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Stolen Applegate headstone returned

Stolen more than 15 years ago from his grave at the Missouri Flat Cemetery, Joseph Williams' 125-year-old marble headstone is finally back where it belongs.

Dirk Siedlecki and Ken Phillips, commissioners from the Oregon Commission of Historic Cemeteries, had just about finished putting the stone back where it belonged when Rev. Joel D. Williams, Joseph's great-great-grandson, arrived.

"Oh, you guys are something," said Williams, with a tear in his eye. "I want to thank you so very, very much."

Williams, pastor at the Gold Hill Christian Center, said his family discovered the stone was missing late in the 1990s, when they came out one Memorial Day to clean family graves.

"My only regret is that my father isn't here to see this," said Williams, "He was very upset when he saw the headstone had been stolen. It bothered him a lot, and he died just a couple of years later."

Siedlecki, who has headed a team of volunteers dedicated to preserving the Jacksonville Cemetery for nearly a decade, discovered the stone in Jacksonville last July while reorganizing the cemetery's sexton tool house.

"There was a stolen property tag from the Josephine County Sheriff's Office attached to it," said Siedlecki. "It was dated April 1995."

He said he doesn't know when the stone was brought to Jacksonville, but after a check of his records, he realized it didn't belong there.

With help from the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society, Siedlecki was able to connect the stone with the Missouri Flat Cemetery and Joel Williams.

Joseph Williams was born in Indiana in 1828. By 1860, he and wife Sarah Jane and their five children were living in Iowa. They moved on to Missouri, and after the Civil War Joseph brought the family to Southern Oregon.

They settled along the Applegate River near Williams, where Joseph farmed and also traveled as a circuit preacher, riding to Grants Pass, Rogue River, Jacksonville and back to Williams. He died in March 1886.

Although the headstone had been vandalized by a large stain of blue paint on its front and some sort of attempted etchings on its back, the stone is in excellent condition. Siedlecki and Phillips assured Williams that they would refer an expert who would be able to clean it.

"People need to understand that if they find a headstone they should let someone know," said Siedlecki. "There are people who will go out of their way trying to make sure it gets back to where it belongs, and that's so important.

"It's devastating to a family, particularly the elderly, when they find their relative's marker has been stolen."

After five generations, Joel Williams is the last of his family still living in the Rogue Valley, but he's already let his brothers and sisters know the headstone is back.

"They're really excited," he said. "This is truly wonderful."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

Dirk Siedlecki and Ken Phillips, members of the Oregon Commission of Historic Cemeteries, return a stolen headstone, missing for more than 15 years, to the grave of Applegate pioneer Joseph Williams in the Missouri Flat Cemetery. Bill Miller photo - Bill Miller