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The Hawk Eye
September 18, 2007

Pioneer day honors black soldier

MONTROSE -- For the fifth consecutive year, the Lee County Pioneer Cemetery Association will honor the forgotten dead during the annual Pioneer Patriots Day at 1 p.m. today in the Montrose Cemetery.

This year, the association will honor American Revolutionary patriot Cato Mead, believed to be the only Revolutionary War black soldier buried in Iowa. Although there has been a marker commemorating Mead in the cemetery for the past 40 years, the fact he was one of only about 5,000 soldiers of African descent who fought in the Revolutionary War wasn't discovered until 2005.

Mead will receive a full military burial Saturday from the Lee County Pioneer Cemetery Association, American Legion Post 41 in Keokuk and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3508. Bugles A┬║cross America also will be present.

"It will be just like a regular service for a veteran being buried," said Terry Altheide, president of the Lee County Pioneer Cemetery Association. "There will be a 21-gun salute."

For Altheide and the other 25 members of the Lee County Pioneer Cemetery Association, Mead's reputation is a good chance to get the word out about their organization. When the group formed five years ago, their goal was to "clean, maintain and promote" the more than 60 nearly forgotten cemeteries in Lee County. Altheide estimated there are more than 130 total cemeteries in Lee County.

"A lot of people don't know about these little cemeteries. A lot of them are neglected and forgotten, and this is our way to promote our cause and let people know about these cemeteries," Altheide said.

Keeping up with the task is a monumental job, though, and one that the association will be kept busy with for years to come.

"Some are taken care of, but most aren't," he said. "We haven't got them all yet. There's just too many."

Altheide, who is an Army Veteran and member of American Legion Post 41 in Keokuk, started the group almost by accident. A self-professed history buff, Altheide ran across one of the little cemeteries and decided to do some digging at the library. That's when he started reading about nearly forgotten war heroes buried in little abandoned cemeteries.

"We're just a bunch of history buffs and a lot of people that like genealogy," he said. "We like to refer to the cemeteries as outdoor museums."

Despite the marker commemorating Mead in the Montrose Cemetery, no one is exactly sure where the Montrose man is really buried. Mead, along with his wife, was listed as a free person of color in an 1830 Coventry Township, Portage County, Ohio, census list. Before that, however, it was not confirmed whether he was always a free man or if he was granted the status after serving in the war. Some black soldiers were offered emancipation if they served more than three years.

Mead enlisted in the military when he was 14 years old and lived in Norwich, Conn., New York and Ohio before moving to southeast Iowa. He contracted smallpox while at Valley Forge and spent two months at the Yellow Springs Hospital in Pennsylvania, known today as Chester Springs.

Mead developed a sore from the smallpox that never healed on one of his legs and forced him to supplement his income with a war pension. His wife, who was 47 years old in 1820, was too sickly to work and the sore severely hampered Mead's ability to maintain his farm.

Born in 1762, Mead died April 25, 1846, at the age of 84. He wife died two weeks later on May 5, 1846. The couple lived near Montrose in the Des Moines Township on Sugar Creek.

Since Mead did not buy land and no grave marker could be found, the Jean Espy Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed the marker in Montrose Cemetery 40 years ago.

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