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Town pioneer and Civil War vet finally gets tombstone
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 00:00

It’s better late than never for one former Camp Verde homesteader.
Like many people after the Civil War, James Sellers headed west from his native Tennessee to make a new life for himself.

A new tombstone in Middle Verde Cemetery provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs memorializes early Camp Verde resident James Sellers. The exact location of Sellers’ body is unknown.For a while, he rode the plains as a government scout and buffalo hunter.

Eventually, Sellers made his way to Camp Verde and made a home on the old military reservation. By the time he died in 1919 from complications following a bout of typhoid fever, he owned 1,000 acres of land.

Some friends took his body over to the Middle Verde Cemetery the next day and placed him in his final resting spot overlooking the Verde Valley.

The trouble was, precisely where Sellers was buried was lost to time. The cemetery has a few unmarked graves, and as caretaker Francis Benigar said, Sellers might even be buried somewhere the Middle Verde Cemetery Association doesn’t even realize is a grave.

While Sellers’ body might never be found, he memory wasn’t forgotten forever. While it doesn’t mark the spot exactly, Sellers now at least has a tombstone.

It was all thanks to a Kansas man who stumbled across Sellers’ name in an old census record.

Chris Mathis is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group made up of the male descendants of the men who fought for the South in that bloody conflict.

In March, The Camp Verde Journal reported on Mathis’ discovery and his efforts to try and have Sellers’ memory preserved in the Verde Valley.

Mathis came across Sellers’ name in an old census record from 1910, a valuable year for Civil War researchers because it was the only census to not only record whether or not a person was a veteran of the Civil War, but on which side they fought.

A little more digging turned up Sellers’ death certificate, and with the help of the Camp Verde Historical Society, Mathis was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

It turns out that not only was Sellers a Confederate Veteran with the 9th Tennessee Cavalry, he spent some of his time as a soldier as a prisoner of war.

Of the man himself, local man George Hance wrote on the occasion of his death that Sellers had a tremendous memory, and was a valuable source of information about days long gone.

Mathis contacted Patrick Sands with Westcott Funeral Home in Cottonwood. Sands filled out the necessary paperwork to made sure Sellers name would be inscribed in granite.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides headstones for veterans of both sides, if requested. It took a few months, but Mathis’ efforts have finally paid off. The new headstone now sits right near the cemetery entrance, announcing to visitors that a Civil War veteran and Arizona pioneer rests somewhere inside.

Mathis said he hopes a dedication ceremony can be organized for Sellers’ tombstone in the near future.


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