Relive the true - and sometimes tragic - stories of some of the first residents of Hays by taking a walking tour of Mount Allen Cemetery.
1. The First Burial: Clara Allen
The first burial at Mount Allen Cemetery was Clara Allen, the daughter of Martin Allen. She died at the age of 12 of scarlet fever. At the time of Clara's death, there was not an established city cemetery, and the only place for burials was on a hill approximately a half mile north of Hays City, referred to today as Boot Hill. Many of those buried at this cemetery in the late 1860s could best be described as "rough" citizens and included those who worked at the gambling halls, brothels, saloons, as well as other desperadoes who followed the railroad track construction west. Martin Allen did not want his daughter to be buried at this cemetery, so he donated an acre of his own farmland and persuaded the town to give the remaining land needed for a public cemetery. The original grave marker has since been replaced with a granite headstone.
2. The Circus Sideshow: baby alma
In 1918 a traveling circus stopped in Hays. "Baby Alma," who weighed 600 pounds, was one of the featured sideshows, promoted as "Baby Alma, the Fat Lady of the Circus." She was taken to City Hall, which was being used as a makeshift Red Cross nursing facility to care for the overflow of patients. It took six men to hoist her into City Hall, and a special bed was made to accommodate her. The newspaper reported that she was not an ideal patient and gained the reputation of a "nurse hater." Even as she grew weak, she would lie in bed and scream curses, spraying medicine out of her mouth "fountain like" at the nurses. Baby Alma's flu turned into pneumonia and she died of her illness. Neither her parents, who lived in California, nor the circus manager would contribute to the girl's burial. "Wouldn't even buy her a respectable casket," said Mrs. Gus Havemann, whose husband was an undertaker at the time. There are no local records of her real name. Baby Alma was buried at Mount Allen Cemetery without fanfare flourish or tears.
3. a boy and his dog: jack downing
If you notice a grave marker with a statue of a little boy and a dog, then you have found the resting place of five-year-old Jack Downing. He was the son of J.H. Downing, who came to Hays in 1876 and was one of 13 veterans of the Civil War known to have lived in Hays. J.H. Downing came to Hays in March 1876 and founded the Ellis County Star. His chief distinction as a journalist was when he scooped every newspaper in the country on the Custer massacre at Little Big Horn. In January 1882, he purchased the Hays City Sentinel and consolidated the two papers which he operated for many years as the Star-Sentinel. The obituary for young Jack tells how this little boy was a favorite around the community with his big dog that was his constant companion as they played and scurried around town. Jack was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Downing, and after he died of diphtheria, they had a tombstone made of "Jackie" and his dog.
4. general custer's lieutenant: edwin philip eckerson
Eckerson served as a Lieutenant in the 7th Cavalry under George Custer. He is the only Cavalry officer from that time period known to be buried at mount Allen Cemetery. He was involved with various frontier service during his military career, but received a general court-martial (charges unknown) and was dismissed from service on July 15, 1875. Evidently, with aid of some friends, he was allowed to serve in the military again, and appointed 2nd Lieutenant, 7th Calvary in May 1876. Eckerson was court-martialed again in 1878 for "conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman" (drunk and disorderly). He was dismissed from military service on June 30, 1878. He worked different jobs in Iowa and Colorado until he ended up back in Hays around 1882. his obituary indicates he was employed in the quarter master's office and Fort Hays. On February 14, 1882, he married Sophie M. Bergsland, who worked as a "domestic" at Fort's mess hall. They had two children: Regina (born December 4, 1882) and Theodore John (born October 22. Eckerson died of malaria in 1885.
5. gun fight and heartbreak: sheriff alexander ramsey
Ellis County Sheriff Alexander Ramsey and his deputy Frank Shepard rode out of Hays City following a trail of horse thieves north to Stockton, Kansas. They spent the night on the trail and the next morning when they arrived in Stockton, learned that two men and a bunch of horses were camped outside of town. When Ramsey, his deputy, and several men from Stockton overlook the camp, Ramsey and one of the outlaws exchanged shots. Ramsey was shot in the abdomen. The horse thief was shot through the heart and killed. Ramsey died of his wound either that same day or the next day. There was no way to immediately get word to Ramsey's wife. The body was covered in canvas and loaded in a a spring wagon for the 45-mile journey back to Hays City. Ramsey's wife Mary had a strange premonition that something terrible had happened. She begged and pleaded with friends to travel north to search for husband. Arrangements were made for a horse and rig for the trip. A small group accompanied Mrs. Ramsey and they set out north toward the Saline River, where they met the spring wagon heading south with the remains of Sheriff Ramsey. Mrs. Ramsey was so distraught over the death of her husband that she became ill and died of grief on June 16, 1875. The current grave marker was erected in 1923 by the Board of the County Commissioners.
For more stories from Mount Allen Cemetery, download the full cemetery tour and map here.