|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
"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
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,"
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.
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."