Greenwood: A Cemetery Forgotten by not Lost

Now protected partially protected from outside influences, the grave markers at Greenwood Cemetery are free to stand as a memory to the past. Among those memories are those of Mark Bateman, the subject of a future story. Dustin White photo.

Now protected partially protected from outside influences, the grave markers at Greenwood Cemetery are free to stand as a memory to the past. Among those memories are those of Mark Bateman, the subject of a future story. Dustin White photo.

Dustin White

It was the first cemetery set up west of Jamestown. Planned to be a beautiful resting place for those who passed before their loved ones, problems would lead to Greenwood Cemetery being closed, and largely abandoned.

Organized on Jan. 16, 1882, Greenwood Cemetery would be situated on a tract of land that had been used to an unknown amount of time as a burial site. Outside of Mandan, it was seen as an ideal place for a cemetery, as it would have room to grow and Mandan did as well.

The first known burial was that of Elizabeth Mann, the wife of John Mann, who had dealings at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Passing away in 1874, Elizabeth would first be buried in Bismarck, in the cemetery near the Presbyterian church. With John finding a new home in Mandan, he would have his deceased wife moved closer, so they could be buried as a family.

Slated as a 10 acre plot of land, there is also evidence that burials had been made outside of the actual site. Eventually occupying nearly 40 acres, various burials would go undocumented. In 2009, as Mandan was building a new water reservoir, 36 graves would be discovered.

After Greenwood was incorporated, the cemetery would experience a number of problems. While it was located between Mandan and Fort Abraham Lincoln, the site would only be short lived, even though the main path between the fort and city bisected the cemetery, and was well used.

However, burials at Greenwood would often become difficult. With the Heart River flooding each spring, the cemetery became inaccessible for a portion of the year.

Other problems also plagued the cemetery though. Lack of funding caused trouble for the organization from the beginning.

Even with funding, the organization had trouble staying in tact. With all but one of the members of the board leaving the state, board meetings became less frequent. The members that remained were nearing death themselves.

By 1905, the Mandan Pioneer reported that the cemetery had been completely abandoned. Already, the burial grounds were unfenced, and covered in weeds and high grass. For nearly 70 years, the site would slowly be forgotten.

The land surrounding Greenwood had been fenced off, by adjoining land owners, and public access to the cemetery was closed off. With the site out of public memory, the site would nearly be lost forever.

On June 10, 1974, an innocent legal notice was published in the Bismarck Tribune. A local farmer had made an attempt to acquire the forty acre site. However, alert county officials became aware of the legal notice, and took action.

With Morton County, with the help of the Morton County Historical Society, becoming involved with the abandoned cemetery, the individual who had sought to acquire the land dropped their action, and Greenwood fell under the jurisdiction of the Morton County Commission.

In the seven decades the site was abandoned though, it had largely fallen into ruin. With gravestones missing, and many of those that remained broken, a great effort was needed to bring the site back.

Over the years, the gravestones that remained were fenced off, and portions of the cemetery are routinely mowed.

However, the site still remains a mystery to many.

Another mystery
While Greenwood Cemetery has remained largely unknown to many, a piece of its history is a mystery even to those who know the burial site exists.

In October of 1885, 79 bodies were exhumed from Fort Abercrombie. In order to give these frontier soldiers a bit more honor, it was decided to bury them at the military cemetery at Fort Abraham Lincoln.

When Fort Abraham Lincoln was abandoned, those soldiers from Fort Abercrombie were also meant to travel with their fellow brothers in arms, to the Custer Memorial Cemetery in Montana.

In 1953, Roy P. Johnson began to question the claim. Visiting the Fort Lincoln cemetery, he questioned whether an additional 79 soldiers could have been laid to rest there. Doubtful, he learned of the possibility that those soldiers were buried at Greenwood.

A huge excavation, which is not a natural feature, at Greenwood is thought to be the mass grave in which these soldiers eventually were laid.

While Johnson was convinced that Greenwood was the final resting place for those soldiers, the prospect of such seems doubtful, as documents detail the relocation.