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161 years later, grave gets a marker

Published May 3, 2003|Updated Sep. 1, 2005

The death of Charlotte Crum has always been an important chapter in family history.

One of the first settlers in Hernando County, she was killed by one of the few remaining bands of Seminole Indians near present-day Brooksville in 1842.

B.A. Crum, 84, heard about it while driving cattle from Brooksville to Tampa with his uncle, Jesse Hope, who in the 1930s was a living link to the county's frontier era.

"He lived to be about 86 years old. He always had a cigar in his mouth," Crum said. "He rode just as straight as a straight jacket. And as old as he was, he'd ride."

Today, the story will be related to a wider audience and memorialized as a significant event not only in the history of the family, but of the state.

The Florida Division of Historical Resources has determined that Charlotte Crum's death deserves to be noted with a historical marker, which will be placed above her grave site at the Brooksville Cemetery.

The city of Brooksville and the Crum family are hosting a ceremony to unveil the marker at 11 a.m, with the speakers including U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville. The event was timed to coincide with a Crum family reunion and will also serve as the annual Memorial Day celebration usually held at the cemetery, said Chuck Elston, the cemetery's sexton.

"This way, I don't have to do two of these in one month," he said.

Both the family and the city worked together to convince the state to mark the grave site, Elston said, and the research really started with his predecessor, Chris Short.

Her first challenge was to determine where, exactly, Mrs. Crum had been buried. The records of the cemetery _ located on the original homestead of Mrs. Crum's husband, Richard _ showed the lot. But it held no marker of any sort.

In interviews with longtime county residents, Short learned from Lucile Ayers of Spring Lake that the grave was once covered with an elevated brick platform. Ayers said she remembered sitting on it as a girl when her family visited the nearby burial site of her great uncle, Thomas Darby, who had served as a Confederate soldier in the Civil War.

Bill Cobb, Brooksville's former police chief, who has since died, said he also remembered the brick cover. In the late 1960s or early '70s, with the mortar crumbling, the city dismantled it and hauled away the bricks, Cobb told Short.

Short determined the exact location, a few yards from the cemetery's entrance on Olmes Road, by looking at an oak on Mrs. Crum's plot. The corner of the brick cover would have have fit snugly in the oak's exposed roots.

"It looked like it grew up around that cover," Elston said. "It was too much of a coincidence."

Stephen McCleod of the Division of State Resources carried the research on from there. He completed a report on Mrs. Crum's death in 2000 that served as the basis for the application to the state.

It included an account of the killing in the state's leading newspaper of the time, the St. Augustine News. Mrs. Crum was riding near the family homestead in the settlement that the paper called "Chuckachattee" and which McCleod, in other parts of his report, spells Chuccochattie.

"Mrs. Crum was riding near the rear of the party . . . It is stated that the Indians cut off her head . . . We have all expected that this treaty would prove as delusive as former ones, but were in hopes that the enemy would remain quiet for a few months at least," the paper said, referring to the treaty that ended the Second Seminole War.

That war had marked the beginning of the settlement of Florida. When it ended, the federal government had passed the Armed Occupation Act to encourage the immigration of settlers like the Crums.

Mrs. Crum was born in 1792 in Virginia, and lived with her first husband, Samuel Pyles, in Georgia before they both moved to present-day Alachua County in the 1820s, McCleod's paper said.

Pyles, according to McCleod's paper, was one of the few settlers of the time that engaged in commerce with the Seminoles.

"Mr. Pyles had long traded with the Indians and while many of them probably considered the Americans as their displacer, (it) is evident that many thought Pyles to be their friend," McCleod wrote.

Mrs. Crum married Richard Crum after Pyles died in 1837, McCleod wrote, and settled near Chuccochattie shortly after the signing of the Armed Occupation Act. Unfortunately, by the fall of 1842, word of the war's end had not spread to all the Seminoles, according to McCleod.

Published reports of the killing spread panic throughout the state. And it was viewed with regret by some of the Seminoles when they realized that Mrs. Crum was the former Mrs. Pyles, McCleod said.

Mrs. Crum's story may be the most historically significant one in the cemetery, but it is far from the only one, Elston said.

The oldest sections of the cemetery are crowded with oaks, cedars and sago palms, and with weathered graves from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Some, he said, are especially intriguing. A line of small headstones mark the graves of three young girls in the Sasser family. All died within four days of one another in the end of 1908 and the beginning of 1909. Their ages were 2, 6 and 9.

"Look at the dates," Elston said.

"There's a story behind every one of these headstones. If you knew every one of them, this would be an interesting place."

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