At night in dreams he sees their souls rise
Like dark geese into the Oklahoma skies
Well this is a prayer for the souls of the departed
Down an old dirt road in Okfuskee County is a gravel turn-out that bends in a half circle right by a stand of trees. Underneath them is a glorious patch of giant clovers. In shade the clovers are emerald and shamrock. In sun, pear and lime.
This is where Laura and L.D. Nelson were buried. The 27-year-old mother and her 12-year-old son were lynched just west of Okemah, Oklahoma, on May 25, 1911. Nobody claimed their bodies and they were laid to rest in unmarked graves in Greenleaf Cemetery.
I can’t believe they lynched a child.
I went to Greenleaf because for the last year or so I’ve been thinking of launching a crowdsource funding campaign to raise money for tombstones to help venerate the mother and son. But, after making the trek to the cemetery, I realized Laura and L.D. are long gone. They are not in this remote graveyard. In fact, they were gone before their broken bones were folded into the earth. Gone long before the trees grew up and formed lace shadows. Gone, gone, gone, these immortal beloved souls.
The humble graveyard is located behind an old Indian Baptist Church, which sits on a small compound of six or seven dilapidated structures. There are no pretty arches or iron work here. No beautiful bent wire scrolling out the name: Greenleaf. Just graves in disarray and tombstones surrounded by faded fake flowers and weeds. Some grave sites have short houses with gabled roofs built over them. They’re called grave shelters or spirit houses and are a common cultural practice among Native Americans. Some graves are marked with sandstone rocks. Whatever names or epitaphs were carved into them were worn away decades ago by the Oklahoma sun and rain, wind and ice.
It’s spring in Oklahoma and the Blue-eyed grass and purple poppy mallows, also known as wine cups, have bloomed. The white clover, too. And, this field is one sad vintage, so remote that I feel like I’ve gone trespassing.
As I make my way back to Highway 56 and then Highway 48, and finally, Interstate 40, I feel the souls of the departed waving across the fields reminding me, reminding us, of the suffering that is all around us. The very rocks that form the earth cry out because men cannot.
There are people suffering today just as much as Laura and L.D. Nelson suffered. Realizing this helps me let them go, even as their bones whither in unmarked graves. They aren’t there and the graves don’t matter to them and never did. For the grave of God is empty and we have all been offered life, everlasting. Meanwhile, there are people all around us in need of hope and light, peace and prayer. The soul of Laura Nelson understands this and she cries out with the rocks, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…”
Jeff Head says
The actions of the officers on that night attest to what happened. It is true that the father stole a cow to try and feed his starving family. He later paid for that. He admitted it and was sentenced to three years in prison which he served.
It is also true that his son, Lawrence, grabbed a rifle (which was illegal) and that his mother struggled with him over it (clearly, in my mind to keep him from getting himself and possibly someone else killed). The gun went off, the bullet grazed one constable in the leg, and then hit the deputy sheriff in the hip and splittered and/or richocheted into his abdomen. It probably cut his femoral artery because he stepped outside and bled to death in just a few minutes.
Tragically, this deputy left behind a wife and three young children.
However, that night, the three other constables did not take Luara and her son Lawrence into custody. This speaks to what happened…a terrible accident. Now it may well have been a crime, and the next day the Sheriff himself came out and found them at their Uncle’s house and took them in.
But the fact that the three officers there that night did not fire and did not take them into custody clearly says to me it was not murder and the son may have been tried, because the Mom (Laura) was trying to stop it. But in that day, it is almost a certainty that in Okemah a Judge and Jury would not have seen it that way and probably would have held a murder charge and hung them.
But despite that, is it clear to me that that is not what happened. Perhaps involuntary manslaughter with negligence for the son, who was a minor. The mother, who was trying to prevent a shooting should have not been tried at all in my opinion, according to the law.
I hope a group of people can do a Fund-Me Project and raise some money to atl least put a simple headstone up for these two in the Green Leaf Cemetery at least to mark where they lay.
One thing is for sure, God in Heaven will judge all involved and He will know and look to their hearts. He will also apply the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to those who come to His Son. He and His Son know the heart and they judge thereby in mercy and love. I pray that His love can be shown here and that He will come quickly back to this Earth and reign in love and mercy and end the wickedness that leads to such horrible situations like this.
Thank you, Jeff. It was hard going to that cemetery. More than markers, the town of Okemah needs to raise a statue in remembrance of Laura and her son. I’ve always wondered if he tried to prevent the rape of his mother. No video cameras back then. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, especially the last paragraph. *Love and Mercy*
Danielle McCullers says
My heart aches for Laura & L.D. I couldn’t believe the extent of cruelty that was performed during that time. However, I do believe in the resurrection hope that is set in the future for mankind, to be able to live forever on a paradise earth that will be freed from evil & lawlessness. These promises were set up by Jehovah God & his son, Jesus Christ. These scriptures in the Bible backs up these comments. Acts 15:24 & Revelation 21:4. Jehovah & Jesus know where Laura & L. D. are buried. They’re in Jehovah’s memory for the resurrection hope.
Beautiful, Danielle. I believe every word of it. Thank you for your comment.
Danielle McCullers says
Thank you. I’d just like to make a correction on one of the scriptures. I meant to say Acts 24:15 not the other way, which was Acts 15:24. This scripture speaks about the resurrection hope for the righteous & the unrighteous. I hope you & I make it there to meet Laura & J.D. At that particular time, none of the former things will come to mind. That means none of the bad stuff like how Laura & J. D. were treated & killed. We’ll be welcoming each other back on a paradise earth. That I certainly look forward to.
Bobby Lehew says
I forced myself to dwell on the photo of Laura Nelson, to see beyond the photo’s stilled shadows through to the life that was, her life with L.D. It renders me speechless. I’ve read a lot about this time period in our history. It was not that long ago. Our indurate soil, “red dirt” as we like to say, may simply be blood soaked and petrified by tears. Thank you for sharing.