How Clay County pioneer graves ended up at a Liberty elementary school

Why grave sites were incorporated with the welcome sign.

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History class just got really interesting.

Photo by Liberty Public Schools

Way up in the Northland, up where I-435 connects with 291 Highway, there’s an unlikely pairing that has surely piqued a few interests. An elementary school is also the site of a small family graveyard — in fact, the headstones are incorporated with the landscaping of the school’s sign.

Back up. The year is 1835, and covered wagons are all the rage. It’s just a few decades after the Louisiana Purchase and at least 10 years before the gold rushes of California. Missouri had become a state in 1821, Kansas was still a territory, and Kansas City was just a settlement. Enter westward pioneers; enter the Bush family.

Mercer and Perlina Bush came from Kentucky to Clay County, MO in 1835, which had been organized just 13 years prior. Mercer fought in the War of 1812, and the now-farmers settled in an area that’s now NE 108th Street + Eastern Road.

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Mercer Bush’s headstone can be seen behind this dedication plaque.

Photo by Liberty Public Schools

Fast-forward nearly two centuries (173 years, but who’s counting?), and Liberty Public Schools planned a new elementary school. They had the location, but they found two headstones “hidden under a large tree,” according to the district. Ultimately, officials tracked down 12 graves across the land with the help of great-great-great-great grandson, Gary Bush (who at the time still lived in Liberty).

All the graves were relocated through “painstaking, by-hand work,” according to KC History, to the new site — which they would share the with school’s stone sign (Go Cougars).

The district maintains the “important connection between the past and the present,” including “teaching the Kellybrook students about life in the 1800s and the contributions of Clay County pioneers.”

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