County OKs funds to move Rebecca Winters' grave

Jim Loveridge (left) and Russell Mills with the Friends of Rececca Winters group outline for county commissioners their plan to relocate the pioneer's grave site to the Legacy of the Plains Museum.

GERING — Scotts Bluff County Commissioners cast a unanimous 5-0 vote to approve $2,100 in keno funds to assist in moving the grave of Mormon Trail pioneer Rebecca Winters to a new location.

Brenda Leisy, director of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau, said the funds would benefit the Friends of Rebecca Winters group through the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Matching funds are required to receive a grant from the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation. The foundation helps memorialize sites that are important to the history of the Mormon faith.

“The local group wants to fully restore the grave site at a new location,” Leisy told commissioners. “The new site at Legacy of the Plains Museum was selected by the Winters family. That’s where they want her to be relocated.”

Rebecca Winters was a member of the Mormon pioneers that migrated from the eastern U.S. to Salt Lake Valley, Utah. She died of cholera near modern-day Scottsbluff in August 1852 and was buried along the trail.

Her name has since become connected with a number of sites, creeks and other geographic locations in the area.

Her gravesite was rediscovered along the tracks that had been laid down by the Burlington Railroad. Her body was initially moved a short distance for safety considerations in the 1990s.

“We also discussed the location of the site for its tourism relevance with the local LDS group,” Leisy said. “In order for it to remain a functioning attraction, upgrades need to be made.”

Commission Chairman Ken Meyer said the current grave site isn’t in a good location. It’s near both the railroad tracks and the City of Scottsbluff’s wastewater treatment plant.

“The county owns the land where the grave is located, but who actually has ownership of all the artifacts is still unknown,” Meyer said.

Jim Loveridge with the local Friends of Rebecca Winters group said it’s been established for years that the site is a historic and tourism asset for the community.

“That’s how it’s been treated and marketed in the past,” Loveridge said. “I don’t think we want to move away from that.”

Commissioner Mark Harris said it’s ultimately the authority of the Winters family to say whether they want the remains moved.

“The family recognized their responsibility of ownership,” Loveridge said. “They also want to do what’s right with the community that has cared for the grave over the years.”

Leisy said she was neutral about whether to move the grave site until she heard from the family. “They’ve very emotional about this and it was then that Rebecca Winters became a real person to me,” she said. “On the other hand, I’m concerned about the safety issues the location poses for the county.”

Some commissioners were hesitant to approve the funding, based on concerns the county might be on the hook for future maintenance. But Legacy of the Plains Museum is in partnership with the county’s tourism committee and has agreed to become home for the new Rebecca Winters grave site.

“Basically the new site would be the same as what’s sitting out at the old location,” Leisy said. “But now it will be in a groomed area that doesn’t look unattractive and isn’t located by the railroad tracks or the highway.”

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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