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A long time coming

Local veteran gets military funeral 80 years after his death

William Banister died in Moffat County with little fanfare in 1921.

There was no military ceremony for the Spanish-American War veteran, just an unmarked grave in the Craig Cemetery.

His exact burial plot wasn’t even written down.



Today, more than 80 years since his casket was lowered, Banister will receive a full military funeral.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 will perform the military ceremony during the Memorial Day service at Craig Cemetery.



The burial comes after about 18 months of research into Banister’s life by the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Banister’s great grandson.

The search for Banister started with the chance discovery of his discharge papers in Cortez in November 2003.

Craig-native Bill Finley was going through his deceased sisters belongings when he came across Banister’s discharge papers from the U.S. Army.

To this day, Finley isn’t sure why his sister had Banister’s papers.

Finley was born in Craig in 1919, two years before Banister died, so the Finley family was in the area at the same time as Banister.

Whether or not Banister knew any of the Finleys is a mystery.

Finley’s guess is that his father, who was a civil engineer in Moffat County, surveyed Banister’s homestead near Price Creek and somehow ended up with the papers.

When Finley found the discharge papers, he knew just who to send them to: Dan Davidson, the director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig.

“I think a lot of him,” Finley said about Davidson.

Finley hoped Davidson would know some of Banister’s descendents who wanted the papers, but Davidson didn’t know of any Banisters still living in Moffat County.

Finley sent the papers to Craig anyway, and Davidson started his search for information about Banister.

Davidson and Finley didn’t know it at the time, but Banister’s great grandson, Scott Williams of Visalia, Calif., had been looking for information about Banister for 20 years.

Williams’s grandfather is Jesse O. Banister, William Banister’s only son.

“My grandfather, before his death, wanted information about his family,” Williams said.

Jesse O. Banister didn’t know much about his father because, after his parents’ divorce, he lived with his mother and his aunt.

For Williams, tracking down his ancestors isn’t usually a problem. Genealogy has been a hobby for him for more than 40 years. He has a database filled with more than 30,000 of his ancestors.

But finding his great-grandfather proved to be difficult because he thought Banister’s first name was Frank. Banister’s first name was William; Frank was his middle name.

Williams knew Banister was buried in Craig, but his search was stalled until Davidson found Williams’ family tree online.

After talking to Williams, Davidson got Banister’s probate papers from the state, and the details about Banister started pouring in.

Banister was a Nebraska native who fought in Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

He and his wife Ethel separated not long after their son’s birth in 1906, but the divorce wasn’t finalized for a few years.

Ethel Banister moved to South Dakota, where the divorce was finalized.

The divorce decree spelled Banister’s name “Bannister,” a mistake that also was made on Banister’s new headstone.

Banister came to Moffat County to raise cattle in about 1919.

“He was only here for two to three years at most,” Davidson said.

Banister contracted Rocky Mountain tick fever in the spring of 1921. Sheep commonly spread the disease, a point the Craig Empire article about Banister’s death pointed out.

“This was during the cattle and sheep wars in Moffat County,” Davidson said.

The disease was treatable, but Banister did not seek medical care for a month before his death. His death certificate lists “neglect” as a contributing factor.

The exact location of Banister’s burial plot was one of the few facts Davidson and Williams couldn’t track down, and the one detail Davidson wishes he had.

Banister’s new headstone will be in the older section of the cemetery where he is buried, but not directly above him.

“Unfortunately, nobody kept track of what lot and block he was buried in,” Davidson said. “I would have liked to have found where he was actually buried, but it appears to an unanswerable question.”


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