Cover photo: Palestine Cemetery at 93rd & Old Santa Fe Rd. has been designated as a historic site for the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails by the National Park Service due to the burial there of trail travelers.

By John Sharp

The National Park Service has designated Palestine Cemetery at 93rd & Old Santa Fe Rd. as a historic site for the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails and has entered into a formal partnership with the Palestine Cemetery Association to promote appreciation of the trails.

The 3-acre cemetery on the east side of Old Santa Fe Rd., just north of Arvest Bank and a little west of Blue Ridge, is in close proximity to the shared route of the three historic trails that passed through south Kansas City before the Santa Fe Trail separated from the other two at Gardner Junction in present Gardner, KS.  

The cemetery is just a few hundred yards from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s 3-Trails Transit Center at 9449 Blue Ridge Blvd. which features large colorful murals of travelers on the trails including three African-American women who suffered through slavery, traveled the trails and went on to great prominence.

The partnership with the Park Service will result in official Park Service signage at the site, recognition of the cemetery on the Park Service website which should boost tourism to the area and expert assistance in managing the historic site.  Future grant funding also is possible.

To achieve this recognition, many months of painstaking research was done to document the cemetery’s connection with trail travelers that was coordinated by 3-Trails West, an organization that educates the public about the trails’ 46-mile shared corridor from Wayne City Landing on the Missouri River in what is now Sugar Creek to Gardner Junction. 

Linda Jepsen, secretary-treasurer of the Cemetery Association that owns and operates the cemetery which is still in use, said that although the cemetery was not formally established until 1876, burials had taken place there for decades prior to that in what are now unmarked graves due to the disintegration of markers made from wood or native soft stones. 

She said the earliest date of death still legible on a tombstone was in 1860 for Lewis Gore who was born in 1813.

Lou Austin, president of 3-Trails West, said trail use in this area first began in 1821 and the earliest burial that can be irrefutably documented at the cemetery was that of Simion Davenport, a 16-year-old trail traveler from Kentucky whose family then settled in the area.

He said ground penetrating radar provided by UMKC revealed the presence of many unmarked grave sites, and a thorough survey of the cemetery’s topography revealed many depressions that are likely sunken grave sites.

Austin also noted that many trail travelers stopped at Russell’s Encampment which was near the cemetery although its exact location is subject to dispute and at Moutry’s Spring which is between Old Santa Rd. and the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks at about 91st St., so burials of deceased travelers at the site would appear logical.

Both Jepsen and Schumacher thanked Becky Grady for doing many months of research on the cemetery’s connection to the trails.  Mike Graf, John Schumacher and Ruskin High School students also assisted.

Jepsen said a ceremony celebrating the cemetery’s recognition as a historic trail site and its partnership with the Park Service is planned for October. 

Anyone wishing to help promote the cemetery’s historic status is asked to contact Jepsen at ljep2866@gmail.com.  

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