Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Lonely Roadside Grave

Eliza Jane Laycocks Thomas Grave November 2004. Photo taken by Sharon Macormic

Off a winding two lane country highway in Phelp’s County, Missouri, lies an easily overlooked dirt road to the right. This road leads back into the Mark Twain National Forest and runs a ridge line. It also leads to the spot of an interesting mystery. On this road in the Ozark hills is a roadside grave belonging to Eliza Jane Laycocks Thomas. I first heard about this location referred to as “The Witch’s Grave” during the summer of 2009 after a float trip down the Big Piney River. Not much is known about Eliza Jane, but speculation would make one think that Eliza Jane was probably never referred to as a “witch” in her time, but her lonely grave has made her the subject of a “rural myth” in the Pulaski County area. The few facts that are known are that:

Eliza Jane Laycocks shows up on the 1880 United States Federal Census. According to this document her home in 1880 was the counties of Miller and Phelps, Missouri.

In 1880 she was 15 and her birth year was “about 1865”.

She was born in Missouri, the daughter of William A. and Susan A, Laycocks.

Her father was from Tennessee and her mother is from Missouri.

Using the 1880 census as a reference, one would think that she was the oldest of at least four children. Also living in the household were:

Willey Laycocks, age 12
William Laycocks, age 10
George Laycocks, age 8

According to a handmade marker, nailed to a tree above her gravesite she was the wife of Henry and died circa 1897. She would have been approximately 32. Most of her history, is lost. At least to a casual observer 112 years later. The question remains unanswered. Why was Eliza Jane Laycocks Thomas buried alone alongside a roadway ? The only other known cemetery in this area is further down the same road. I am sure that the road may have changed over the past century, but being on top of an Ozarks Mountain ridge, I doubt that it has changed drastically. Grave stones in the Mayfield Cemetery, not far from Eliza’s final resting place, are from the same era. My conjecture, at this point, is that she was traveling and died during the journey.

Eliza's lonely roadside grave August 2009. Notice the marker is no longer visible. Photo by Snoop

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