- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - It’s easy to overlook Azro “Buck” Pratt’s gravesite as you walk through the center of Lakeview Cemetery.

The unmarked grave at Space E, Lot 1263 is nearly impossible to locate without help from cemetery staff. And it wouldn’t warrant the attention of anyone passing by.

It has been this way since the former Wyoming resident and Civil War veteran was laid to rest here in 1902.

But after more than a century of lying unknown - even to his relatives - Pratt’s grave is set to finally get a headstone and a tribute fitting of a former service member.

With funding through a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program that provides headstones to unmarked graves of veterans, cemetery staff plan to install a marker at Pratt’s grave next week.

This is largely the result of hours of research and work by Dean Parks. He is a local resident who recently discovered that not only was Pratt the brother of his great-great-grandmother, but he is buried right here in Cheyenne.

“Veteran or not, if someone is buried, it shouldn’t be a big deal to have a headstone or a marker of some kind for their grave,” Parks told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (https://bit.ly/1Au88hH ). “And since he was a Civil War veteran and has been buried for nearly 115 years in an unmarked grave and knowing a headstone would be available through the VA, I figured, why not try?”

Parks discovered his long-forgotten relative five years ago after he retired. That’s when he began a genealogy project to investigate his family background.

Parks said he remembers first hearing of Pratt when his grandmother told him as a 10- or 11-year-old that Buck’s Peak, a mountain in Converse County, was named after his distant relative.

But Parks thought little of Pratt until his name resurfaced during his research.

Using a special 1890 census for Civil War veterans, Park was able to find what unit Pratt was with and eventually got his service records.

From there, he was able to determine that Pratt, the oldest of 11 children, had moved out West from Pennsylvania, via Wisconsin, during the mining rush of that era.

Pratt settled in what was then Territory of Colorado. And when the Civil War began in 1861, Pratt joined the Union Army with Company F of the 1st Colorado Infantry Regiment. That later became the 1st Colorado Cavalry Regiment.

Parks’ review of the service record shows Pratt’s company was charged with guarding the territory’s gold mines from a possible Confederate invasion. In addition, the unit fought American Indian tribes in several skirmishes in what are now Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico.

“I envisioned he was probably in some of the battles back East,” Parks said. “But a few months ago I did some checking and found out his background in the Civil War was here in the Colorado Territory.”

Pratt later would move to Wyoming, where he became co-owner of two mining claims near Douglas.

He died in his mid-60s during the fall of 1902, shortly after arriving in Cheyenne. He likely came here to stay at a retirement home for veterans.

“As far as I can tell, he was never married, so he had no immediate family,” Parks said. “So I presume since he came to the (retirement) home here in Cheyenne, that is probably where he died.

“With no immediate family, there were no provisions for them to provide any kind of marker or headstone, and here we are.”

But the discovery of all this information didn’t come easily or without a good amount of luck: Most of the 1890 census records had been destroyed.

“I spent probably 20-25 hours per week (researching the family genealogy) during the winter months,” Parks said. “So it’s almost like a part-time job. But it turned out to be a neat hobby.”

And once Parks was armed with this information, he said it wasn’t hard to petition the VA and then work with Lakeview Cemetery to get the headstone.

Although Parks had hoped to get it installed by today to mark Memorial Day, cemetery, staff weren’t able to get to it during the past week.

But Scott Heatherington, Cheyenne’s assistant director of cemeteries, said they hope to install the new marker within the week - as long as the weather cooperates.

Heatherington praised Parks for doing all the leg work on the project and even making a donation to the Friends of the Cemetery Fund to cover the installation work.

“This is a fitting tribute,” Heatherington said. “It is long overdue.”


Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com

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