Graves Dedicated for 2 of Ventura's Forgotten Heroes

The Ventura County Star-Free Press
Monday, July 2, 1990

Peter B. Smith
S-FP staff writer

As a boom box played martial music softly in the background, Russell Anderson of American Legion Post 339 delivered this invocation at a ceremony to honor old warriors buried and ignored in Ventura:

"The cemeteries have become their bivouac area. The cold and silent stone or brass whispers the name of one who sleeps beneath the little green sod tent that marks their dwelling place."

A modest gathering of 45 in Cemetery Park marked the placing of markers Saturday over two of the 2,300 unmarked graves under the grass. The two men honored were Brevet Major General William Vandever, and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Private James Sumner.

Nobody knows what happened to their original headstones, but the odds are they are part of the levee protecting the Olivas Park Golf Course from the Santa Clara River. That's where the unclaimed headstones went when the city leveled the Ventura Cemetery in the early '60s, according to Major Phil Arnold, the Marine Lawyer and necrology enthusiast who organized Saturday's event.

"These two individuals were buried in obscurity," said Arnold, who has organized two other events like this. "I thought Ventura would be interested in them because it's their guys."

Vandever was a second-term U.S. congressman from Dubuque, Iowa, when the Civil War broke out. He went home in 1861 and recruited the 9th Iowa Volunteers, which he commanded throughout the Civil War.

As the war progressed deeper into the South, he was promoted from colonel to brigadier general, and after the war was given the honorary title of major general. In 1884, Andover moved to Ventura to retire. In Southern California however, he was elected twice more to Congress, where he introduced bills to split California in half, buy Baja California from Mexico, and establish Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. He left Congress in 1891 and died in Ventura in 1893.

About Sumner less is known. He was born in London in 1840. He was given the Medal of Honor in 1870 for his bravery as an Indian-fighter during a battle with the Apache leader Cochise in the mountains of southeastern Arizona.

Cornelius Smith, a retired Marine Corps colonel, tried to put Sumner's medal in perspective. "The apache was able, cunning, ruthless and savage. He took no prisoners. He killed women and children. But he was defending his land, we have to give him that," Smith said.

"Modern armies use automatic weapons, napalm, and cover by mortars, and I don't want to denigrate that, because that's a tough situation. But there's something very special about shooting a man eyeball to eyeball. I say we pay our respects to this brave soldier from another time," Smith continued.

Sumner drifted up to Saticoy from Los Angeles in 1903, and to Oxnard where he worked in a saloon until shortly before his death in the Ventura County Poor House in 1912. The exact location of his grave is unknown.

Both were given a 9-gun salute by the Fort Tejon Historical Association, a group that dresses up like Civil War soldiers and stages mock battles. A bugler played Taps.

Although Philip Hardison, chairman of the Ventura Historical Preservation Commission, knows of no other monuments to Vandever, his house still stands at 144 S. California St., across from the Bombay Bar and Grill. The house is now the site of the Winkel Van Sinkel gift shop, owned by artist Nancy Wynands and her husband, Hendrik.

Two Photographs

First, is a shot of John Wyman dressed in a Northern Union uniform aiming a percussion rifle. Caption reads, "John Wyman of Ventura takes aim during grave-dedication ceremonies at Ventura's Cemetery Park."

Second, is a shot of a small group of men dressed as Union soldiers marching with rifles shouldered. Caption reads, "A Civil War re-enactment group marches to the now unmarked site of William Vandever's grave."

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