Veterans to post Confederate flag at Steamboat cemetery | SteamboatToday.com

Veterans to post Confederate flag at Steamboat cemetery

The Memorial Day plan, intended to honor a veteran, draws rebuke

Mike Lawrence

The grave of William E. “Bear Bill” Harvey has been in Steamboat Springs Cemetery for nearly a century. After a recent discovery of his possible history as a Confederate States of America soldier during the Civil War, local veterans plan to place a Confederate flag on his grave during Memorial Day remembrances this week. The idea drew strong disapproval from the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.





The grave of William E. "Bear Bill" Harvey has been in Steamboat Springs Cemetery for nearly a century. After a recent discovery of his possible history as a Confederate States of America soldier during the Civil War, local veterans plan to place a Confederate flag on his grave during Memorial Day remembrances this week. The idea drew strong disapproval from the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
John F. Russell

Memorial Day events

■ Steamboat Springs

Thursday: Placing of flags on graves of military veterans at Steamboat Springs Cemetery, 5:30 p.m.

Saturday: Army physical fitness test at 9:30 a.m. at Emerald Park. The event is free, but donations for the American Legion are accepted. The test is two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups and a 2-mile run. Event organizer Tina Kyprios said participants don't have to complete all three portions. The test is meant to raise awareness for soldiers serving our country.

Monday: Coffee and doughnuts at 8 a.m. at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4264, 924 Lincoln Ave.; ceremony practice at 9 a.m. at Steamboat Springs Cemetery; shuttle service to cemetery begins at 10 a.m. at Stock Bridge Transit Center; Memorial Day ceremony begins at 11 a.m. at cemetery.

■ Hayden

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Friday: Placing of flags at Hayden Cemetery, 6 p.m.

Monday: Memorial Day ceremony, 6 p.m. at Hayden Cemetery, with 21-gun salute, flag lowering and presentation for citizens; public reception and meal at the Benjamin J. Hofstetter American Legion Post 89, on Third Street in Hayden, after the ceremony

■ Yampa

Monday: Memorial Day ceremony, 11 a.m. at the Yampa Cemetery, with traditional bugling and reading of names of veterans buried at the cemetery.

— Local veterans plan to place a Confederate flag this week, for the first time, on the grave of a veteran buried at Steamboat Springs Cemetery.

Confederate States of America flags have been placed for years, and possibly decades, on the graves of two Civil War veterans buried at Hayden Cemetery. U.S. Air Force veteran and longtime Hayden resident Sam Haslem said that's never caused friction, to his knowledge.

But the new decision by Steamboat Springs veterans — after the recent discovery of a soldier's likely history — could, on the cusp of Memorial Day weekend, raise the local profile of an issue that long has sparked protests across the South and is grounded in the nation's history of racial conflict and civil rights movements.

The story starts with a rancher.

William E. Harvey was born Feb. 4, 1839, and died Sept. 27, 1914. He rests on a downhill slope on the cemetery's eastern side, in a beautiful spot that has a view of Steamboat Ski Area and is near numerous graves of people born in the 1800s. Harvey's tombstone looks to have weathered the storms of nearly a century very well, belying its apparent age. But cemetery board member and veteran Jim Stanko, whose family plot is nearby, said that he remembers the stone from the early '60s and that it likely dates to not long after Harvey's death.

"I would bet that headstone is from somewhere in the '20s," Stanko said.

It bears a simple inscription: "Killed 56 bears in Routt County."

Harvey was a rancher near Pleasant Valley and Sidney and, according to an obituary written shortly after his death, "one of the oldest and best-known pioneers of the Bear River Valley." The obituary said that in his later years, Harvey lived alone in a small cabin on Missouri Avenue in Old Town Steamboat Springs.

He died of cancer-like symptoms in what was then the Steamboat sanitarium and now is Old Town Pub on Lincoln Avenue.

Little else about his past is known, including details of his history as a soldier. But a recent compilation of obituaries about local veterans turned up an article by Dave Combs that, quoting pioneer Clay Monson, said "Bear Bill was an ex-Confederate soldier, a bachelor, a storyteller, a rancher and most of all, a bear hunter."

Combs could not be reached Tuesday.

Stanko and Harmon "Buck" Buckland, who served with the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War, told Routt County commissioners Monday that because of that article, they plan to place a Confederate flag — the crossed blue bars with stars inside — on Harvey's grave Thursday.

"I think we might get some static over it," Buckland acknowledged. "But he's a veteran."

Stanko said local Boy Scouts won't be asked to place the flag Thursday, when Scouts will place U.S. flags on military veterans at the cemetery. Stanko said he and a couple of other adults plan to place the Confederate flag at Harvey's grave afterward.

"He was a veteran, he fought, he was a soldier, and I think he needs to be recognized for doing that," Stanko said about Harvey. "I hope it doesn't cause anything. I hope people finally realize that here was a soldier that fought for a cause that he believed in, and he needs to be recognized for that stand."

Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said Tuesday that the flag's local appearance is surprising.

"Although some people say that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage and of Southern culture and an embracing of that, … I and the Colorado Springs branch of the NAACP do not see it that way," she said. "I would think that a progressive place like Colorado, and a place of such beauty like Steamboat Springs, would not want to deface itself with the ugliness of segregation and separatism as shown through that flag."

Symbols and recognition

Harris Lytle said the Colorado Springs NAACP chapter is the largest and most active in its three-state region of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. There's a newly reorganized NAACP unit in Denver, she said, but none on the Western Slope.

Coincidentally, she was traveling for personal reasons Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala., the first capital of the Confederacy and the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a social and civil rights protest in 1955.

Harris Lytle said she sent a letter Tuesday morning to the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, the city's newspaper, after noticing the prominence of what she called "the Rebel flag" — a red cross on a white background, which is Alabama's state flag and reminiscent of the Confederate battle flag — throughout the newspaper.

Harris Lytle said that experience led her to research Tuesday on Confederate flags of all stripes, including the flag planned for a Steamboat grave.

"We see the Confederate flag as a symbol of the past that should stay in the past," Harris Lytle said. "It's a symbol of the past that stood for racism and has been used by violent, separatist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and other groups."

She said the Aryan Nation, a white supremacist group, uses the Confederate flag as a symbol.

"I've never known the Confederate flag to be used as a good thing or as a thing of peace or of justice," she said.

Stanko said Tuesday that cemeteries across the South decorate graves with Confederate flags.

"I just don't see it as a big issue," he said. "We just thought it was overdue that we recognize this guy as a soldier."

Harvey's obituary said he was born in Kentucky and, as a young man, drove bull teams across Texas and New Mexico. The obituary said he came to Routt County about 25 years before his death, which would be about 1890. But Stanko and Harris Lytle noted, in separate conversations, that much of Harvey's personal background is uncertain.

"As a very patriotic person interested in history and the full history of this country, I embrace those who fought," Harris Lytle said. "We don't know that soldier's real story. We don't even know if in today's world, that soldier or that soldier's family would be accepting of the Confederate flag, or if they would see it as so many people do, as a sign of division instead of a sign of unity."

She suggested a different honor could be bestowed in remembrance of Harvey's service.

"I think a true honor for a soldier, no matter what war that soldier fought in, would be an American flag," she said.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com

Memorial Day events

■ Steamboat Springs

Thursday: Placing of flags on graves of military veterans at Steamboat Springs Cemetery, 5:30 p.m.

Saturday: Army physical fitness test at 9:30 a.m. at Emerald Park. The event is free, but donations for the American Legion are accepted. The test is two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups and a 2-mile run. Event organizer Tina Kyprios said participants don’t have to complete all three portions. The test is meant to raise awareness for soldiers serving our country.

Monday: Coffee and doughnuts at 8 a.m. at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4264, 924 Lincoln Ave.; ceremony practice at 9 a.m. at Steamboat Springs Cemetery; shuttle service to cemetery begins at 10 a.m. at Stock Bridge Transit Center; Memorial Day ceremony begins at 11 a.m. at cemetery.

■ Hayden

Friday: Placing of flags at Hayden Cemetery, 6 p.m.

Monday: Memorial Day ceremony, 6 p.m. at Hayden Cemetery, with 21-gun salute, flag lowering and presentation for citizens; public reception and meal at the Benjamin J. Hofstetter American Legion Post 89, on Third Street in Hayden, after the ceremony

■ Yampa

Monday: Memorial Day ceremony, 11 a.m. at the Yampa Cemetery, with traditional bugling and reading of names of veterans buried at the cemetery.

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