Over 150 years ago, Clearfield County was a wild land, mostly forest and inhabited by Native Americans and the wildlife of the woods.
White men had moved into the region, but much of it was still untamed and the people who lived there were hardy, self-reliant individuals.
Along with setting up their little isolated communities came a need to provide for both the beginning and end of life.
And so, across the county little family or community cemeteries can be found, some with only a handful of markers.
Unfortunately, some of those final resting places have been lost and forgotten, left to the trees and weeds and weather.
The Clearfield County Historical Society as well as other local civic organizations watch for these places and try to restore them as well as learn as much about the people there as possible.
On Sunday members of the historical society, veterans groups and Knox Township citizens gathered near the village of Olanta to rededicate one of these hidden treasures and mark the lives of those buried there, including at least two Civil War veterans.
The Cathcart Graveyard is located close to South State Route 453 just outside of Olanta. There are only a few graves with intact stones that are very weathered and worn.
The rest of the graves are now marked with wooden crosses. The cemetery itself is located on the property of Carmen “Mike” Dunlap, who said he has always known of the cemetery but didn’t know how important it was.
Dunlap says his family is related to the Cathcart’s a few generations back. His father, Benjamin John Dunlap, purchased the property from James Cathcart, who was married to Benjamin’s sister, Zella. Today, Mike Dunlap lives just over the crest of the hill, directly on Route 453.
The ceremony began with scripture and prayer by the Rev. Myron Wattanphul, who noted as he thought about conflict and war that they usually begin with disagreements and the truth can only be found in scripture.
He then read Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prosper. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
“Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (NIV)
Wattanphul then said that he hopes and prays that as a nation, people will not forget the conflict of the Civil War, noting conflict comes from forgetting the truth, that truth can be found in our founding documents, which are based on the Word of God.
David Wulderk of the Clearfield County Historical Society was the keynote speaker and talked about the history of the graveyard and the people buried there.
The oldest stone is of Elizabeth Cathcart, who was most likely born in Ireland in 1769. Around 1812, she and her husband emigrated to the United States, a trip by ship that would have taken at least eight weeks.
She and her husband then settled in the wilderness that would become Clearfield County, and she lived to be 98 years and six months old, passing away in 1836.
Her son, David, was a farmer, a shoemaker, and also served as a school teacher. He farmed 312 acres of land.
Wulderk noted that many young men enlisted in the Union army during the war, but there were severe divisions when the draft was enacted. The draft was terribly unfair, and a man could purchase a substitute for $300; eight men in Knox Township did so, he said.
According to him, those who fought left families to fend for themselves, getting pay home was difficult, letters from home were often desperate, and it was hard for them to understand exactly what they were fighting for. As a result, many men deserted and found it easy to hide in the wilderness of Pennsylvania.
At the age of 63, David Cathcart became Deputy Provost, enrolling names for the draft, a dangerous occupation. In June of 1863, he made out his will and three days later was shot and seriously wounded by an unknown shooter. His foot was shattered and he fell off his horse, though he did survive and even earned a veterans pension. He died at age 77.
David’s son-in-law, Johnathan Baughman, fought in the Petersburg campaign in Virginia and also followed General Robert E. Lee’s army to Appomattox where Lee eventually surrendered. He died in 1884. Another stone in the graveyard is of Baughman’s 16-year-old wife.
Wulderk stated local and U.S. history are intertwined and each cannot exist without the other. “May they all rest in peace,” he said.
Commissioners John Sobel and Tony Scotto were also present. Sobel noted they had been a little lost getting there, but the area has several very nice cemeteries. He added Commissioner Mark McCracken was unable to attend as he is recovering from recent surgery.
Sobel noted those in the justice system that provide community service often help maintain the cemeteries in the county, and some of these people helped the historical society and veterans’ groups restore this one.
“If we don’t remember (those who served), we lose track of who we are as Americans and county residents,” Sobel said, adding “We are in your debt,” to those who restored the graveyard.
Scotto added his thoughts on how important it is to honor veterans and asked anyone who knows of a “hidden cemetery” to contact the county. “Let us know and we’ll do what we can.”
Wattanphul concluded the ceremony by reading the Gettysburg Address and ending in prayer.
After placement of markers and flags by the Vietnam Veterans of America Clearfield Chapter No. 974 and salutes from the Houtzdale American Legion Post No. 591 and Philipsburg American Legion Post No. 437 and Mahaffey Post No. 8709 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Barbara McCracken, president of the Clearfield County American Legion Ladies Auxiliary thanked everyone for the help in finding and restoring the cemetery and doing research on the people buried there.
“We study in school of history around the world, but rob our children because we don’t teach them about our local history,” she said. “To John and David, you are not forgotten.”
Also present were Knox Township Supervisor Chairman C. David Lynn, local veterans and citizens and other members of the American Legions, VFW and Auxiliary.