Ida Freeman Fox: The lost Freeman grave
October 18, 2008
Many of Craig’s historical stories deal with people making their mark on the growing town and settling happily into the community. These families find themselves in the pages of the newspaper frequently throughout the years as they make their contributions.
There are some stories, however, that are not as happy and could be lost easily in the crumbling pages of Craig’s early newspapers.
One such story is about the Freeman family and a father’s struggle in the face of extreme odds and bitter disappointment.
Leonard Freeman and his wife, Ida, had high hopes for a new home in western Routt County as they loaded a wagon and their young son for the rough trip over the mountains in October 1882. Ida was seven months pregnant, and when they reached Egeria Park, she became ill and delivered her baby two months prematurely on Oct. 14, 1882. The tiny little girl struggled to live, but the birth proved too much for her mother, and Ida Freeman died soon after the birth.
The Freemans had been traveling in the company of another family headed the same direction, but when Ida became ill, they left the Freemans and pressed forward, trying to beat the heavy winter snows that were already beginning.
Leonard was left with a dead wife, a premature infant and a toddler. He loaded them all into the wagon and drove through a cold night to catch up with his traveling companions. They reluctantly agreed to take the children with them, and he stayed behind to fashion a casket for his wife from the boards of his wagon.
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Usually when someone died along a trail, they were buried where they died, but L.C. Freeman was determined to bury his wife on the homestead she would never see. It took him ten days of strenuous travel to reach his claim southeast of what is Craig today. He buried his wife and went to check on his children.
The woman to whom he had entrusted his babies had several children of her own and put the infant in a wooden box that she kept under her bed in their tiny homestead cabin. She only took baby Ida (named for her mother) out to feed her and even when L.C. arrived, she wouldn’t allow him to hold his daughter unless it was feeding time.
When the baby was nine weeks old, Freeman decided that he needed to find a better caretaker for his children so he saddled a horse, slung a child under each arm and wrapped himself and them in a blanket before heading off to the nearest stage stop. That trip required traveling to Meeker through snowstorms and slick terrain.
He took the stage from Meeker to Cheyenne and then took a train to Concordia, Kan., where his wife’s sister lived with her own family of seven children.
L.C. Freeman left his children in Kansas and returned to his homestead. He wouldn’t see those children again until they were grown with children of their own. The children spent two years in Kansas before being shipped to another aunt and uncle in South Dakota. This couple eventually adopted the children and raised them as their own.
In the meantime, Freeman sold his homestead and built a sawmill north of Craig. He remarried in April 1895, and then faded into obscurity except for the reservoir named after him. Records don’t indicate that he had any more children, and by 1920, his second wife, Gillian Bennet Freeman was listed as a widow in the census.
When an official survey was done of the area, Freeman learned that after all his labor, he had buried his wife just across his property line, on another’s claim.
Young Ida Freeman and her brother lived full and long lives. Ida met her husband Clarence Fox in Wisconsin and the couple moved to Morrill, Neb., in 1913. Dr. Fox practiced medicine until his death in 1952. She saw her children grow up and enjoyed her grand and great-grandchildren before her death at the age of 98 on April 9, 1980. Her brother preceded her in death, dying in 1965.
There aren’t any signs of the old Freeman sawmill, nor are there signs of the grave he so carefully dug and surrounded by a picket fence. The last known notation of the grave was in 1916 – “We can still see the lonely grave among the trees, on the ranch east of town and known as the McKay place.” (Moffat County Courier, June 14, 1916)
What happened to Ida Freeman’s grave remains a mystery today as its location has been lost in the dust of Craig’s unwritten past.
Written in cooperation with the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Craig Daily Press.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org