Should Casler's Grave Be Decorated?
By 1929 the ranks of Civil War veterans were thinning. Each year Nebraska cemeteries saw more old soldiers' graves bedecked with flowers on Decoration Day, as Memorial Day was then known. Yet the last resting place of at least one such veteran was not so honored in May of 1929 when William H. Smith, editor of the Seward Independent-Democrat, asked readers, "Should Cassler's Grave Be Decorated?"
Smith's editorial, which appeared on May 30, noted: "Orlando Cassler [Casler], who was hanged in Seward fifty years ago on May 20, after he had been tried and convicted of the crime of murder . . . , was a civil war veteran. He had served his country with honor in its time of trial. His body occupies a grave in a cemetery in Seward county, just where will not be said. [Casler is buried in the Beaver Crossing Cemetery.] Should the grave containing the body of this civil war veteran who, after the war, paid the penalty with his life for a crime committed, be recognized on Decoration day as are the graves of other civil war veterans?"
Casler, a Seward County farmer, was tried and convicted of the 1878 murder of George L. Monroe, a Kansan, and the theft of Monroe's team. Sentenced to death on February 6, 1879, Casler (still proclaiming his innocence) was hanged at Seward on May 20. The Nebraska Advertiser noted on May 29: "The [state] statute provides that hangings shall not be public, but the vast crowd that assembled at Seward to see Cassler executed determined that they would not be disappointed, and tore down the enclosure which surrounded the scaffold, so that all could see." W. W. Cox in his history of Seward County, published in 1888, just nine years after the affair, said, "[T]he demoralizing spectacle of a public execution produced a bad effect upon our people, and brought out a spirit of lawlessness that barely missed producing another murder before the day closed."
Smith wrote in his 1929 editorial: "It is said that in years past flowers would be placed on the grave, only to be removed later by someone opposed to their being left thereon. . . . When [Civil War veteran] M. M. Campion made a check of the soldiers' graves in the county a few years ago to ascertain those that lacked the marker provided by the government for the graves of veterans, he found none at the Cassler grave and was advised by persons in the community that it would be best not to procure one for it. Later he conferred with county authorities, who took the position that since the man had served his country with credit during the war, and had an honorable discharge his grave was entitled to a marker, in spite of the difficulties in which he became involved later."
Smith noted in reminiscences published in the Nebraska State Historical Society quarterly Nebraska History in September 1951, that his 1929 editorial was widely reprinted and prompted mail from around the country. A World War I veteran living in California "did not wait for the mails. He sent a telegram in favor of decorating. Another came from New Orleans. The same view, in fact, was expressed by nearly every writer."
Casler's grave now has a GAR marker, but Smith noted in 1951 that "it was the grave of Orlando Cassler, the Civil War veteran, and not the grave of Orlando Cassler, the murderer, that was thus recognized."
Casler's grave now has this GAR marker.
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