Authors armed with dowsing rods identify remote Larimer County cemeteries and burial sites

Through their experiences researching the genealogy of their own families, Susan and Duane Kniebes came to realize how important it is for families to know about the burial places of their family members and to learn as much as possible about their lives.

After his retirement as a chemist and assistant vice president at the Institute of Gas Technology in Chicago in 1985, Duane and Susan moved to Boulder where she worked as a senior support planner for a technology company, eventually retiring from work as a translation manager in 1999.

About that time Duane became involved with a project of the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies and learned of their joint project with the U.S. Geological Survey to find, GPS pinpoint and document graves and cemeteries in every county in Colorado. Boulder County had been assigned, so Duane volunteered for Larimer County and thus began a 14-year adventure for the couple.

Today they are the proud authors of the three-volume “Cemeteries and Remote Burials in Larimer County, Colorado,” more than 1,500 pages, with color photos and maps locating and describing 158 cemeteries and remote burials in Larimer County. Going far beyond the requirements of the GPS survey, the Kniebes became so interested in their project that they couldn’t resist sharing their experiences in finding the sites and learning the stories of those resting in the graves they found.

Volume I covers north of the Poudre River, the Laramie River Valley and Livermore, Volume 2 covers the area south of the Poudre River, Fort Collins, Loveland, and Berthoud and Volume 3 describes sites in the Estes Park area, and Rocky Mountain National Park, including park property in Grand County.

Larimer County encompasses 2,640 square miles, bordered by Boulder, Weld, Jackson and Grand Counties. The Kniebes began their search with a list of 69 graves, cemeteries and memorial markers listed in the Colorado Cemetery Directory. Eventually they were to discover and document 89 additional sites, usually found through their inquires regarding known sites. People would often mention gravesites they knew about that were not on the original list. “Sometimes it was serendipity rather than diligent research,” Susan said.

The Kniebes say that they could have easily turned any number of the stories they heard into full-fledged histories, something they had to resist because of space and time constraints. They learned that most original owners of land in Larimer County acquired it through a series of federal land acquisition acts going back as far as 1785 and culminating with the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916.

They discovered Native American graves including a site near Trail’s End Ranch on County Road 80C where there are 53 Native American graves, likely those of Cherokees killed by the Utes in an event that resulted in the naming of Cherokee Park in the Livermore area.

The authors became experts in the use of dowsing rods or “witch sticks” to confirm and find burials. While they can’t explain exactly how the L-shaped metals rods they use work, they are convinced of their accuracy. They use two rods that cross and uncross when they walk over a burial site. The rod usually swings right to indicate a male burial, left to indicate a female.

The Kniebes shared an example of how they were able to make some surprising discoveries: While in the Laramie River Valley in 2000, they were informed of the Wangnild Family Cemetery located on a private ranch. From property owner Bill Wangnild, they learned about the grave of a trapper killed by Indians on or near the SoRelle Ranch, once part of the Wangnild Ranch. Bill Wangnild’s father, Charles, purchased the ranch from Wallace A. Link, the man who, it was known, had found the slain trapper and buried his body.

Current ranch owner, Carroll SoRelle led the Kniebes to the general vicinity of the grave and they were able to find it west of a small creek that separated the SoRelle Ranch from the Rawah Wilderness. In addition to the grave, the Kniebes found the charred corner of what had been the trapper’s cabin. Seeing the smoke from that burning cabin, the story goes, Wallace Link went to the site, found the scalped trapper and buried him.

Cemeteries and Remote Burials in Larimer County, Colorado is available in soft and hard cover from Irongate Press at www.irongate.com/pages/larimer_cemeteries.html. The authors may be contacted at dniebes@localnet.com or at 303-530-9525.

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