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Cole County History: Long lost family cemetery located

by Nancy Arnold Thompson, For the Historic City of Jefferson | March 20, 2021 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated March 20, 2021 at 11:11 a.m.
<p>Courtesy of Nancy Thompson</p><p>Robert Farmer’s tombstone was recently located on the old family farm near Brazito.</p>

As a lad of 11 years, Paul Farmer was introduced to his ancestors by his grandfather, Alonzo "Lon" Montgomery Farmer. Sitting on his grandfather's front porch on West Brazito Road, Paul learned of his great-grandfather, William Andrew Jackson "Jack" Farmer, a Confederate veteran who fought in the Civil War and nearly drowned on the trip home from Louisiana while a passenger on the steamboat Kentucky. The boat sank in the Red River, killing 200 people, including 60 soldiers. Jack and his friend, Bill Howard, swam ashore and survived.

The many colorful stories about early ancestors imprinted on the young boy's mind, creating a love for family history that has lasted a lifetime.

The first to arrive in Cole County was Paul's third great-grandfather, William B. Farmer, who was born in Blacksburg, Virginia, around 1795. In 1812, he married Martha "Patsy" Bell, daughter of Revolutionary War Patriot Robert Peyton Bell, and they had seven children born in Virginia.

Around 1834, the family relocated to Missouri along with William's widowed brother, Joseph, and Martha's brothers, William, Robert Jr. and Peyton Bell. They settled on land in the Brazito/Honey Creek area. William purchased a 160-acre farm on Old Bass Road, just west of Mt. Carmel Road. Here, they welcomed the birth of their eighth child, James A., in 1837.

William died in 1844 and was buried on his Cole County farm. This was the beginning of the Farmer Cemetery. When Martha died a short time later, she was interred next to him. Most likely their graves were marked with native stones.

Their daughter, Elizabeth, married David Curnutt in March 1835, and five children were born of this union. Elizabeth died before 1860 and is believed to be buried with her parents.

In September 1835, son Robert married Clarinda Brown, daughter of Josiah and Nancy (Musick) Brown. They went to Arkansas with Robert's younger brother, Gordon, but returned to Missouri in the spring, declaring they nearly starved to death. Gordon remained in Arkansas and was never heard from again.

Robert and Clarinda had nine children. He died of cholera in 1855 and was buried in the family cemetery. Clarinda, whose father died about the same time, moved to the rock house built by her parents near Hickory Hill. She lived to be 99 years old and is buried in the Hickory Hill Cemetery.

Stephen Farmer married Jane McGinnis in 1841. Oral family history relates that in 1853, Jane was making lye soap when her clothing caught fire. Stephen tried to help her, and they both received severe burns that later proved fatal. It's believed they are buried with his parents in the Farmer Cemetery. Relatives took in their five children to raise.

William and Patsy's youngest daughters, Margaret and Martha, married two brothers from Kentucky, Simeon and Macajah Bond in 1849 and 1852, respectively. Margaret and Simeon had two daughters and one son, while Martha and Mack had three sons. The two sisters both died in 1890 and are buried with their spouses in the Spring Garden Cemetery just over the line in Miller County.

The youngest son, James A. Farmer, and his wife, Mary, lived in Miller County with their three daughters and one son. James enlisted in Co. C. 42nd Regiment, Enrolled Missouri Militia in 1862. After the war, the family relocated to Barton County with some of his Bell cousins. Following Mary's death, James moved into the veterans home in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he died in 1893 at the age of 56.

William C. Farmer, son of Joseph and nephew of William, bought the family farm in southern Cole County around 1860. After passing through several owners, George W. Norfleet purchased the property around 1893, and it eventually passed to his son, Elijah "Lige" Norfleet. When Paul Farmer was a young man, Lige told him that in the 1920s, the tombstones from the Farmer Cemetery were deposited in a ditch and covered with dirt. The area was then planted in corn.

Armed with this story, Paul recently approached the current owner of the property and asked permission to search for the cemetery. The tombstone of Robert Farmer, his second great-grandfather, was found in the general area where Lige said it would be.

The property owner has given permission to allow a group of preservationists' access to the property in order to restore the cemetery. They will re-set Robert's tombstone on its base and probe the western part of the land in an attempt to locate any remaining markers. A new tombstone will be engraved, identifying the unmarked burials.

Nancy Arnold Thompson is a retired medical administrator and former member of the Cemetery Resources Board for Jefferson City. Her hobby is cemetery preservation and restoration.

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