A Backyard Grave (in West 86th Subdivision)

A Backyard Grave in
Traders Point, Indiana

By Ross Reller

Armed with a piece of paper showing the approximate site of the Cotton Cemetery, I knocked on the door. “Excuse me sir, but do you mind if I walk through your backyard? I believe it leads to an old cemetery up on the hill.”
Now before I tell you how he responded, at the time I thought it was entirely possible that he did not know a cemetery was there. Or if he knew it was there, he certainly did not want his world to suddenly change by how he answered some stranger’s question. Please pause and reflect upon how you might react if confronted with the same question.
The neighborhood is spectacular. The homes are above average in every respect. The lots are well-landscaped and over a hundred of them feature the finest building materials. The developer took advantage of the mature wooded terrain. A creek meanders alongside numerous lots. Some of these lots overlook a large pond created by a long-gone quarry operation. It is a desirable setting for a peaceful residential community. Built by a prominent Indianapolis developer, Sol C. Miller, in the 1990s, the West 86th Street subdivision is one of the more prestigious communities in the township and is home to some very important people in Indianapolis.
The community is deemed far superior to the outdoor amphitheatre that almost located here when the property became available in the mid 1980s. After a long battle with neighbors and the city, music mogul Dave Lucas of Sunshine Promotions knew he was not welcome on this site in Pike Township. But this could have been the site for the Verizon Music Center (formerly Deer Creek), if the neighbors had not been so vocal in their opposition. The nearby Eagle Creek valley would have been ideal for pitching a tent in anticipation of a Grateful Concert the next day. The music might have wafted for miles. But Sol Miller had few remonstrators for his development.
A community like this is home to a variety of successful people. Doctors, lawyers, business owners, accountants and even scientists choose communities like this. I would learn months later that the man facing me had such renowned that his words could be found on the internet, “Beyond target discovery, we expect that proteins will reveal novel biomarkers, which will be important for new strategies to get a drug in the clinic and could be used in future diagnostics.”
And as I faced him and noticed the backdrop of his formal living room and the Sunday paper spread by a chair, I realized that a wall of windows overlooked the wooded area that was my area of interest. Before he could answer I unfolded the copy of the topo map and tried to show him where I thought the cemetery might be. As quickly as he could say I’m not sure, uh, sure I guess so, I wondered if he regretted it. There was a certain look on his face of “here goes the neighborhood, the secret’s out.”
In the hour preceding this encounter with the scientist, my wife and our dog and I had been doing etchings of grave markers at another area cemetery, the Hopewell Cemetery. Armed with rolls of paper, crayons, a notebook and a camera we were attempting to get a better understanding of our neighborhood and those buried in it. We had been on hands and knees etching the relief of the headstones with paper and crayon. I was filthy. So my attire was not going to get me an invitation to come in and discuss the matter further. The door closed and I went to my car on the cul-de-sac to get my wife and dog and our supplies.
After crossing a carefully manicured lawn we were in the heavy woods. Just beyond the yard the topography changed. We walked ten or fifteen feet down a steep embankment, over a now dry Cotton Creek and then back up a similar slope to a flat area in a grove of tall trees where the grave markers were immediately evident. Most of these were broken and were slightly hidden, laying flat under layers of leaves. A couple of stones were still upright. We were approximately two to three hundred feet from the wall of windows in his living room. We realized that it was very possible from this vantage point that the cemetery might not be visible from the house.
“Harmon’s buried here!” I shouted to my wife. I had just learned a few weeks earlier some of the names of the township’s earliest settlers. Why I would have expected her to have remembered these names I do not know. Hesitantly she said, “Who was Harmon?” as if she was about to be scolded for not knowing. “I think he was the first settler in the township,” I said with all the authority of someone who doesn’t have a clue. “But the graveyard isn’t even marked, isn’t that odd if he’s so important to the township?” Gwen said. “John Harmon, Born 1767 Died 1825”, she read aloud, “James Harmon, Born Feb. 7 1797, and Died April 11, 1847.
We quietly went about our business of etching Then we went home. The property owner and his unmarked cemetery would be left alone for another day.
The earliest land records from the National Land Office record that on November 9, 1822: John B. Harmon bought 160 acres, NE ¼, sec 15. This site is where the Traders Point Creamery in northwestern Pike Township, Marion County is today. His son, James Harmon, on October 3, 1823 purchased the W ½ NW ¼, sec 14, 80 acres, a site just east of his father’s land on the east side of Eagle Creek. James Harmon only enjoyed two years of his father’s company on their adjacent farms. But James showed his respect for his father by donating a portion of his smaller farm for a cemetery where his father could be buried. A cemetery that today is anonymous.
Father and Son were two of the earliest settlers in Pike Township. They moved to the area together, settled on it, bought adjacent farms, worked here, died here, and remain here, in a quiet unmarked cemetery in someone’s backyard, in Sol Miller’s West 86th..

Among the earliest (Pike Township) settlers and perhaps the first thereof was James Harmon who came to the township in 1820, settling on the east side of Eagle Creek near the North county Line. Source: Pike Township Historical Society.

Author’s Note The approximate location of the Cotton Cemetery is shown on the USGS 1953 Quadrangle map that was folded in my pocket. An earlier article, “Conner’s Choice”, explores Pike township’s first property owner, a land speculator by the name of William Conner, who chose an 80 acre parcel where Eagle Creek crosses Lafayette Road. As most Indiana 4th graders know, William Conner chose to settle in Hamilton County and built the county’s first brick house.

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