Eagle Cliff - Miles Cemetery, Waterloo

5.0
The Story Behind Miles Cemetery

by: Ashley Oberto

In rural Monroe County, Illinois lies a cemetery that holds much local history. A window to the past, the cemetery remains the final resting place for at least 450 individuals. The cemetery has a unique history that began with an Indian burial ground and became a place to bury the dead of the American Bottoms. A mausoleum built into the bluffs has endured hard times and today still stands as a local landmark. The story behind Eagle Cliff-Miles Cemetery is one that although neglected over time, holds a place in history.

Nestled amongst the bluffs in rural Monroe County, Illinois lies a cemetery that is full of extravagance, mystery, and tragedy. Eagle Cliff-Miles Cemetery, often referred to simply as Miles Cemetery, is located off of present day D Road and remains the final resting place for around at least 450 individuals. The cemeteries mausoleum overlooks the American Bottoms and can be seen for miles and miles. The cemetery remains a symbol of power and intrigue to those who lay their eyes on it.

There are 430 known burials at Eagle Cliff-Miles Cemetery. However, it is estimated that approximately 2,000 individuals were laid to rest within the cemetery. Before the first white man was buried within the cemetery it is thought that the cliff directly below the mausoleum was once a burial ground for Indians. The cemetery and its records were not cared for by any particular organization, unlike more traditional cemeteries where records of burials would be kept by a church or city. Therefore, the known burials have been determined by Monroe County death records, tombstones, and newspaper articles. This was a painstaking task done by Pat Vasesk and Janet Flynn, members of the Monroe County Historical Society, and involved sifting through hundreds of years of the counties death records and newspaper articles.

The exact time the cemetery was formed is unclear; however the first known burial was that of Rachel Bond who left this world on March 27, 1806. The earliest birth of those recorded in the cemetery is that of Solomon Shook who was born 1761 and died April 15, 1836. The last known burial was that of Muriel Ludwig in 1977. Shadroch Bond Sr. passed away on May 27, 1812 and is also buried there. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a soldier in Col. George Roger Clark’s expedition, a justice in St. Clair County, a representative in the legislatures of the Northwest and Indian territories, and the uncle of the first governor of the state of Illinois. Veterans from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Blackhawk War, and Mexican War have been buried with Miles Cemetery.

Newspaper obituaries help to explain the lives and deaths of those laid to rest within Miles Cemetery. Following are some examples of the obituaries of individuals buried within the cemetery. John McAskin was murdered by Hermann Muttert in the Harrisonville Bottoms at Mr. Muttert’s residence, following an argument the two had. McAskin had come to the Muttert’s house in order to assist Mrs. Josephine Nau in obtaining a possession of hers that the Mutterts had. Mrs. Muttert ordered McAskin to leave and as he was doing so Mr. Muttert shot McAskin in the back of the head. A jury found Muttert guilty of murder and he was held at the Waterloo Jail before his hanging. McAskin was a businessman and teacher who “had gathered around him many warm, true friends, who sincerely regret his untimely death.”

Mrs. M.M. Gray was shot, along with her thought to be lover, by her husband at her home in Columbia, IL. Mr. Gray walked into his house and found his wife and his best friend, Ditch, in the bedroom together. He then shot warning shots at Ditch as Ditch walked out of the bedroom and towards Mr. Gray. When his wife walked through the bedroom door, the pistol accidently went off. Both Ditch and Mrs. Gray fell to the floor and died without every saying a word to defend themselves. Mrs. Gray left behind a daughter, Jennie, who was 12 years of age.

Eleanor Miles Guzan died in Pueblo, Colorado and her remains were brought and sealed within the mausoleum. (In other articles the last name appears as Dugan.) Guzan was born at the Miles homestead in Miles Prairie, and was a direct descendent of, “a well known pioneer family who came here from the east when slavery was still considered a just and honorable institution, and who brought their colored servants. Many years ago the elder Miles erected upon the brow of a high hill on his farm a marble vault as a burial place for ‘his descendants in line.’ ” Guzan’s first husband, Giblier preceded her and death. Her only son, Edward Giblier and her second husband Mr. Guzan survived.

Mamie Meyer died at the age of 24 on May 2, 1909. She left behind her husband Joseph Meyer and two sons Arthur and Homer. Mrs. Meyer was laid to rest at Miles Cemetery on Tuesday, May 4. Many friends and members of the community attended to mourn her loss and send condolences to her family.

Under Survey 425, Claim 512 it is indicated that Shadroch Bond owned land in Moredock Precinct, tracts 25 and 26. On November 8, 1851 Stephen W. Miles purchased a portion of land in tract 25 in the Moredock precinct. This tract of land purchased contained the already present Eagle Cliff Cemetery. Land was donated in the cemetery for those who lived in Miles Prairie to be buried. Others who lived above the bluff buried their dead on their own adjoining ground. (Today the burial areas are combined to form Eagle Cliff-Miles Cemetery.) Stephen W. Miles acquired what amounts to thousands of acres of land in the rural Monroe County bottoms. He purchased much of his land at the government land office in Kaskaskia. He also purchased the land of men who were given free land due to military service. These men would stake claims, disappear, and then transfer their land claims to Miles. So much land was acquired that Miles was said to have stood on the bluffs, overlooking the bottoms and say, “For miles and miles it is all Miles.”

Stephen W. Miles was born on November 30, 1795 in Cazenovia, Madison County, New York. It has been said that Miles traveled with livestock, farm equipment, and household goods down the Ohio River on flatboats to the newly founded state of Illinois in 1819. Miles marked a road from his landing spot to Eagle Cliff which is often referred to as Mile’s Trace in old maps. He married Lucretta Shook on March 22, 1827 and had three children with her. Following Mrs. Lucretta-Miles death Stephen Miles wed Sally Turrill on September 5, 1847.

A vault was built on top of the bluff to house the remains to Stephen W. Miles and his descendents. Major Yrasillion, a civil engineer, was employed to build the vault. Yrasillion later joined General Grant’s army and is credited with helping to plan the capture of Vicksburg. The mausoleum was built at the cost of $25,000, a small fortune for the time. The vault is covered in Italian marble that was shipped to New Orleans and then brought slowly and costly by steamboat up the Mississippi. Oxen were then used to pull the marble from the Mississippi to the top of the bluff. Miles himself died three months before the mausoleum was finished. That winter he was kept in the parlor at the family home until the vault was completed. Rumor has it that the housekeeper became accustomed to dusting his coffin that winter; it was also said that he grew a three inch beard by the time his body was laid to rest within a vault.

Fifty-six vaults are housed within the walls of the mausoleum, twenty-four on both the left and right sides and eight on the back wall. However the majority of the vaults were never used and left empty. Miles himself, his two wives, and other descendents are buried within. Fannie his colored servant was also buried in a vault. A slab within the mausoleum is said to have read, “Anny, a pious, honest and upright colored servant of S.W. Miles, Senior. Died October 18,1847 aged about seventy five years.” A Miles descendent was buried beneath the steps of the entrance to the mausoleum and remains there to this day. It is believed that some of those buried within the vault were buried elsewhere and later transferred to the mausoleum, as some individuals died before the vault was completed.

Only the front of the mausoleum is visible to onlookers and this faces the edge of the bluffs. The rest of the mausoleum is covered by earth. The name S.W. Miles was inscribed above the entrance and a large marble panel to the right of the doorway stated that it was a memorial to S.W. Miles and his decedents; it also stated that the eldest living heir was to manage the memorial. A similar panel to the left of the doorway was dedicated to stating information to the visitor. On the top of the door of the vault, biblical versus were also inscribed. A wrought iron fence surrounded the entrance to the mausoleum and fenced off a portion of the top of it.

Although S.W. Miles had acquired much land it appears that his family fell on hard times following his death, as his son Stephen Miles II filed for bankruptcy. Time slowly saw Miles’ Bottom Empire dreams dwindle away. By the time of the 1940’s Miles eldest heir had permanently moved outside of Monroe County and relocated to the Coulterville area. Over the years the cemetery fell victim to vandalism. Ms. Luella Muller recalls the iron ornamental fencing being taken away in the late 1930’s. Ms. Lucy Bloomquist recalled going to the cemetery and visiting the mausoleum as a child with her younger brother. She stated in a letter experiences she recalled:

“I can remember as one walked into the tomb on the bottom right vault was a black mammy with a small baby in her left arm. Of course just skeletons. My brother touched the woman’s lower jaw and it crumbled. Poor kid felt so bad about it and had nightmares for a long time afterwards.”

John Allen describes the mausoleum and its remains as they were in the early sixties:

“The floor is littered with pieces of broken marble slabs, rotting bits of wood from walnut coffins, and some of the decorations from them.
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  • Intrigued me when I saw the mausoleum stand out from the cliffs along Bluff Road. Lots of older headstones, some nice historical info on a bulletin board as you enter. View from the cliff and mausoleu...  more »
  • I love cemeteries, and a friend who lives in Waterloo mentioned that we should see this one. It was beautiful and tranquil. There’s a lot of information on the board near the small parking lot in the ...  more »

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