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Dassel man giving graves new life


Pigeon Lake Baptist Cemetery, also known as Chaney Cemetery, is getting a new look on life thanks to Dassel resident Paul Fank. Pigeon Lake Cemetery is located in Section 8, Collinwood Township approximately three miles south of Dassel on the Jeanette Servin farm, overlooking Pigeon Lake. It has 32 gravesites dating back to 1868 with a lot of history that could have been lost if it were not for Fank’s diligent volunteer work.

Fank came to the Dassel area from the Olivia area in 1973. Bob Regal, one of Fank’s neighbors told him about the cemetery. Fank lives on a farm about one mile from the cemetery, and discovered the cemetery in 1974 when he was out for a walk through the woods. The cemetery was in very poor condition due to overgrowth, vandalism and natural deterioration. When he saw all the damaged gravestones he made up his mind he was going to rebuild all the damaged stones, identify who was buried there, and give the cemetery a new life. “Some day when I have time, I am going to clean it up,” Fank said. He started working on the renovation about three years ago and is going to keep working on it until his mission is accomplished. He said, “It’s been there over 100 years… what’s another year or 10?” One of the first burials in the cemetery was Thomas J. Chaney on Nov. 23, 1868. He was the son of Jacob Chaney and was born in Meeker County in June 1867. Area neighbors, Ken Bolster and Lee Gores, pitched in to help Fank with the restoration project.


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The area where the cemetery was found at one time was known as the Hutchins District, named after the Hutchins family who lived near District #17 School about a quarter of a mile north of the present David Urban home. The school has been moved, and the Hutchins home has been razed. Jacob and Nancy Hutchins were of English descent and came to this area from Kentucky by boat. According to historical records, Nancy Hutchins, whose maiden name was Buchanan, was a descendant of former United States President James Buchanan.

Alexander Ramey married Margaret Hutchins, daughter of Jacob and Nancy. The Rameys, along with several other families, came to Minnesota from Kentucky for religious reasons. They were objectors to conscription into the armed service, and they came to Minnesota to escape that.

Among their children, Alice Ramey, who married Simon Oster, is mother to Ruth (Oster) Skalberg, Helen (Oster) Sanderson and Ruby Oster. Helen is the only one of her generation still living. Helen Sanderson, who will turn 100 this December, is a resident of the Dassel Lakeside Apartments. Her great-grandfather, Jacob Hutchins, who came from North Carolina and died April 14, 1889, is buried in the Pigeon Lake Baptist Cemetery. She visited the cemetery recently with her niece, Janet (Oster) Rossell, and nephews Jerry Oster, Don Oster and Ken Skalberg.

An infant named Mary Ramey is buried in the cemetery. Margaret Ramey was one of the last persons who tried to preserve the cemetery. She, at her own expense, erected a fence around it. The fence has been removed. Through the years, some of the owners of the property surrounding the cemetery, including relatives, may have tried to maintain it; however, by 1956 it had greatly deteriorated.


Pigeon Lake Baptist Church was the name of a church located about one block north of the Hutchins home, and it is believed that some of the people buried in the cemetery were members of that church. The church building was later moved into the Village of Dassel. In 1935 it became Church of Christ but has been remodeled and is now known as Bell Tower Apartments.

A veteran of the Civil War, Daniel Bradley is buried in the cemetery. He was, at one time, pastor of the Pigeon Lake Baptist Church. Everyone called him Uncle Dan Bradley. His grandson, John Bradley, married Inez Ramey — Ruth and Helen’s aunt. The Dassel American Legion, as late as the 1940s, furnished an American flag to be placed on his grave. Harvey Peterson, a nephew of Elmer and Sally Nordstrom and who lived with them on a farm near the cemetery, was given the privilege of placing the flag on the grave each Memorial Day.

There were 10 children buried at the Pigeon Lake Baptist Cemetery who died from an outbreak of diphtheria. One of Hutchins’ sons, Albert, was married to Tressie Erfurth. Albert and Tressie had three sons, all of whom died during the diphtheria epidemic. There is a plate on the Jacob and Nancy Hutchins monument for each of these sons: Arthur, Milton and Mike. Arthur and Milton died on May 18, 1887, and Mike died five days earlier on May 13.


Fank has identified all who are buried there except for a dozen and has stones marked “unknown” for those he cannot find names. His project involved locating the markers and the bodies buried in the cemetery. He used grave witchers, also called dowsing rods, to find the bodies. A witcher is two lengths of number nine gauge steel wire, the same wire farmers use to mend things. The wires are about 2 feet long and bent into “L” shapes. He holds the wires in his hands and points them forward as he walks around the cemetery. When he crosses a body buried in the ground, the wires cross each other. Some say, depending on how far the wires cross, they can tell if it is a male, female or baby buried in that spot. Not everyone is capable of using the dowsing rod method that is also used to locate water. This is serious — if not grave — business for them, because after he locates a grave, they’re often able to match it to old records and determine who is buried there. Imagine the joy that brings to someone who is trying to piece together a family tree.

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