By Judy Haught
Oklahoma became a state in 1907, more than forty years after the Civil War and miles from most of the action, so it is a bit surprising that so many Civil War veterans are buried in western Oklahoma cemeteries. A rough count of the Civil War veterans’ graves in Beckham County, both Union and Confederate, is twenty-seven. The total will surely go up when Roger Mills County cemeteries are included. A story lurks beneath each headstone. The biggest question is perhaps why they spent their last days in western Oklahoma. Investigation of many of the veterans reveal that they were living with sons or daughters that had migrated to Oklahoma; however, some came of their own accord seeking opportunity.
One such veteran is Union soldier William Allison Young, interred in Fairlawn Cemetery in Elk City. Born in Indiana, Young and his parents moved to Kansas when he was a child. Northeastern Kansas was a violent place leading up to and during the Civil War. Border bandits, led by William Quantrill and claiming ties with the Confederate Army, terrorized and pillaged Kansas towns. One of his most infamous raids was on the town of Lawrence. They burned houses and looted banks and saloons. On hundred fifty men were left burned and bloodied in the streets.
In response to the massacre, the U. S. War Department gave Governor Carney permission to form a cavalry to protect the Kansas border. The 15th Kansas Cavalry grew out of the Lawrence atrocity. That is where twenty-two-year-old William Young entered the picture. He enlisted in the 15th Kansas Cavalry and was assigned to company H. Company H spent frontier garrison duty at Fort Leavenworth. According to Young’s obituary, which appeared in the December 5, 1935, Cheyenne Star, Young guarded stage coaches carrying the U. S. mail.
Most of the regiment mustered out of the Army on October 19, 1865; however, Company H joined the Powder River Expedition in its invasion of the Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, and Arapaho Indians. Powder River runs through Montana and Wyoming, and the area was designated Indian Territory. The Indians would gather in that remote area after raids and uprisings.
Company H, along with William Young, mustered out of the U. S. Army on December 7, 1865. William returned home to Kansas and married Elizabeth Hopkins on January 1, 1867. The newlyweds lived in Wakarusa, Kansas, until 1872. By that time they had two sons, Clyde and Guy. Seeking employment and a better life, Will and Lizzie, accompanied by Will’s brother John, moved their family to Colorado. In the ensuing years, Will and Lizzie added three more children, Leon, Roy, and Verna. The family migrated between Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and finally Oklahoma Territory. According to his obituary, Will “rode with the Goodnight, Cresswell, and Pollard herds from Colorado to the Texas Panhandle.” In 1892 Will and Lizzie settled along Dead Indian Creek and created the Y-Cross Ranch. They eventually owned between 3,000 and 5,000 acres of ranchland.
Will’s obituary sums up Will’s life and philosophy in this way. “The code of the West held him during his lifetime. He had only the greatest of contempt for dishonesty, evasion of debts, and littleness in dealing.”
“Kansas, U.S. Civil War Enlisted Papers, 1862, 1863, 1868.” Ancestry.com. Web. 23 March 2022.
“Military History of the Fifteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry.” Fifteenth Regiment Kansas
Cavalry: Official Military History of Kansas Regiments During the War for the
Suppression of the Great Rebellion. 2015.
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“Powder River Expedition (1865).” Wikipedia. 1 April 2022. Web. 21 May 2022.
Purcell, Wanda. “ Pioneer Resident of Roger Mills Passes.” Cheyenne Star. 5 Dec. 1935. Web.
3 March 2022.
Savage, O. Ronald and Margaret Manuel Larason. Prairie Fire. Western Oklahoma
Historical Society, 1978.
“William Quantrill and the Lawrence Massacre.” American Studies of the University of Virginia.
University of Virginia.
3 March 2022.