On the Search of Graves
By Steve Johnson, March 15, 2000
Jim Davenport travels the west in search of grave
markers of Woodmen of the World members. He photographs them, takes
measurements, and records the inscriptions. It's a hobby that has
taken him to all over the Western United States.
One summer day while driving through the pine trees
on a high mountain side, following what he'd been told was possibly
the road to the cemetery in Alma, Colorado, Jim Davenport spotted
what he was searching for, a Woodmen of the World tombstone. He
got out his camera and notebook, measured the tombstone, recorded
the inscription, and photographed it. A careful search throughout
the cemetery showed there were no other such tombstones. Then, a
year and a half later, a lady e-mailed him asking if he had any
information on a WOW member buried at the Alma cemetery. He sent
her the inscription and a copy of the photograph. The lady was thrilled
to learn that her shot-in-the-dark paid dividends!
To Jim, WOW markers are as desired and elusive as
truffles are to the French. Armed with his maps and lists he compiles
from the local library, Jim and his wife use their keen eyes to
spot the WOW markers as they walk through a sea of tombstones. It's
a hobby that has grown into a passion.
About seven years ago, Jim was visiting a cemetery
in Durango, Colorado, when he spotted a tombstone resembling a tall
brown tree-stump with the inscription, "Here Rests a Woodman of
the World". "I figured that they were some sort of logging association
from the turn of the Century", says Jim. The death date on the marker
was 1907. Jim visited the local library and learned that there was
an insurance company called Woodmen of the World. "I went to the
cemetery in Cortez, Colorado and found several Woodmen stones, but
they were not the tree stump type, just ordinary tombstones but
each had a circular design on them with a log, a dove, an axe, maul,
and wedge, and the inscription, 'DUM TACET CLAMAT'".
|Jim standing by a WOW marker at the Greenmount Cemetery in
On a whim, he mentioned to his wife that he would
photograph all the Woodmen of the World markers in Colorado. Little
did he know what this comment would turn into. Says Jim, "My wife
is used to my crazy ideas, but figured this would be a better hobby
than collecting farm implements or old lawn mowers, and it seemed
like fun thing to do".
Jim and his wife began searching the local newspaper
archives for cemetery locations in their county. They contacted
the local "guru" who gave them a copy of a map showing all of the
known burials and cemeteries in the county. Jim later learned that
she belonged to the DAR, was a genealogist, and was a member of
the local historical society.
While driving home from a trip to Colorado Spings,
Jim and his wife stopped by at a cemetery in Salida, and found a
couple of WOW markers. One was a tree stump of an unusual design.
"When I got home and developed the photos, I discovered that I had
no reference as to how tall the stump was. That was when I decided
to measure them." Now the hobby was getting serious.
The photographs, measurements and inscriptions get
stored into a three-ring binder. Since the hobby started, he has
filled up sixteen of these binders. Each page in the binder holds
information for two tombstones. To date, he has personally visited
over 200 cemeteries in seven states, recording more than 3,600 WOW
Some of Jim's friends will help out by snapping
photos of some WOW markers, but do not necessarily take measurements.
"I just feel lucky to get the photos and inscriptions. I put them
all into the binders with photo credits of course". But his wife
is his biggest helper, locating cemeteries, and finding markers.
The couple will pick out an area where they have
not yet been, and spend several days prowling cemeteries. "My poor
old Colorado map is marked up with places we've visited. We lucked
out and found an atlas of Colorado which indicates several cemeteries,
and I found a wonderful book at the library that lists most of the
cemeteries by county".
When Jim visits a cemetery, the other people nearby
are usually curious to see a man taking measurements, jotting something
into a notebook, and snapping pictures. "If they are a groundskeeper,
especially the volunteers, they'll want to know what we're doing
and many times will help us locate WOW graves", says Jim. "Sometimes
they are a bit suspicious due to the increasing number of grave
markers that are being stolen. But after talking a bit, they are
usually most friendly and want to tell you stories about people
in the cemetery."
But Jim caused one caretaker in California to become
concerned, when he explained that he was "collecting tombstones".
The caretaker reacted by asking Jim if he knew that collecting stones
was illegal. "When I assured him that I only collected the photographs,
he became friendly and led me to another small cemetery where I
found a dozen more WOW markers".
|A WOW marker found in Colorado. Notice the Axe, Maul, Wedge,
and Dove, all indicative of WOW symbolism.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Jim, it is finding
time for his hobby. Jim has made a career in law enforcement, and
is only able to visit cemeteries on vacation time. "We probably
get out about three times a year, and you can bet that those times
are packed with cemetery visits". In 1967 he started out as a patrol
officer for the City of Cortez, CO. Later, he was promoted to Detective,
and then Chief of Police. He currently works as a chief investigator
for the District Attorney. "I have done just about everything
there is to do as an investigator but my 'love' for many years has
been fingerprint work. Looking at crime scene fingerprints and trying
to match them up with the perpetrators. It's quite a 'rush' when
you find one that matches up."
Jim also served time in the military. "I served 10 years in
the Navy as a hospital corpsman. Served on aircraft carriers, with
the marines, and on submarines for the last 5 years of my career.
I was also a navy SCUBA diver. I would have stayed for much longer
but received a medical retirement for a heart problem."
In 1883, a man by the name of Joseph Cullen Root
organized a fraternal society in Omaha, Nebraska, called "Modern
Woodmen of America". One of the benefits of being a member was that
upon death, the other members would pass around a hat and donate
money to the widow. Membership was limited to white males older
than 18 years of age. Later when passing around the hat became more
frequent and costly, Root decided to sell life insurance to members.
Modern Woodmen of America became a fraternal benefit society
Later, a womens's auxiliary started up called "Royal
Neighbors of America. Both the male and female organizations grew
steadily and in five years, Modern Woodmen had a total membership
of twenty-four thousand.
In 1899, several members had a "falling out" with
the leaders of the society, and separated to form a new society
under the leadership of Fred A. Falkenburg, and named it "Woodmen
of the World". Shortly after, tensions were high in the new organization,
and Falkenburg moved to Denver to form, "Woodmen of the World, Pacific
Jurisdiction". Today, the three societies remain as insurance companies.
Woodmen of the World created women's auxiliaries called "Woodmen
Circle" and "Supreme Forest Woodmen", while the Pacific Jurisdiction
created an auxiliary called, "Neighbors of Woodcraft", which still
exists as an insurance company in Portland, Oregon.
Up until 1935, when a member died, the society would
donate $100.00 towards the burial expenses if the surviving family
allowed the society's emblem and/or wording to appear on the stone.
"This was probably a really good advertising gimmick, but that's
just my guess", says Jim.
|A typical aluminum marker of the Royal Neighbors of America,
the women's auxiliary to the Modern Woodmen of America.
Jim's hobby has taken him and his wife into seven
states, including much of Colorado. "I can say that I've been to
most of the cemeteries in the south part of the state, on a line
from Rifle to Denver and east on I-70. There are a couple of small
town cemeteries out on the plains along I-70 that I've not yet been
to, but I will get there within the next couple of years. I've gone
north from Denver as far as Loveland, but not east from there yet.
I've been to Utah and found lot's of WOW stones in the Ogden and
Salt Lake City cemeteries. One marble stump in Ogden is about 10
feet tall!! Nevada has a few, but they are far between. California
has quite a few. I've found a bunch in the Phoenix, Arizona area,
and some in the outlying towns. "
"New Mexico has a bunch of them in the Albuquerque
area and scattered around the other parts of the state. During the
last Martin Luther King weekend my wife and I ventured into the
SE corner of New Mexico as far as Hobbs but not quite to Carlsbad
as we just ran out of time. We got to several cemeteries in the
SE part of NM including Roswell where we found a "forest"
of WOW tree stumps in the South Park Cemetery. I've only been to
one cemetery in Kansas. I guess when I get done in Colorado, I'll
head to Kansas or Wyoming and see what I find there."
Traveling across the West means having to spend nights in motel
rooms. "It is rare that when we go on one of our scouting expeditions
that we really plan ahead as far as motel rooms, etc. We kind of
plan the route we take to cover a specific part of the country and
then catch as catch can for motel rooms. On a couple of occasions
it has been quite an experience to get caught in some little town
with only a 1940's type motel that hasn't been updated except for
the addition of a TV and phone! Usually the restaurant facilities
in the town match the motel!! But that's what makes life exciting
and makes the trips memorable."
Jim's hobby has mostly benefited his interest in
WOW markers. But there have been some people whom he has helped.
Jim gets a couple a queries a week from people asking about a name,
and will give them what information he has collected including a
copy of the photograph. Jim has also signed up as a volunteer photographer
on Cemetery Photos.
As to what plans Jim has for all the photographs
and information he has collected, he does not quite know what he'll
do. Some ask if he plans to write a book. "I don't know, that might
take the fun out of it, and turn it into work", replies Jim. "I
usually tell people that when I am gone it will be up to the kids
to do with it as they please, which may mean 'trashcan'". But
for the meantime, Jim does answer e-mails concerning his hobby,
and tries to provide scanned photographs to inquiring people.
When asked what other people think about his hobby,
he responds, "Some folks think that I'm crazier then a pet
coon, but then one day while watching some of the rare TV that I
do, I saw them interviewing a fellow who was trying to go to every
McDonald's in the USA and eat something there. He has this big spiral
notebook of every one that he had been to with the date and what
he purchased there!"
- Steve Johnson
Steve is the editor of The Cemetery Column, and is the Webmaster
of Cemetery Records Online.
All of Jim's WOW tombstone recordings (minus the photographs
and measurements) can be accessed from...
You can contact Jim for any questions and comments about WOW
grave markers at: email@example.com