With the recent onset of the Covid-19 virus, and all its consequences, I have taken to walking in the local Onarga Cemetery for exercise. It is one of my few escapes from the virus lockdown. The cemetery has level paths, no dogs, and no distracted drivers. Keeping social distance is also not a problem.
Everyone has a story. Every family has a story. The town cemetery is a touch stone of all these memories and stories. The Onarga Cemetery was established in 1858. Most of Onarga’s pioneer families are buried here.
When I tread past the family plot, in the old section of the cemetery, Harrison Lincoln Miller’s stone (1822-1907) comes into view. Harrison is my great grandfather who brought the family here from Peru, Indiana by covered wagon in 1857. Harrison was a farmer and a cooper by trade. His barrel making tools still hang on peg board in my garage. Harrison’s mother was Phoebe Lincoln, a first cousin to Thomas Lincoln, the father of our sixteenth president. Thomas almost didn’t make it to adulthood, but his fifteen-year-old brother, Mordecai, saved his life in 1784 during an Indian attack on the Lincoln Kentucky homestead. Mordecai used a flintlock rifle to kill an Indian who was about to club 6-year-old Thomas. Thomas lived and we had a President Abraham Lincoln. We celebrate Mordecai’s marksmanship ability.
In the middle of the cemetery, just north of the old sextant shed is another Lincoln connection. Here is the grave of Timothy Webster (1822-1862) who was an agent of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Webster, along with Allen Pinkerton and female operative, Kate Warn, safely chaperoned President elect Lincoln to his first inauguration in 1861 by foiling the infamous “Baltimore” assignation plot. Later, Webster was caught spying on the rebels and he was tried, convicted and executed by the Confederate Government in 1862. Following the Civil War Pinkerton had Webster’s body returned to Illinois and buried with honors in the Onarga Cemetery.
Detective and spy master, Allen Pinkerton, was no stranger to Onarga, he owned a home an acreage just north of the village limits. The Pinkerton one story villa had its own railroad siding and supposedly a tunnel from the siding to the house. The house had a cupola on the roof where a sentry stood guard with a Henry or Winchester Rifle. Some of the outside walls of the wood building, were filled with bullet stopping masonry.
Pinkerton had good reason to be paranoid. In 1875, in an attempt to apprehend Frank and Jessie James, Pinkerton agents unsuccessfully raided the outlaw’s Missouri homestead. The Pinkerton agents deployed an explosive device which severely wounded Jessie’s mother and killed Jessie’s step brother. Jessie James came to Illinois, following the raid, to find and kill Allen Pinkerton. He didn’t find him. Maybe Pinkerton was lying low at his Onarga residence? Who knows? Pinkerton was never able to “take down” the James Gang. The armed citizens of Northfield, Minnesota accomplished more in twenty minutes than any of Pinkerton’s efforts. The Pinkerton house still stands and its cupola is its most distinctive feature.......