Monday, September 24, 2012


The missing has been found!  No, not my junior high school yearbooks, although they HAVE  been found also, right where they should have been. But something less personal and more interesting, I think.
I can’t imagine many of you know that Owen Brown’s tombstone has been missing for about 10 years.  (Actually, I can’t imagine that any of you even know who Owen is, or for that matter, care).  But he was a son of the infamous John Brown, was with his dad in most of the events old John Brown is noted for, and spent much of his later adult life in Pasadena, California.  He was buried on a hilltop there. 

To be honest with you, I really didn’t know much about Owen Brown myself, until in the course of my genealogical research I discovered that my great-grandfather Dobbins wrote in his later years that he “rode with John Brown in Kansas in 1856 and had some exciting adventures.”  I can find no proof that he actually did, but he WAS living in Prairie City, Kansas on a Sunday in June of that year when John Brown and his followers rode through town.  My great-grandfather had just moved from Illinois to Kansas with his folks; he was just 20 year old, didn’t know a soul in town, and of course as yet not many people knew what John Brown would become.  The Dobbinses were staunch Presbyterians and dedicated abolitionists, and I can see how enticing it might have been for young Dobbins to tell his father he was “joining Brown’s group,” jump on his horse and ride off.  Whether this actually happened or whether it was just an old man embellishing his youthful pursuits will probably never be known. 
In the histories I read of John Brown’s early Kansas trips, there wasn’t much written about Owen.  But before long I picked up Russell Bank’s book “Cloudsplitter,” which is a fictionalized story of the Brown family, told with Owen as the narrator.  Even keeping in mind that it was historical fiction, I came to like Owen a lot and understand much more about John Brown that I ever knew before.  And I came to my own conclusion that he was crazy. 

Owen seemed to have escaped that curse, and and after Harper’s Ferry he lived out his life in Pasadena as an exemplary citizen, a loyal American and in 1889 was buried with pomp, the singing of many praises, much oratory, testimonials and prayers, as was commonplace in those days.  He was buried atop a knob called “Little Round Top” in Altadena.  A substantial headstone, shaped like a pillar, ultimately was installed.

The hill eventually became private property and as time passed Owen’s burial site became off limits to visitors.  He was mostly forgotten and most people don’t even know of him.  When I wrote about his gravestone in an earlier blog (October of 2009), I had a fellow respond that he stumbled across the stone many years ago; it appeared abandoned and he notified the forestry service of his find.  
However, I’d guess it didn’t stay put, because it again was reported missing about ten years ago.  A few weeks ago the stone mysteriously appeared in plain sight at the bottom of a nearby ravine, discovered by a fellow and his son taking a walk in the foothills.  Plans are afoot to reset the stone, but for now it is in a “safe place.”

As much as I like historical burial sites, I am past the point in my life where I can make a trek up a hillside trail to see a tombstone, no matter how much I might want to.  The best I can do is to be pleased that it was found and hopeful that in my lifetime it will again find its place over old Owen’s grave. 


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