are a valuable link into the past, a place for living memories and philosophic thoughts.
Like most other things, cemeteries, too are changing. Gravestones used to be wooden boards, then changed to cement slabs which stood upright out of the ground at the head of the grave with a smaller footstone placed at the foot. In some cemeteries the markers lie flat on the ground now, instead of standing upright, because it is easier to mow around them. Often graves had fences around them, and family plots were sometimes bordered with a cement curb. The foot-markers were sometimes used as headstones on the graves of babies and small children. The size of the headstone often corresponded with the size or importance of the person buried under it.
Many gravestones were inscribed with sayings like, "Gone but not forgotten," or "Traded a cross for a crown." Gravestones were sometimes decorated to reflect something about the person. One grave we observed was adorned with sea shells. The woman whose grave this stone marked was a collector of sea shells and these shells were part of her collection. Another stone had musical notes inscribed on it. These notes were from a stanza of a song which had been a favorite of the musically talented girl who occupied the grave.
There are numerous graves that are not in marked cemeteries. They can be found right along the roadside. A few large rocks placed together could be the graves of early frontier pioneers who by chance became infected with smallpox, a killer at that time, and survivors buried their dead alongside the trail with only rocks as markers.
Today gravestones are not as personal as they used to be. There are no inscriptions or decorations to reflect upon the person under it--just names and dates. It seems that mass-production has even touched the cemeteries as the stones are becoming more and more alike.
To walk through an old cemetery and just observe the markers and read the inscriptions imprinted on them is an intriguing experience in itself, but to research different graves and to listen to persons who have lived in the area for many years tell the stories behind some of the graves is fascinating.
Cemeteries hold people who have died in every possible way--sickness, old age, accidents, and those who have been helped into the grave unnaturally by murder and execution.
In the Lebanon City Cemetery there is a grave marker which has the actual shoes and socks of a little boy preserved in the stone. The footstone on this grave is a preserved tree stump. On the stump is a little hammer. The young boy buried there was given the hammer as a birthday present by his father who was a carpenter.
The small child was following his father around a construction site when he stepped on a nail which penetrated his shoe and pierced his foot. The puncture became infected, and the child died of blood poisoning. In remembering the son the parents left him his prized hammer. The shoes and socks were left as a reminder to them of how fate had deprived them of their son.
On one side of an open field lies the grave of a Union soldier who was captured by the Confederate forces in the Civil War. His marker says that he was murdered by the Rebel troops. On the opposite side of the same field lies the grave of the soldier's wife who died years later. Her family, knowing that she and her husband fought constantly, did not want them fighting in eternity. Since then, modern times have divided them even more by Interstate 44 which now runs between them.
Near the Bean Ford on the Osage Fork River there was an old abandoned cemetery. The owner of the land, tired of the brambles and difficulty in working around the plot, pulled up the headstones and plowed over the graves. "They can rest as peacefully without the headstones," he surmized.
One of those sleeping there so peacefully was Joe Core who on Friday, March 5, 1880, was hung in Lebanon for the murder of George King. This is his story as told first by a Journal reporter, an eye witness to the hanging, and following that, a confession by the condemned man himself.
The streets of Lebanon were filled to overflowing with people today. They began to arrive at noon yesterday. They com--menced to arrive yesterday and last night the whole town was full of people. An extra police force of twenty-five were summoned by the mayor to keep everything quiet. No intoxicants could be had anywhere in town. This morning at daylight people were coming from every direction, and continued to arrive until noon.
At precisely one o'clock the procession started from the jail. It consisted of the carriage containing Sheriff Wilson, J.A. Burnes, sheriff of Dallas County, and the doomed man. The carriage was followed by two buggies containing press reporters.
The scaffold was reached at fourteen minutes past one o'clock. Coming from the carriage, they mounted the scaffold. The rope was affixed to the cross-beam by the sheriff of Dallas County. The death warrant was then read by Sheriff Wilson in a voice hoarse with emotion. As the party ascended the scaffold, Core commenced moaning in a low voice, and as the preparations continued, he wailed in a sadly broken and pathetic voice. When the preparations were finished, a very short prayer was offered by Rev. T.E. Robinson. Core was then addressed by Sheriff Wilson, who said, "We are ready, Joe. Have you anything to say?"
In a broken voice Core replied, "No, no, nothing at all. Go on when you are ready. Lord how can I stand this. What a death, what a death, O Lord, what a death.'" He continued calling on the name of the Lord as he stepped on the trap. The rope was adjusted by Sheriff Wilson at 1:34 and the black cap was pulled down over his face, shutting out the light of day forever. He continued in broken tones calling on the name of the Lord, and at precisely 1:38 Wilson cut the rope holding the trap and the body fell full ten feet, with a sickening thud, into the open space below the platform. One convulsive struggle of the lower limbs and all was over. The body swayed back and forth in the breeze; and the majesty of the law was vindicated.
Five minutes after the trap was sprung, the body was examined by Dr. Henderson, who pronounced life extinct, giving it as his opinion, that the neck was broken by the fall. In fifteen minutes he was cut down. His neck examined and found to be completely broken and the medulla severed. The body was then turned over to his friends for burial. According to his request, all that is mortal of Joe Core will be buried by the side of his wife and children on the Osage Fork.
The execution was a most successful one, being entirely free from the not uncommon sickening details of an unbroken neck, and a drunken, disorderly crowd. Our competent sheriff deserves great credit for the care which he has taken and eminent success which has accompanied his efforts to make the execution speedy and certain.
The murder of George King for which Joe Core was executed so efficiently was committed January 21, 1879. In 1877 someone burned Core's stacks of wheat just harvested from his thirty acres, causing the emnity which resulted in the killing. He was convicted at the trial on circumstantial evidence, never once admitting his guilt. Just before the execution he confessed to his spiritual advisor, T.E. Robinson, asking him to not make it public until after the execution. This is his confession:
My first difficulty with George King was about a law suit--King suing me for wages due his boy. After the law suit, King put his two sons and Matt Douglas up to burning my wheat. King laughed and rejoiced over it and said he had fixed me our living now; I would have to root like a hog; and he only wished I was in the middle of the wheat stack when it was burned. The pistol I shot him with belonged to Bill Lindsay. He gave it to me down at his house some time before the killing. It was calibre 44 Remington--a cap pistol.
Bill Lindsay wanted me several times to do the work for King. He said to me, "Now Joe, these fellows are going to dog you out of the country and if I was you I would kill him. I will assist you all I can."
I went to Bill Lindsay's once or twice and he came to my house and asked me to go and use him up, once while King was hauling hay and once, I think, while making palings.
I came from Lindsay's on the day of the killing and met King down by the little field. He was on foot, I was on horseback. King stepped in the road ahead of my horse. He asked me how I was feeling by this time. I don' t know my reply. I think I asked him if he was still going to abuse me as he had. He insinuated that I owed him and they were going to do as they pleased. He then raised his axe to strike me. He looked on my right and on my left side to see if I had any arms, and thought I had none, as my postol was in my ham pocket, under my coat, and no one could see it. As he raised the axe, my horse jumped and run, and King run at me. I then threw out my revolver and shot him as he come at me. I think I shot him in the face. I shot him a second time somewhere in the body, and then jumped off my horse and finished him by striking him twice with his axe. My horse got away and went home, and I went home as near as I could the way the horse went. It took me only a few minutes to go, as I went a short way. I caught my horse at home, and left the revolver about a half quarter from my house in an old out-building, and on my return came back upon pretty near the same track to near the river, and then on to the Ball Hill and other places mentioned in the evidence. Bill Lindsay told my wife to tell me to leave the state as they were going to arrest me.
The next morning after the killing as I returned home, I took the pistol from the out-building and put it between two logs of the barn, and it was afterwards just under the bed in the baby's cradle. I also pulled off the hind shoes of my horse and threw them down.
I am sorry I did this thing and don't know how I came to do it. I think the sentence just and I ought to suffer for the crime. I bear no malice to anyone. I had been tried according to the facts and have been sentenced to death.
I have had it on my tongue's end to confess this before, but I would get vexed in thinking the matter over and would not satisfy the people by making a confession. When I would think about them burning my wheat when my family were suffering for something to eat, I would cry for hours. I thought I would worry it out. I went to the grand jury but it would not do anything, and I could get no satisfaction in the courts for burning my wheat.
Even though the cemetery in which Joe Core resides is unmarked, it is indeed an emblem of life as all cemeteries are.
They should not be regarded only as a place of the dead, for they contain valuable and interesting information about our ancestors. No cemetery should go unnoticed. The peace and beauty should be enjoyed by everyone while they are still alive.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.