Saturday, July 30, 2016

Little Ida Galbreath and the Bryson City Cemetery

My family and I recently took a trip to the northeastern US, visiting sites such as Valley Forge, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Freedom Trail in Boston, and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in Salem, Massachusetts. Being the lover of history that I am, I often will take a stroll through a cemetery or two in the areas I visit (my children and husband are very tolerant of this unusual activity). On this particular trip, here were a few of the cemetery highlights:
  • We visited the Granary Burying Ground in the heart of Boston and paid our respects to Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock, and the victims of the Boston Massacre.
  • We visited the King's Chapel Burying Ground (again in Boston) and saw the grave of Massachusetts' first governor, John Winthrop.
  • We visited the Burying Point Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts, which is the site of Giles Corey's execution for witchcraft during the Salem Witch hysteria in 1692. We also visited Giles' first wife's grave while there.
  • I visited (with my husband's wonderful aunt and uncle) the Revolutionary War Cemetery in Salem, New York in which 100 Revolutionary War veterans are known to be buried (and are all marked). Tradition holds that an additional approximately100 Revolutionary soldiers were buried here in a common grave: victims of the first day of fighting in the Battle of Saratoga.
Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts
Photo by Wendy Meyers
I love all cemeteries, but older and more established cemeteries such as these have a particular draw for me.  I love to read the epitaphs and admire the interesting motifs graven upon the stones. Mostly, however, I love the great sense of history present in these sacred places - of times gone and cultures that will never again exist. I have such a great desire to know the people resting there for eternity. As a fellow cemetery lover and good friend of mine has stated, "I just like to sit down next to the stones and ask those buried there to tell me their story."

Swain County is very blessed to be filled with these types of cemeteries. The Bryson City cemetery, which overlooks town, is one of them. In this cemetery reside the mortal remains of individuals and families who are famous and those who are not; individuals who were teachers, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, authors, and merchants; fathers, mothers, and children; saints and sinners; pillars of the community and ne'er-do-wells; veterans; travelers struck dead while visiting or conducting business here; criminals and murder victims; people who lived great long lives, and infants who never drew their first breath. The list could go on and on. Hundreds of graves are inscribed, bearing witness to the lives of those buried there. But at least 100 graves have only a fieldstone to mark them - the bodies entombed beneath known only to God now.

A section of the Bryson City Cemetery
Photo by Wendy Meyers

A special group of individuals from both within and outside Swain County has come together over the last year to found the 'Friends of the Bryson City Cemetery' (FOBCC), a registered North Carolina non-profit organization. The FOBCC is dedicated to preserving the cemetery grounds and promoting the town, county, and area history and the heritage associated with those buried there. Hundreds of volunteer hours have been invested into the cemetery by both FOBCC members and other interested individuals, students, and organizations. The cemetery is now being mowed and "cleaned off" on a regular basis, and a large number of previously unreadable stones have been cleaned and restored to a like new (or nearly so) condition (see this link for examples: This historical and reverent place has truly been restored to the condition both it and its occupants deserve.

In addition to their cemetery maintenance and improvement activities, the 'Friends' are also actively engaged in an intensive and highly technical mapping of the cemetery; they are also collecting as much information as possible (obituaries, biographies, pictures, etc.) about those buried on the grounds in hopes of being able to publish a book about the fascinating history the cemetery represents.

One of the individuals buried in the cemetery is a little 4 year-old girl by the name of Ida Galbreath.  (Note to the reader: though locally we know the spelling of this family's name as "Galbreath", this appears to have been an aberration. The remaining members of the family are buried with the spelling of "Galbraith".) Ida's grandparents, Joseph M. and Elizabeth (Coleman) Galbraith appear to have been the settlers for whom Galbreath's Creek is named, as the 1850 census records their residing in that general area. Their son, Mark Coleman Galbraith (1854-1943), married Dovie Allman (1869 - 1938) in 1886. They and likely some of Mark's siblings appear to have run a hotel in the current area of the Bryson City depot that was called the "Galbreath Hotel", as indicated in a 1905 deed of sale. Mark and Dovie's first child was born in 1888 and Ida arrived next in 1890. She was the second of their 8 known children, and died in a freak accident on Everett Street on April 21, 1895. Her death was reported in the Bryson City Times later that week, as transcribed below.
Ida's grandfather, Joseph M. Galbreath and her brother Claude, circa 1900
Source: user 'mcbowen'

Sunday afternoon about four, while the people were lounging about, as is usual when there is nothing to do but walk, little Ida, the five-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. M.C. Galbreath, was playing along the level sidewalk in front of Evereat’s (sic) store. Several other small children were with her.
There being no apparent occasion for alarm, no one paid any attention to the little ones.
James Meadows, who witnessed all, says Ida was leading the jolly little party on its way toward the bridge, and having missed the others from her side, she very naturally turned while running to see where the others were.  While her head was thus turned, her feet in some way became tangled, and in the presence of several spectators, the little captain of the band stumbled and fell.
Seeing that she neither made any noise or effort to rise, she was lifted to her feet; but no sooner had this been done than she stretched at full length, cast her eyes upward, raised one hand, gasped, and in fifteen seconds, died. Her neck was broken.
This is all the explanation anybody can give of the very strange accident.
The funeral services took place at the Methodist Church on Monday afternoon, and the remains of the little child, which, twenty-four hours before had been healthy and happy, were laid away in the cemetery to await the Resurrection.
The bereaved family have the deep sympathy of our entire community.
The Bryson City Times, April 26, 1895, page 1
Sometime between 1895 and 1900 (1897 per the family), the Galbraiths moved their family to the Bridgeport area of Douglas County, Washington, along with Mark’s parents, two of his brothers, and his sister. They farmed in the area for the remainder of their lives and are buried there.

Should you choose to visit Ida's grave, you will note that her headstone bears a death date of July 1894 but as stated in the newspaper article above, her actual date of death was April 21st, 1895. This almost certainly indicates that she had only a fieldstone to mark her grave until the present headstone was placed many years (even decades) after her death, likely not by her parents (I don't believe that any parent could forget the date upon which their child died). Don Casada (current president of the FOBCC) visited Ida's grave on the day I found her death notice and thoroughly cleaned the stone so that it is now both readable and findable - and very poignant in its simplicity.

Headstone of Ida Mae Galbreath at the Bryson City Cemetery
Photo by Wendy Meyers

Little Ida Galbreath is but one of the beneficiaries of the wonderful work being performed by the FOBCC. Many of my readers with Swain County roots have familial ties to others buried in the Bryson City cemetery.  The FOBCC would like to extend an invitation to all interested individuals and families to join in their efforts. Information on membership and an application may be found at this link:

Sources:, and Ancestry user 'mcbowen'
The Bryson City Times, April 26, 1895
Swain County Register of Deeds office, Deed book 26, page 438