The bodies of four early settlers were found in Wentzville during preparation for the Wentzville Bend project: a 60-acre mixed use development.
The land, at least the general area, where the bodies were discovered is south east of Wentzville Parkway, just south and west of City Hall, between Wentzville Parkway and William Dierberg Drive.
The bodies were Mary Jane Fairchild, né Goodwin, and three children: George Mason Fairchild, Addie Eugenia Fairchild and Burton Minor Fairchild.
George Mason was born October of 1855 and died in February of 1856. Addie Eugenia was born in February of 1857 and died, ostensibly of small pox, in November of 1872. Burton Minor was born in August of 1861 and died in August of 1868.
In total, Mary Jane had seven children. The four children that were not buried there were Charles Edmond, born November 1848; Henry William, born June of 1851; Franklin Benton, born April of 1859; and Annie Viola, born January 1874.
“They are not original settlers to Wentzville. I think Wentzville was already established back when they moved here,” John Allen said. Mary Jane was Allen’s great grandmother. Her name was Annie Viola Fairchild. She married Joseph Lewis Allen.
Allen said that he isn’t positive on the date that the Fairchild family moved to the Wentzville area, but it was mid-1800’s.
He also said that there isn’t any documentation as to the reason why they settled in Wentzville, what originally brought them to the area.
“We knew, from our elders, from word of mouth passed down, that some of our ancestors were buried on that property. There used to be a cedar tree out in the middle of that field. We were always under the understanding that some of our ancestors were buried there. The property owners had this development company come in and approach them as far as buying the property for development,” Allen said. The owners of the property were the Brune family.
In order to begin developing the land, the development company had to make sure to do extensive testing on the soil and property. The owners of the property told the developers that there might be some bodies buried there.
“So they did some exploratory digging with an archaeologist and they did find evidence of a grave site there,” Allen said.
There were no permanent markers at the gravesite, indicating where it was or who was buried there.
“There may have been many, many years ago. Maybe a wooden marker or something but over time through farming practices and what else, there was nothing there,” Allen said.
There hadn’t been any permanent marker there at least since 1956, Allen’s birth year.
Once the four bodies were found, the archaeologist and the soil testing company started doing some research.
“At that point, they did not know who these remains were related to,” Allen said.
But after some research, it was discovered that he and his family were related to those discovered bodies.
“They discovered that we were related, that the Allens were related to these Fairchilds. We were related through my immediate grandmother on my father’s side. My grandmother was Mary Jane Fairchild’s youngest daughter,” Allen said.
As far as testing for identity went, there was no possible way to get DNA samples, so archives and word of mouth lineage proved vital.
“There was no discovery through DNA or anything like that. This was just through records, property records, who owned those properties way back then. There was documentation that they were buried there. Just through genealogy they connected it to my family,” Allen said.
At that point, Allen had a meeting with the development company to decide what would be done with the bodies. One grave had already been exhumed at that time and it was the to be decided if the rest of the bodies be exhumed or simply left to rest in peace.
“At that point we decided, since there were never any markings there, it was an isolated gravesite, that it would be better to have them exhumed and moved to an established cemetery,” Allen said.
This is where Eric Pitman and Pitman Funeral Home came in. The bodies were transferred to Pitman funeral home, housed there and then transferred to Linn Cemetery, where the rest of the family was buried.
They also held a short graveside service for the family.
Eric Pitman noted that the nature of the materials used to bury these Fairchilds implies that maybe they had maybe been well off.
“It seemed as though the family had some significance and access to money: a wealthier family, because of how the ornateness was. The ornate parts of caskets that they found weren’t just ordinary caskets or coffins: there were ornate decorations. That meant that probably spent a decent amount of money to have a better casket for these individuals,” Pitman said.
Dan Lang, Director of Economic Development, said that the bodies were discovered to be related to William Allen, the founder of Wentzville.
“Back in 1855, William Allen basically started the city of Wentzville, not as an incorporated city but as a community along the railroad,” Lang said. “He had donated, I believe, 40 acres to start Wentzville and negotiated to have the railroad come through the community.”
Lang said that, as he understands it, the purpose of the railroad was to get agriculture products, which were being grown in the area, principally tobacco, to markets in Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.
Because of the word of mouth family history that was passed down through generations, these bodies could be identified and laid to rest with their relatives instead of forever being isolated.
It shows the value that genealogy has.
“I value it. The older I get, the more value it has for me. As a youngster, it didn’t really mean anything to me. Some of my elders explained that we had ancestors or something buried there but back in my teen years or twenties, it didn’t mean anything to me. But now that I am older, I find it very interesting,” Allen said.