We were both so busy over Memorial Day weekend at different cemeteries and with our families that we did not have time to finish our research for the planned episode this week. However, we have a very special return guest with a fascinating story joining us next week and we will be able to return to our regularly scheduled program! We humbly apologize and we thank you for sticking with us on all of our Ordinary Extraordinary Cemetery journeys. Until we meet again!
May 16, 2023

A Tale of Two Gravestones

A Tale of Two Gravestones

In downtown Pueblo, Colorado is a quilting and specialty fabric store, Stitcher's Garden,  located on Union Avenue. Immediately adjacent to this charming quilters' shop is what appears to be a raised planter which holds two very different headstones. The first, located directly next to the historic brick building, is engraved at the top with a Woodman of the World logo and the name C. R. Hedges. May 9, 1858 - Feb. 4, 1903. The second headstone, located at the far end from the first, is a rounded , white marble stone which reads, IHS Arthurus F. Versavel, S.J., Sacerdos Natus April 24, 1871, Obit Aug. 13, 1953 RIP. Does this mean then, that these two men are buried in the middle of a downtown city in Southern Colorado? The answer is no, they are not.

So just who were these men? Let's begin with Mr. Hedges. Caleb Russell (C.R.) Hedges was born in Ohio on May 9, 1858. He married his wife Laurana (often spelled Loriane in later census records) in 1881. The couple would have 10 children, eight who would live to adulthood. It appears they moved to La Junta, Colorado sometime in 1892 or 1893. They purchased property and began an orchard and dairy farm which they worked successfully for the next ten years. In January of 1903, C.R. Hedges became a new member of the local Woodmen of the World chapter allowing him to purchase a life insurance policy. Joining the organization at the same time was a young man named Frank C. Chapman, son of the Chapman family who owned property next to the Hedges. It appears, that C.R. and Frank had been arguing over certain property rights for several weeks that finally came to a head on February 2, 1903 when Frank Chapman shot C.R. Hedges. 

According to an article printed in the La Junta Tribune on February 4, 1903, "The bullet of a forty-five calibre  revolver entered Hedges' left side and struck the twelfth rib, ranged around the body, penetrating and shattering the left kidney and breaking the spine. All of the physicians in the city were summoned to the bedside of the wounded man. They found that his left  leg was totally paralyzed and his right partially so. An operation was performed yesterday morning and the shattered bones of the spine removed, but the ball was not located. The physicians say that Mr. Hedges will not live more than a week at the outside." In fact, he would die later that day.

Frank, who was just 23 years old at the time, immediately turned himself in to the sheriff. He had never been in trouble with the law before. In fact, he had served in the Spanish-American war in the Philippines prior to returning home to help his father on the farm. His trial was held in April 1903. Nine witnesses were called on behalf of the prosecution and thirty-four on behalf of the defense. Frank claimed that he only shot C.R. Hedges in self-defense therefore making a case for justifiable homicide. The real question was whether or not C.R. Hedges had been armed at the time. Before his death, he claimed he had not been armed, but his oldest son Roy was questioned shortly after the incident and he claimed that his father may have had a gun in his hand and that Frank had told him to put it down at least three times before shooting his own gun. After 18 hours of debate, 11 jurors were for acquittal while one was for prosecution. Frank Chapman was released from custody on a $500 bond. By October of 1903 the DA submitted a nolle (a wish not to prosecute) to the court officially allowing Frank to remain a free man. Frank Chapman would get married in August of 1904. He and his bride continued to live in the community where they raised their family.

C.R. Hedges's family would also continue to reside in the community. On September 23, 1903 a notice appeared in the La Junta Tribune stating, "S. W. Brown, clerk of the local Woodman lodge, turned over to Mrs. C. R. Hedges last Saturday a check for $2,000 in full payment of the insurance policy held by the late C. R. Hedges... 
There is a clause in the Woodman insurance policy which stipulates that if the insured provokes a quarrel and is killed during the altercation the policy will be void and of no effect. J. C. Latshaw, one of the head officers of the Woodman, was here a few days ago, and after investigating the circumstances of the case thoroughly, made a report to the head camp recommending that the death claim be paid in full." 

C.R. Hedges, his wife Laurana, and seven of their children are all buried in Fairview cemetery in La Junta, Colorado, as are Frank C. Chapman and his family.

And what of the second grave marker sharing space with that of C.R. Hedges? It appears that for a Catholic priest, Arthurus F. Versavel, lived quite the exciting life. Father Versavel was born in Belgium in either 1871 or 1872. At the behest of a bishop who oversaw a Catholic parish in Oklahoma, Father Versavel came to America in 1894 where he became an assistant pastor in Oklahoma. He was apparently young and enthusiastic and helped to build the local rectory as well as raise money for a Catholic school in Vinita, Oklahoma. He was so well-liked he was even able to secure funds from Protestants in the area who also promised to send their children to the Catholic school when it was finished.

On one memorable occasion he was resting in the rectory one evening when bullets from a gang of wild cowboys out in the streets came flying through the windows shattering the lamp that had been right next to him. Father Versavel was forced to take cover under a table until it was safe. He remained in Oklahoma until 1903 when he chose to join a group of Jesuit missionaries. He himself officially became a Jesuit priest in 1908 at which time he was sent as a missionary to Honduras where he would spend the next 20 years of his life. Not only did he minister to the people of Honduras, but he also spent much time among the Mayan ruins. He became a wealth of knowledge to many archaeologists who traveled to the area. In 1928 he returned to the United States where he worked for a parish in Cleveland, Ohio until 1932. From 1932 until 1937 he was in Kansas and at some point in 1937 he was transferred to Denver, Colorado where he was a beloved priest at Sacred Heart Parrish for the remainder of his life. While in Denver he devoted much of his time to working among Denver's African American community converting many of them to Catholicism. He was fluent in several languages including: English, French, Spanish, Flemish, and German. He died on August 13, 1952 and is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

Both of these men led ordinary extraordinary lives, but it still doesn't explain why they each have a headstone in Pueblo, Colorado, a town neither of them seem to have a connection to. Their actual burial sites are marked with beautiful stones that include all of their information. So where did these two stones in the middle of downtown Pueblo come from? Were they commissioned and never used? Were they used and removed from the original sites? We may never know the answer, but should you visit Stitcher's Garden or Bite Me Cake Company/Flip-a-Coin Arcade just across the street, you can take a moment to pause at the two stones and marvel at the lives these men led. 

To view the final resting places of C.R. Hedges, Frank Chapman, and Father Arthurus Versavel, follow these Find A Grave Links:



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