Death in the Wild West: Child’s 1901 Headstone Sits Alone in Montana Field
In a field near Billings rests a single, solitary headstone that is 121-years-old. Bordered by a weather-worn, short picket fence, the limestone marker rests less than a quarter-mile from Interstate 90, where thousands of cars and trucks drive by every day. Occasional train traffic can be heard rumbling in the distance and buried beneath the marker lie the remains of a six-year-old child.
It's so sad.
It wasn't my first time seeing the gravestone, as I stopped by on a brisk, late-fall afternoon. Every time I visit, the setting evokes a variety of emotions. Mainly overwhelming sadness, followed by curiosity. I have so many questions about the headstone, which is the lone grave marker in a large, grassy field. As a parent, it's hard not to feel a mix of sadness and empathy at the lonely burial sight.
A final resting place for a 6-year-old Montana boy.
The inscription on the partially lichen-covered 121-year-old grave reads,
BOY EDWARD HIBER, DIED OCT. 1 1901, AGED 6 YRS. 6 MOS. 26 DAYS
On the base of the headstone, it was even more difficult to make out the inscription. I only had my phone with me for these pictures and it's tough to make out the words without really zooming in. The base sorrowfully reads,
A place is vacant in our home, which never can be filled.
I wanted to take some notes about the inscription on the solitary headstone for this article but didn't have my notepad with me. So I used a voice-recording app to record what the headstone reads. Interestingly, my app had some peculiar audio glitches about halfway through my short recording. Take a listen.
I'm not sure how much I believe all that EVP recording stuff, but I've used this app for literally hundreds of audio recordings, and this is the only glitch I've ever encountered. Make of it what you will, but it gave me a slight chill.
The child was born in 1895, not long after Montana became a state.
So many questions swirled in my head as I quietly observed the resting place of a Montana boy who died just six years after Montana became a state in 1889. What brought little Edward Hiber's family to Montana? The land where the marker rests is now owned by the Montana Department of Transportation, but at one time it was surely a family farm or ranch. Did Edward perish from an accident? Disease or illness? Did he have any siblings? Do family relatives still reside in the area? I wish I knew the heartbreaking story.
In 1901 Montana was still the wild west.
When young Edward Hiber was laid to rest in the windswept field, Montana was still pretty wild. The territory earned statehood in 1889 and as rail service opened up the West, the land grab of 1900 - 1917 was rapidly picking up steam. Teddy Rosevelt became president in September of 1901, just a month before this child was buried near a small bluff overlooking the Yellowstone Valley. On sunny days, the peaceful resting place provides a glimpse of the Absaroka Mountains on the distant western horizon.
The grave appears to be remembered.
I believe the memorial once consisted of a grander surrounding. There were four original obelisk-style corner posts that at one time likely supported some type of border fencing. They now lean at awkward angles and one is missing completely. At some point, the wooden picket fence was added to the somber site. If you look closely you can see the rusty metal studs on the remaining cement corner posts that probably held some type of figures, perhaps crosses or angels. I suspect they were either removed by the family or stolen at some point over the last 121 years. Faded plastic flowers were placed near the burial site, either by family or a considerate stranger.
Do you know the history of this site?
I'm not a genealogist, but I tried digging into internet searches for the story behind young Edward Hiber, buried in Yellowstone County in October of 1901, and I was not able to find much information. If you know the details behind this boy, his family, or the marker, please let me know.
NOTE: Burying someone on private property in rural Montana is not illegal, in most cases. Obviously, there were very few restrictions in 1901. Old graves can be found in many places around the state, please be respectful to the deceased and to private property rights. Trespassing is a crime.