By Kristen Miller
COLLINWOOD TOWNSHIP, MN In efforts to preserve a 142-year-old abandoned cemetery, Les Bergquist took it upon himself to preserve not only the monuments in it, but the lives of those they represent.
Bergquist, formerly of Dassel, remembers playing as a young boy in a small cemetery tucked away in a pasture near his father’s family farm in Collinwood Township.
Bergquist’s most vivid memory was when he was no more than 6 or 7 years old.
“I was big enough to lift up one of the foot stones,” Bergquist said, recalling the cemetery and the cattle that roamed around it.
Though he tried to put the foot stone back into its rightful place, Bergquist was unsuccessful.
Terrified that the ghosts and goblins of the abandoned cemetery would come and haunt him, he ran home, leaving the stone behind.
“I didn’t go out there for a long time after that,” he said.
Since his childhood, Bergquist has gone back to that cemetery periodically because of his interest in history and his sheer curiosity of this old, abandoned cemetery.
In October 2009, Bergquist went on a quest to preserve the cemetery and the lives that went before it. He began by probing to find parts of broken monuments under the soil that were thought to be missing.
“It got very, very interesting,” Bergquist said “It’s kind of like being on a treasure hunt.”
With records from the Minnesota Historical Society and the GAR Hall in Litchfield, Bergquist learned that the cemetery was identified as the Quick Pioneer Cemetery. The name was in reference to John Quick, a settler who owned a farm in the vicinity.
Looking at the records, Bergquist said there could be up to 14 graves in this cemetery, dating back to the late 1860s.
The first settlers may have used this particular site not only for its “pristine beauty,” but also because of the immediate need for those inthe area to bury their dead, Bergquist said.
These graves were first documented by the state historical society in 1936, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, in an effort to document abandoned cemeteries, Bergquist explained.
Through probing, Bergquist found the halves of four broken monuments under the soil.
Because the monuments were made with pre-1900 sandstone, the soft stones had broken throughout the years, Bergquist explained.
This type of stone was used for grave markers because it was easy to engrave, Bergquist explained.
“This has become a huge problem in old cemeteries,” Bergquist said.
He also found that the parts buried under the soil were better preserved than their counterparts found on top of the soil because they were not exposed to the elements, Bergquist explained.
To preserve the monuments, Bergquist removed them from the cemetery and repaired them throughout the winter by cleaning them and setting them in concrete. He returned them to the cemetery this past spring.
Bergquist told of a missing piece of a monument that he was particularly interested to find because it had an epitaph inscribed on it that his sister, Carol, had remembered when she played there as a child.
During his probing, Bergquist found the missing monument, which was that of Rebecca Quick, who died November 1872 at 2 months of age. Her epitaph reads, “Sleep on sweet babe, And find thy rest, God called you home, He thought it best.”
The other three preserved monuments included those of Rebecca’s brother, Andrew Quick, Charles Ramey, and Margaret Ramsdell.
Julie Lindquist, assistant museum director for the Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum, also remembers a visit to this cemetery that she took with her father in 1977.
The reason for her visit was to see where her great-grandfather’s first wife, Lausina Coleman, was buried.
At the time of the visit, Lindquist found part of Coleman’s broken monument, which Lindquist kept, herself, to preserve if the other half were later found.
Coleman’s parents actually sold the property to the Quick family, according to Lindquist.
Lindquist further explained that early settlers created neighborhood cemeteries like this because oftentimes there weren’t official city or church cemeteries.
Now, these early cemeteries are called pioneer cemeteries since many of them have been abandoned, she said.
“It’s really encouraging to see someone of a relatively young generation take interest in preserving history,” Lindquist said.
Because historical records indicate there are 14 grave sites in Quick Pioneer Cemetery, Bergquist thinks there are more graves to be found and therefore, more monuments to preserve.
Last month, Bergquist invited Ernie Lantto of Dassel out to the cemetery, where he used the technique of dowsing to try and locate any other graves.
Dowsing, commonly known as water witching, is an unscientific practice that uses rods to locate things such as ground water, metal, and grave sites.
“For what it’s worth,” Bergquist said skeptically, a total of 14 possible areas were found using the dowsing technique. This includes the five known grave sites.
There are also two sites that appear to be graves, according to Bergquist. Though there are no monuments indicating it, there is a site where two field rocks are mounted upright and outlined in field rock. The other site is a pile of rock with one large rock that could indicate a headstone.
“I think there is more [monuments] to be found,” Bergquist said, who would like to find the other piece of the Coleman monument.
Lindquist commended Les, his brother, Keith, along with their father, Ken, for preserving the cemetery (and the nearby Steelesville Cemetery) and “treating it with respect and care that all cemeteries deserve.”
“I hope their will be more Bergquists,” she said.