MOORETON, ND – You almost have to farm the land near Mooreton to know anything about the little-known Divet Farm cemetery. It sits on a country road, nestled between corn, soybeans and a small clump of trees.
Recently, volunteers like Mark Althoff cleared and mowed brush and tall grass in the cemetery. He and local historian Janet Gagelin researched and worked to learn more about the small cemetery which houses nearly a dozen graves.
Almost all burial sites are for children who died on the prairie during the diphtheria epidemic of the 1880s.
“They’re kind of like my family. I take care of them,” Althoff said.
Pioneer settlers Harriet and Daniel Divet are the parents of some of the children who were buried there before North Dakota became a state. Their children Frederick, Florence and Cyrus were all under 10 when they died.
Diphtheria also killed three children of the pioneer Root family. Edith, Lincoln and Elizabeth. It’s hard to imagine experiencing such a loss.
By looking at maps and reading history detailing child deaths, volunteers turned a weedy graveyard into a sanctuary.
“You know, they were founders (pioneers). They were part of the beginning of the story, and we’re in the middle,” Gagelin said. “I love the stories they tell us.”
When Althoff went down there the other day to mow, he stopped short. There would be no work that day because someone stole his mower from the cemetery about 48 miles south of Fargo.
“The world today is different. I can understand if they took a mower from me, back home,” Althoff said. “But it’s a cemetery, and there (are) nine children here.”
But he’ll tell you it’s not so much about the lawnmower as it’s about the disrespect to the graveyard of the families who came here as pioneers and survived brutal winters, to leave their little ones behind. loved ones buried between fruitful agricultural fields.
“(This place) is kind of a peace of mind. It’s quiet. It makes me feel good,” Althoff said.