Volunteers are launching a mission this weekend to restore 80 almost-forgotten cemeteries from decades past in southwestern Iowa’s Shelby and Harrison counties. Shelby County Historian Ron Chamberlain has worked for more than 20 years to bring recognition to many of the final resting places. Chamberlain heads up the non-profit Western Iowa Pioneer Cemetery Association or WIPCA.

He says the Native American trails ran between the creeks and rivers and the old towns, built by the first white settlers are gone, but the cemeteries are still there — and they’re in very poor condition. He says seven or eight carloads of people will gather at Pauley’s Pub in Panama at 8:15 A.M. Saturday and travel north to the Galland’s Grove Cemetery to take a tour.

They’ll visit four cemeteries that are in bad shape with trees growing on the fencelines and tombstones are out of the ground. Chamberlain says they’ll put up a flag pole at one of them and they will sing the National Anthem. The Galland’s Grove Cemetery was once covered by 50-thousand acres of timber and is located north of Panama, west of Earling, east of Dunlap and south of Dow City. Chamblerlain says it’s an interesting part of Iowa’s history.

Able Galland’s brother, Isaac, built the first school house in Iowa, in the eastern part of the state and his child was the first white born in Iowa — in 1830. Able Galland came west with the Mormons in the 1800s and lived with the Native Americans before Iowa became a state in 1846.

The Mormons who settled in western Iowa on their trip to Utah started the Re-Organized Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1859 in Shelby County. These days, it’s called the Community of Christ Church. Chamberlain says he’s received permission from the church to locate some 100 to 200 tombstones on the property which are still in excellent condition, despite the fact many have fallen or become partially covered by the soil. He says the volunteers will work on raising fallen tombstones or putting new grave markers in place where the engravings have worn-off.

Efforts are also underway to establish roads to the cemeteries, where none currently exist. Much research has been done on those who were laid to rest in the cemeteries. Chamberlain says his hobby is trying to learn more about the Civil War veterans — and their families — whose remains lay forgotten.

He says after working on two cemeteries, they’ll have lunch at a nearby park. The work will continue for the next two to three-years until all the cemeteries in Shelby and Harrison County are completed. Afterward, the group plans to restore cemeteries in western Pottawattamie, Mills and Monona counties.

 WIPCA t-shirts will be sold at five-dollars a piece to help fund the restoration efforts and place flagpoles at the cemeteries. For more information, call Chamberlain at 712-489-2736.

By Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic