Perry County’s Horseshoe Grave: Part II
Posted November 13, 2023
Topics: Archaeology

By Marie Swartz, Archaeology Curator

Part I | Part II | Part III

The Saga Continues...

In Part I, we left off wondering how much truth there is to the oft-repeated tale of Perry County's horseshoe grave. The only certain facts we have at hand is our documentary artifact - Mary Henry's gravestone - which reads:

Wife of James K. Henry
Who departed this life
Feb 28, 1845, aged

Given that Mary's age is included, we can assume her birth year to be between 1818 and 1819. Due to the condition of the stone (we'll get more to that in Part III) not much more of the stone is legible. But there are certainly possibilities of an epitaph or the maker's mark of the stone carver. Unfortunately, those details are lost to time.

2023 Photograph of Mary Angle's gravestone showing the inscription. Taken by Marie Swartz during a field visit to Otterbein Cemetery.

The printed lore, joined with the above facts, leads us to believe this timeline of events:

Birth of Mary: ca. 1818-1819
Marriage of Mary & James:
Birth of child: 1845
Death of Mary: 1845
Marriage of Rachel & James: 1848
Death of James: shortly thereafter, death from horses' hoof
Death of Rachel: shortly thereafter, interred beside James

All told, our current understanding of the Henry family tree looks something like this:

The James Henry family tree, dates provided from the lore. Created by Marie Swartz.

But there are a lot of unsubstantiated dates and details. So let's do a deep dive into some genealogical records and see if we can prompt a clearer picture to emerge.

Getting to the Roots of Family Trees

Census, marriage, and other vital records - such as birth and death certificates - truly provide the backbone of this research. Common genealogical websites like Ancestry or Family Search can be used to access these records but there are plenty of in-person resources available such as Ohio History Connection's Archives and Library.

Gleaning all that is reported from genealogical records, we can lay out a corrected, and more refined, timeline of events for all players in this tale:

Birth of James: 1816, in Pennsylvania
Birth of Mary: 1818, born in New Jersey
Birth of Rachel:
1826 born in New Jesery
Marriage of Mary & James: January 11, 1844
Death of Mary: February 28, 1845, buried in Otterbein Cemetery, Perry County, Ohio
Marriage of Rachel & James: December 7, 1848
Birth of children: Rachel and James had 5 children between 1850 and 1858
Death of Henry: April 8, 1859, burial location unknown
Marriage of Rachel & Bennet Huston: 1865
Birth of child: Rachel and Bennet had one child in 1866
Death of Rachel Hodge
: July 22, 1882, buried in Pisgah Cemetery, Perry County, Ohio

This wall of dates is better clarified by this family tree graphic:

As we can see, with a little work the details within the tragic story begin to fall apart. The most obvious omission is the child of Mary and James. There is no recorded birth of the child and the 1850 census record of the Henry family does not include a child born in 1845. It is not out of the question that the child was possibly stillborn, died shortly after the birth, or was in the custody of other family members, but it is inconclusive.

James and Rachel were married for nearly a decade before James' death, the cause of which is not recorded. Was he struck over by a horses hoof? Again, perhaps, but we can't say for sure. What is known for sure is that Rachel did not in fact die soon after James, and instead remarried again after his passing. Given her second marriage, it is unlikely that Rachel is interred alongside James.

Now that we have a more complete picture of the people involved in the tale - what about that mysterious horseshoe imprint? Join me next time in Part III to unravel that mystery, and a little more.


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