Portrayals given during cemetery walk

Approximately 80 community members gathered at the Bethlehem Cemetery to listen to the stories of Civil War veterans.

The second Slater Cemetery Walk, put on by the Slater Area Historical Association (SAHA), took place Sunday, Sept. 29, featuring six veterans who once lived in the Slater area. The veterans’ stories were told either by their descendants or by volunteers. The stories highlighted what it was like to serve in the war, and the struggles of life back home as families were trying to establish what would later become the town of Slater.

Oley Nelson, who was being portrayed by his great-grandson, Jim Nelson, contracted jaundice and dysentery while serving in the war, and was consequently sent home. When he got home, his mother had fallen behind on their farm and they decided to move to Iowa in 1867, bringing with them very few belongings and $225 in cash. They bought 80 acres south of Sheldahl, but had a hard time establishing a profitable crop. As a result, Nelson found a job in Des Moines and lived there for a while before moving back to Sheldahl, and then Slater.

The family of veteran Severt Tesdell, portrayed by his descendant, Ken Wald, also faced hardship when they came to the Slater area. In 1855, Tesdell and his family, along with a group of other families, left their homes in Lisbon, Ill., and made the move to Iowa. His mother died shortly before they arrived in the Slater area, and his father and siblings lived in a cave for the first year. Not long after they arrived, Tesdell answered the call to serve the country. While serving, Tesdell was in seven major battles, including Vicksburg. While he was not injured during the war, he did have a close call when the straps were shot off his backpack, Wald said.

Letters Tesdell wrote to his family back home while he was serving can be found online by searching "Severt Tesdell war letter." Part of a letter he wrote shortly before returning home was featured on the SAHA’s Civil War display at Heritage Hall. In that letter he wrote, "Try to make a lot of hay so I can buy a lot of cattle to feed."

Thomas Weeks, portrayed by his relative, Bob Sweeney, told of how the soldiers killed time while stationed at Ft. Hudson by learning to play cards and racing lice. Some of the men would bet part of their $13/month salary on the races. Weeks, on the other hand, was saving his money to buy a farm when he returned home.

At the conclusion of the portrayals, which also included stories from Cyrus Hiland and Nils Gord (told by Danny Krock) and Henry Hendrickson (told by David Thompson), cemetery walk attendees were invited to Heritage Hall in Slater for refreshments and to view an exhibit of the Civil War. This year’s walk coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which is why the SAHA decided to feature Civil War veterans.