By Sterling McGinn
The small and peaceful West Lakefield Cemetery is the final resting place for a Civil War veteran.
For nearly 131 years, the grave of Riley Humphrey Fuller was unmarked, and no one who visited the cemetery knew that a Civil War veteran and prominent pioneer Lakefield resident was laid to rest there in 1892.
But thanks to a determined descendant, that has all changed. Riley Fuller now has a proper and permanent memorial stone, which also notes his military service during the Civil War. The grave was installed weeks ago by sexton Tim Teed. A veteran flag marker was also placed and will display an American Flag each summer.
JoAnne Jessee, the descendant responsible for researching Fuller’s military history and securing a grave marker, traveled from Wisconsin this past weekend with her husband and two children to visit the cemetery and see the gravestone for the first time.
“It was very humbling to see it, especially having known it was unmarked,” said Jesse. “I am very proud to have been able to play a part in commemorating his life.”
Jessee, who is a third-great granddaughter of Riley Fuller, has been interested in the family genealogy for some time.
She first visited the West Lakefield Cemetery in 2016. She knew he was buried there—records indicated the lot and number—but no stone or marker had ever been placed there.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, Jessee started requesting documents for Civil War veterans in her family, including Fuller.
She began the quest for a headstone from the Veterans Administration (VA) in August of last year. The VA has a program where they offer standard gravestones for veterans.
The process of securing a military stone was not a simple task for Jessee. She first had to prove he’d been a veteran, and had to find military records.
She contacted the National Archives for help. “It took a little while to get the paperwork from the National Archives, in terms of his pension records and others,” Jessee said. “I got the first few pages in the summer of 2021.”
It wasn’t until a year later that she received his military records and full pension record.
Jessee was then faced with finding sufficient records to prove Fuller was actually buried in West Lakefield in addition to proving the grave was currently unmarked.
Jessee reached out to Tim Teed, who found Fuller’s name listed in the cemetery records, but no burial date was listed. At that time, they didn’t record dates in the book.
She also had to prove that Fuller’s son, who was also named Riley, was not the one buried in Lakefield and that he was buried elsewhere in Michigan.
Once Jessee received photos of pages of the record book, the VA approved the request for the stone in January of this year.
Fuller was born in Connecticut sometime around 1820. While just a boy, his father died. At 17 years old, Fuller and his mother and the remainder of the family relocated to Pennsylvania, making the trip in a covered wagon. They later relocated back to Connecticut.
He eventually went to work in New York where he did his first lumbering as a river driver.
Fuller later moved to Allegan, Michigan where he continued his work in lumbering.
On September 2, 1864, Fuller enlisted in the Union Army in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He served with Company E., Michigan 28th Infantry Regiment.
According to Fuller’s obituary, which was published in the Newberry News on September 2, 1892, “He participated in several minor engagements and was a sufferer in a military hospital for many weeks.”
In September of 1864, Fuller was appointed a Sergeant and was honorably discharged from the Army on December 24, 1865.
Following his discharge, he returned to the lumbering business in Mecosta County, Michigan.
He moved to the Upper Peninsula in the late 1870s to work at the Black River Lumber Camp in Mackinac County.
Fuller purchased 400 acres of land near Big Manistique Lake to start a farm. In the spring of 1880, Fuller brought his family to the new homestead in Lakefield. The family traveled by boat from Naubinway, then took a two-day ox cart trip to reach the homestead.
It was rugged and rural. The family’s first winter was difficult; mail came in just twice from Naubinway. Travel was almost non-existent.
Fuller was an instigator and promoter in the forming of Lakefield Township. He served as the township’s first supervisor while it was still part of Mackinac County.
He also served on several occasions as the justice of the peace, township clerk, and highway commissioner.
According to a March 22, 1890, article from the Newberry News, “It was through Mr. Fuller’s efforts that the town of Lakefield was ‘set off,’ he having drawn up the papers for that purpose and circulated the petition for that purpose.”
Fuller remained well known throughout Mackinac and Luce counties.
After nearly a year of suffering from an illness, Fuller died at his homestead in Lakefield on August 28, 1892, at the age of 72. Funeral services for Fuller were the largest ever conveyed in that area up to that date.
Though more than a century passed without any recognition of Fuller at the West Lakefield cemetery, visitors will now see a stone stating that a Civil War veteran is buried below, and his story won’t be lost to history.
“Now there is a headstone that will actually mark where he lies, and hopefully that will last well into the future and other people can know that he is there and can commemorate his service to our county,” said Jessee.