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Evoking our pioneers

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Posted: Friday, October 3, 2008 10:00 pm

It all started with a little girl in a cemetery.

July in the valley was as hot as ever. The ground and air were dry. Barbara Filbin, who was somewhere between eight and nine years old, walked through the rows of white, fading headstones at the Liberty Road Cemetery. As she collected trash and brushed fallen oak leaves from tombstones, she was captivated by each letter that protruded from the headstones.

Barton. Infant son. Born July 1892. Died July 20, 1892.

Woodruff. Died April 10, 1869. 22 years old.

Fannie. Wife of L.J. Young. 25 years, 10 months, 18 days.

So many women. So many children. So many secrets Filbin would never know.

What was supposed to be summertime volunteer work for her 4-H chapter transformed into a life-long dedication to the area's oldest cemeteries and the pioneers buried there.

Now, with her three daughters grown, Filbin, a natural history buff, has documented Sacramento and San Joaquin county cemeteries, each with a complete index of pioneers. In her books, "Pioneer Hicksville Cemetery," "Pioneer Galt Cemetery," "Pioneer Elliot Cemetery," "Pioneer Liberty Cemetery" and "Pioneer Live Oak Cemetery," details include cemeteries' first burials and information about the families who are buried there.

"Now, all of these pioneers have been recognized. They're all down on paper," Filbin said.

Filbin, who lives in Acampo, is thankful to the pioneers enduring difficult times so life can be easier today. Her books and archive projects are her ways to honor all of the people who settled Galt, Acampo and Lodi.

"They had hard lives - there was the flood in the 1860s, cattle died and there was nothing to eat, people just died from starvation," she said. "We have it so good."


The marker for John Fuqua still stands at the Liberty Cemetery. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

Walking through the dirt and short, dry grass at Liberty Cemetery she's watched decay and be vandalized over the years, Filbin tells stories about the engraved names as though they are her old friends.

Calvin Briggs, she says, has an interesting story. He was an early pioneer who was caught by the Shawnee Indians in Colorodo. Because Briggs showed bravery and passed a flogging test, the chief gave Briggs one of his daughters as a prize. In 1846, Briggs and his gifted wife arrived in Liberty, where they lived until death.

The headstones for the Fugett children are broken into small chunks of stone and pieced back together like a jigsaw puzzle. As diseases like cholera and euphoria spread, headstones show that one of the children died and the other two followed the next day. The cemetery is also known as the Cemetery of Children because so many children are buried there.

Louis Andreas was the first person to be buried at Liberty Cemetery. As the local Legend of Liberty Rose goes, he and his slave were traveling from West to East coast with a rose bush when Andreas died. At the grave, Andreas' slave planted the rose bush that thrived even when no one was caring for it.


Many headstones at local pioneer cemeteries are breaking and wearing away because of age and vandalism. With her research and books, Barbara Filbin, of Acampo, is trying to keep Galt, Lodi and Acampo history alive. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

John Sutter, burried in the Liberty Cemetery, is part of the Sutter family in Germany.

C. Moore Carr was a member of the legislature in Sacramento.

Elizabeth Fugitt, 1829-1880, was the first postamster in Liberty.

Filbin has learned a lot about the short lived town of Liberty from the research she's done on the five-acre cemetery that was started in 1852. Liberty, which sat on the hill at the end of Liberty Road, between Lodi and Galt, was a thriving town for 10 years. It had two names - Davis Crossing and Fugitts (for founder C.C. Fugitts) - before it was named Liberty in 1859.

According to a cemetery plaque place by Tuleburgh Chapter No. 69 E Clampus Vitus, Liberty was an important stage stop between Stockton and Sacramento. The town was only the size of two acres, but included three stores that opened shop beneath a hotel, two blacksmiths, a wagonwright, livery, cobbler and dentist. When a stop for the Central Pacific Railroad was put in Galt, most of Liberty's businesses were moved to Galt.

Filbin smiles as she thinks about each of the names she's recorded. She can visualize them, see them living in the swampy, wet area during the flood. She can picture the thriving town of Liberty at its peak in 1869. They came from all places, and that fascinates her.

"A lot (of them) came for the Gold Rush, some are from the civil war. Most were farmers who came for good soil," she said.

All that remains of the town of Liberty is the cemetery that holds nearly 475 known burials. When Highway 99 was built, 19 unmarked graves were moved to another part of the cemetery. Only three of them are identified. Lodi area historian Ralph Lea says Filbin's work was important after the "mess" made during the building of Highway 99.

"She located a lot of people (area historians) didn't even know about," Lea said. "Her work is very worthwhile for history."

Barbara Filbin At A Glance
Family: Husband Don, three daughters, five grandchildren, two great granchildren
What friends call her: The lady who records dead people
Previous professions: Music teacher and knitting company owner
Something interesting: She has a complete organ built in her house.
Hobbies: Reading, history, oil painting
Where she lives: Acampo
Where she does a lot of her work: In cemeteries and in her living room chair beside her laptop.
First memories of a cemetery: Cleanup with her 4-H group as a child
Here favorite cemetery: Live Oak, because it's not there anymore. It used to be on Ham Lane and Armstrong Road.
Where you can find her books on pioneer cemeteries: Lodi Library, http://www.lulu.com">http://www.lulu.com.

Filbin, with the help of her friend, Adine Gnekow, always starts her search for pioneers the old fashioned way: Digging through hundred-year-old obituaries and newspapers articles. But even time is making her research a challenge.

"Most records are on microfilm, but even that has so much deterioration," she said. "I found all of the deeds for the town of Liberty, but it took two or three months just to deceifer (the writing)."

Filbin also works with the local historical societies. Many of the cemeteries - with the exception of Live Oak Cemetery, which doesn't even exist anymore - are kept up by historical societies and volunteer groups. Gates and fences have been erected to protect the headstones from vandalism, a huge problem.

Standing near Liberty Road, looking over the dry grass and dirt-topped cemetery surrounded by black fields from a recent fire, Filbin admits there are still so many secrets she'll never know.

Pointing to a large gap between the first gravesite, where Andreas was buried originally, and the rest of the cemetery on a distant hill, Filbin thinks out loud. Why the gap, she wonders? "There's not a gravesite until you get way up on the hill." Could it be possible that there are even more unrecorded burials?

"I think so," Filbin admits, confidently.

Still, she's happy that she's been able to document nearly 500 burials. With their names in her notebooks and photos on her laptop, they won't be forgotten.

"I feel l've done good to have gotten as many as I did," she said.

Filbin will continue to document as many gravesites and pioneers as she can. Her next project is documenting GAR (Grand Army Republic) veterans of the Civil War. So far, she thinks there are 125 Civil War veterans buried in the Lodi and Galt area.

"I think it's great work," Lea said. "I appreciate it."

Contact Lodi Living Editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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