Where is Isaac Russell’s grave?

By Linda Emley

Many years ago, I went to a job interview and was surprised to find that the company was interviewing 10 people at the same time. We all sat in a big conference room, and the interviewer asked each of us different questions. I’ll never forget when the interviewer asked, “Do you consider yourself to be analytical?” I was glad someone else got this question because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to answer it correctly. I looked up “analytical” and saw myself. “Analytical thinkers like to get to the bottom of things. Curiosity is one of their strongest motives. They want to know what holds the world together deep down inside.” Today, I can finally admit that I’m an analytical person.

So many times, I write a story and there is one piece missing. That’s when I put on my “analytical” hat and see if I can find some answers. In January 2012, I wrote a story about Millican Russell. I was always sad that I couldn’t find where her father was buried. I’m still looking for his grave. The following is a brief recap of her life.

On Sept. 28, 1843, a baby girl was born in Ray County. Isabella Millican Russell was the daughter of Isaac and Mary Walton Russell. Her father died Sept. 25, 1844, so little Isabella did not remember her father, but she made sure his life was remembered for future generations. Isabella wrote a book titled the “History of Isaac Russell.”

I recently read her story about Russell and his journey. She collected stories from her family and recorded many day-to-day events in letters she wrote. Isabella died in Mesa, Ariz., Feb. 12, 1928, so we are lucky that her letters are full of local history.

Russell was one of the Latter-day Saints who was in the Richmond Jail at the same time as Joseph Smith in 1838. Russell had joined the church while he was living in Canada in 1836 and went on a church mission to England in 1837. By 1838, he and his family were back living in Caldwell County. They stayed at Far West when many other Saints moved to Illinois in 1839.

The Russell family moved to Ray County after leaving Caldwell County around 1843 and rented the Woodward farm 3 miles east of Richmond. It had two houses, an apple orchard and stables. It was located in a dense forest, so the family spent many hours clearing the land for farming.

When Isaac Russell died in 1844, he was buried on the Woodward farm in the forest a few hundred yards to the south of the family home. Isabella said that a county road later crossed their farm, leaving his grave in the middle of the road. Those traveling by could pass to the left or the right of his grave. Isaac’s son, Sam, added a fence around his father’s grave. Isabella wrote, “After we left, we had Robert Sharp, a cousin, keep the place in repair, and when we last visited in 1882, we were pleased to see that it had been well cared for. I visited the grave many times as I grew up and became familiar with the sad story of his life and suffering. I would ride miles out of my way while going to Richmond or to some neighbors, only to be alone a little while beside my father.”

Now for the rest of the story. A lady stopped by the museum last week and asked about the grave of Isaac Russell. I told her I had written about his daughter but hadn’t been able to locate his grave. I found my old story, which gave me some new ideas.

I got out the “Original Land Entries” book in our genealogical library and found George Woodward, who owned a farm a few miles east of Richmond in the 1820s. It showed his land to be in Township 52, Range 27, Section 25 and 26. This matched the description of the location of the Russell’s Woodward farm.

The next clue was Isabella’s story about the grave. She mentioned that the grave was still in the middle of the road in 1882.

I found the 1877 plat book and looked up the “52-27-25 and 26” land and found two roads running across the former farm of Isaac Russell. When we compared this plat book to the current plat book, we found that one of the roads was now a plowed field and the other road is still there.

Driving east out of Richmond on Highway 10 around 3 miles down the road, one will find Landing Road. It heads north and runs over the farm that Russell once farmed.

So now our search for the 1844 grave of Isaac Russell has been narrowed down to a plowed field or Landing Road. We may never find his tombstone, but we are a lot closer to finding it than we were when I first wrote this story in 2012. And that is how most of my days go, because I’m one of those “analytical” people who always has to find the rest of the story.

Once again I can say, “Thanks for the memories Isabella, you and your mighty pen did a wonderful job of sharing some tales from the early days of Ray County.”

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