Project aims to identify unmarked graves

History can include dark episodes

Mitchell Davis
Colorado Community Media
Posted 9/27/22

On a recent summer morning at the Franktown Cemetery, Carole Taylor spoke to a small crowd gathered to honor Ozro Brackett, who was buried there in 1889. The ceremony was part of a larger effort …

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Project aims to identify unmarked graves

History can include dark episodes

Posted

On a recent summer morning at the Franktown Cemetery, Carole Taylor spoke to a small crowd gathered to honor Ozro Brackett, who was buried there in 1889.

The ceremony was part of a larger effort Taylor, who is chair of the Smoky Hill Trails Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR, has been working to identify unmarked graves at the Franktown cemetery.

As part of what she calls a “heritage project,” Taylor, an Elizabeth resident, has expanded her research to include Civil War-era soldiers who were buried in the area without markers.

Officially marking Brackett’s grave marks another successful research project that Taylor said she has become consumed with.

“I say I’m obsessed, other people say I’m possessed. I just fell in love with it,” she said.

The historical detective work of identifying and marking graves captivates Taylor. She pores over census records, family histories, and archived newspapers, as well as genealogy websites like WikiTree, until she can find enough evidence to prove where someone is buried. Then she can get them a headstone.

To date, Taylor has identified 46 people in unmarked graves in Franktown Cemetery.

In identifying Brackett’s grave, Taylor said she learned he also had several family members in the cemetery. However, Taylor said a person wouldn’t know it because so many of them are unmarked.

“We know people are buried here because of the indentation. (Brackett) got a daughter-in-law in the next set of trees,” Taylor said as she walked through the cemetary.

According to the history, Ozro Brackett brought the Brackett surname to Colorado. He was born in 1812 or 1813 in Vermont, later moving to Wisconsin and Nebraska before ending up in Franktown by 1864. He first married in 1849 and had two sons before his wife died. He remarried in 1855, and he and his wife Lucy had 14 children. Of Brackett’s 16 children, five died young, lost to bullets, disease and drowning. Four of the children are in Franktown Cemetery with their father. Taylor is working to get headstones for them.

As research showed, in late 1864, Brackett served in the Army. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a headstone at government expense for any soldier who can be proven to have served, and who was not dishonorably discharged. Taylor applied for a headstone for Brackett and received approval.

Taylor has continued working on applications for members of the Colorado military units from the Civil War era, including other members of Brackett’s unit, the 3rd Colorado Cavalry.

However, not all of the research showed a flattering history for Brackett’s time in the military. The 3rd Colorado Cavalry actually has a troubling history in Colorado.

According to a 1961 article in Colorado Magazine by professor Raymond G. Carey, in late summer 1864, the government of Colorado recruited the unit for the purpose of fighting American Indians. Volunteers would serve for 100 days. A recruitment poster advertised that those who signed up would be “entitled to all horses and other plunder taken from the Indians.”

In September, Brackett joined the regiment’s Company M. He was 52 years old, but reported his age as 47 so he could serve.

What follows was determined by a congressional investigation into what would be called the Sand Creek Massacre. The night before Nov. 29, 1864, Cmdr. John Chivington marched the unit to a Cheyenne and Arapahoe camp at Sand Creek. The chiefs of this camp were friendly to the U.S. and had been directed by a U.S. officer to camp at Sand Creek. Chivington knew this. He ordered an attack anyway, and instructed his men not to take prisoners.

The regiment opened fire on the camp at dawn. Some at the camp tried to surrender and were shot. The unit’s discipline dissolved into a frenzy of violence. Cheyenne and Arapahoe men fought back desperately, while women and children fled or pleaded for their lives. U.S. soldiers killed them indiscriminately and mutilated their bodies, according to the investigation.

According to a National Park Service history, the death toll among the Cheyenne and Arapahoe was over 200, and was “mostly ... women, children, and the elderly.”

Testimony to Congress shows Brackett’s Company M was involved in close-range violence at Sand Creek. In the absence of proof as to whether Brackett participated, Taylor said “we can only assume” he was there.

The congressional report on the massacre, issued in 1865, concluded, “measures should be at once taken to remove from office those who have thus disgraced the government by whom they are employed, and to punish, as their crimes deserve, those who have been guilty of these brutal and cowardly acts.”

The men of the 3rd had already gone home when their 100 days was up in December 1864. According to the National Park Service, Chivington had already left the Army. No one was prosecuted.

Taylor defended honoring the men of the unit with veterans’ headstones, saying “they had to follow orders.”

“Anybody that serves their country, no matter what their reasons besides protecting their country ... we need to show them we honor them,” Taylor said. “It’s our history. ... Good, bad, or ugly — it’s still our history and maybe we can learn something from it.”

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