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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Family plot of pioneer Cavanaugh residents lies just off Phoenix Avenue in extreme west Fort Smith

Hundreds--if not thousands--of motorist drive by "it" every week but very few even know it is there.

"It" is a small, family graveyard that contains the remains of seven members of a pioneering family from what was then the Cavanaugh community that was swallowed up by Fort Smith's southern expansion in the early 1900,'s.

The Stromberg family plot, which is located in the 200 block of Phoenix Avenue just a stone's throw from State Line Road, is in the parking lot of what used to be a manufacturing facility.

Covered in trees and surrounded by a waist-high, hand-placed rock "fence", the cemetery stands just a few yards off Phoenix Avenue and is the final resting place of Henry "William" Stromberg, his wife Francis, and five of their offspring.

Other than census records and some references made about William Stromberg in the Fort Smith Historical Journal, there is very little known about the family. What we have pieced together is a snapshot of life in the Fort Smith area before the civil war.

We know that William came to the United States in 1854 with a fiance named Catherine Bohnmier in tow. Passenger ships from Hamburg to the United States were plentiful in the mid-1850's and it appears William and Catherine came to his country in their thirties. Their hometown in Germany was listed as "Hale" on their documents.

The couple passed through Ellis Island in New York in the fall of 1854, but by the time the 1860 census was conducted they were married...but to different people.

They both lived in the Cavanaugh area but William had married Francis Charlotte (last name unknown) who would be his wife until her death in 1870. Six children were born of the union.

William was a nurseryman of some stature and historical references cite him and his efforts in the Cavanaugh area for being instrumental in commercially introducing the bodark (horseapple) tree to western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma to be used as a source of hedging and for use in supple wood products, like archery bows.

The homestead was approximately three miles northwest of where the Battle of Massard Prairie was fought on July 19, 1864, seventy-six days after the birth of daughter Margaret.

Apparently, the William Stromberg Nursery was quite the enterprise and William grew and marketed several different types of fruit in the region, including strawberries, as evidenced by this clip from the old Fort Smith Elevator.

William never remarried after the death of his second wife. . In 1902, his former fiance Catherine Bohnmier Wibbing died in Fort Smith at the age of 86. and William was among her visitors in her last days. The floral tribute sent to the funeral home by William was "the largest and most impressive" grouping of magnificent roses at the service. Mrs. Wibbing was laid to rest in the historic Oak Cemetery.

Less than a year later, William Stromberg also died. He was laid to rest in the family plot next to Francis, son Henry William Jr., and Margaret, who died in 1865 at the age of five months.

In the years to come, they would be joined by daughters Elise and Marie and brother Frank. Elise lived the longest of the clan and was 91 when she passed on March 18, 1952.

One other daughter, Louisa Carolina ("Lena") moved from the area and married a successful Indiana businessman by the name of Frederich von Pein, who worked for the Stamps Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana before his health turned bad.

In his last few years, he invested in real estate developments, a move which made Louisa a wealthy widow when he killed himself with a gunshot to the head in 1907 the day after hosting a gala wedding for one of his nephews.

Frederich and Louisa, who died in 1945 at the age of 86, are buried side by side in the Lutheran Cemetery in Richmond, Indiana.

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