The case of the two-tasseled headstone
June 8, 2005
The only thing higher than Michelle Richardson that day was the nearby Dayton water tower that proclaims the area Nevada’s First Settlement.
She was up on hill overlooking Dayton, ambling around a cemetery with a classmate, passing headstones with names like Jacoboni, Campbell and Silva and miniature Italian flags fluttering at the corners of a few graves.
Plastic colorful flowers dotted graves like Easter eggs, but the place was somber. The wandering 16-year-old thought deeply about one particular headstone, wondering if the marble headstone with a poem by an H.H. Muckle would be the topic for her local-history research paper.
“We started up here and worked our way down,” said Richardson walking up recently to the marble headstone she has come to know well. “I wanted to do (a paper) on somebody older, not somebody that died recently.”
She comes to the tall, thin cream-colored headstone, one that first impressed her because of the way it jutted out, of a Charles L. Shepardson, who died Sept. 17, 1874.
Take a quick jaunt along the top row of the graveyard and anybody can see that Shepardson’s headstone aches to be known, sandwiched as it between four metal markers buried in the ground to its left and 10 more of the same flattened against the ground to its right, all reading “unknown.” Richardson thinks the Free Masons, of which Shepardson was a member, paid for his headstone.
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“I started rubbing it,” she said. “We were curious about the tassels (one on each) side. We thought maybe it was a pastor who had died.”
So when Carol Godwin, their honors English teacher, took them to the Nevada State Library and Archives to further inspire students’ research, Richardson looked through microfiche.
“I just went on a hunch to see if it was in there,” she said. “I found a newspaper article that talked about it.”
The clipping from the Lyon County Times entitled “Terrible Accident” told of Shepardson’s death outside of the Sutro Tunnel, near Dayton, where he had worked and on Sept. 17, 1874, had gone to dump ore from carts that held up to three tons of ore.
“It was while they were still building the tunnel,” she said. “When he went to push (one of the carts) over, the track collapsed. He got crushed in the abdomen and they took him to the hospital.
“It happened about 9 o’clock in the morning. He died about 11 o’clock that night.”
A follow-up obituary did not mention a wife nor children but did speak of family in Maine.
“I got some lady at the Maine Archives involved and she’s looking for some of his relatives,” she said.
She also discovered that his ancestors owned a mine in Maine and that a creek was re-named after his family.
She can only theorize as to why Shepardson was in Nevada on his own, but she has a theory, although no proof.
“In my paper, I speculate about it a little bit,” she said, “but I have nothing solid. A lot of soldiers in the Civil War, instead of returning to their families afterward, would go back to (where they served).”
Shepardson died 31 years after his birth on Dec. 23, 1842.
“It seemed like he was doing well (for himself),” said Richardson. “… It was just really interesting to study his life, and see what he did and how he died. I can’t imagine living in a time like that. If how he died happened to him nowadays, he might have lived because he lasted so long (for 14 hours).”
Godwin assigns a research paper on a local history topic each year after spring break.
“It could be a person, it could be a building, it could be an event,” she said.
Godwin said this year’s papers were particularly impressive and that she enjoyed the effort her students put into them.
“You get some students who just want to get done with it fast, but you get some people like Michelle who just blossom,” she said.
n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
Here reads the headstone
“Charles L. Shepardson, Native of Maine, died Sept. 17, 1874, Aged 31 yrs & 9 mos. Here rest thee mortal dust in strangers land, near friends though far away mourned thee deep, but hope points to a time where sorrows end, where severed ties unite when friends no more shall weep. – H.H. Muckle, Virginia”