Give Now

Johnson County Road Crew Surprised By 1800s Grave Sites

The grave of Nancy Barnett.

Photo: Harrison Wagner

The grave of Nancy Barnett.

A historic and unusual grave in Johnson County yielded a surprise for anthropologists excavating the site.

Now, it’s a hole. But until recently, it was the final resting place of Nancy Kerlin Barnett. Johnson County wanted to expand 400 S and enlisted the help of University of Indianapolis Anthropology Professor Dr. Christopher Schmidt.

Barnett was buried in that spot in 1831, which was originally a family grave plot. When the county wanted to build a road through the plot, Barnett’s grandson stood watch over her grave with a shotgun, making sure nobody disturbed her. They ended up building the road around her grave.

The grave was in need of work. Human remains were starting to expose themselves, and the grave’s location was becoming unsafe for motorists.

So, about four and a half weeks ago, Dr. Schmidt and his team started digging.

At least three of the internments had been disturbed previously…it looks like somebody dug into the graves at some point.

—Dr. Schmidt

The grave contained more remains than expected. In addition to Barnett’s remains, six other individuals were discovered. According to Dr. Schmidt, it isn’t surprising that there were multiple graves there.

“The surprise was that at least three of the internments had been disturbed previously by some sort of activity, be it some type of vehicle striking that high spot, it looks like somebody dug into the graves at some point,” Dr. Schmidt says. “So, those types of disturbances were more surprising than finding additional graves next to the known.”

Dr. Schmidt says this grave is an important piece of Indiana history, especially as Indiana enters its bicentennial. Barnett was one of the earliest Hoosiers, living through Indiana’s entrance into statehood. Dr. Schmidt says this could provide important insight into the lives of those early Hoosiers.

“Seeing her remains, and seeing the remains of people we think might be her family, that’s very interesting in helping to ground truth some of the stories we’ve heard over the years about these folks that lived so long ago,” he says.

The grave contained the remains of three adults and four children. The road is being widened and the plot will remain where it was, as a historical marker and a monument to those early Hoosiers.

The remains are currently being studied at the University of Indianapolis to determine the age, sex, ancestry and cause of death, and will later be returned to the plot.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.