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February 2004

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Dowsing methods used to find county graves

By Linda Bell
Livermore Correspondent

Power of suggestion, supernatural communication, energy fields, thermal radiation, compacted soils?

"Don't ask me how it works," said Duane Kniebes, a retired chemist and physicist who has been dowsing for graves in Larimer County for four years. "I just know it does work."

Kniebes and his wife, Susan, are part of a statewide volunteer effort to locate graves for the Colorado Cemetery Names Project, with support from the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies Cemetery Directory and the USGS Geographic Names Information System. The survey databases that result should accurately help verify and pinpoint gravesites all over the state, using global positioning systems, Kniebes said.

The original task, he said, was to verify 69 gravesites in Larimer County, including cemeteries, listed in a survey published in 1985 by the CCGS. "So far," he said, "we have found all but two of the original 69, plus an additional 76 gravesites, and we have another 40 leads yet to investigate."

The technique used to dowse for graves is much like using dowsing rods --sometimes called "witch sticks"--to find water, Kniebes said. The L-shaped rods, which can be of any length convenient to handle, are usually made of steel, about one-eighth inch in diameter. Held lightly in the hands by the bent handle, keeping the thumb well out of the way and the hands low enough to not interfere with the rods' movements, the two rods realign on their own accord from parallel to crossed over a grave site, he explained.

Susan Kniebes said anyone is usually able to use dowsing rods. She said they've shown about 40 people how to dowse, and only a very few didn't succeed.

Duane Kniebes said he's tried making rods out of all kinds of materials-- steel, coat hangers, glass and plastic--and they all react in the same manner. An experienced dowser can even sometimes distinguish whether the person buried is a man or a woman, he said, depending on how the rods react.

Since it is illegal to exhume graves, he said, dowsers must depend on finding collaborative information in reliable written or oral history that confirms their findings. He said their examination of the Hupp family plot in Rocky Mountain National Park placed one of the three graves under a small pine tree outside the south edge of the marked plot. Susan Kniebes said when she started doing research on the plot, some park personnel remembered that Francis Hupp was indeed interred just outside the marked plot.

Conversely, what often seems like a marked grave or burial site will not contain a body. For example, Susan Kniebes recalled that the 4-year-old boy, Rory Barf-knecht, who was buried in 1985 in the pioneer Adams Cemetery below McNey Hill in Livermore - as reported in the April 2003 North Forty News--was disinterred and reburied in Wyoming in November 2003.

Duane Kniebes said that near Trail's End Ranch on County Road 80C they located about 53 Native American graves thought to be those of the Cherokees killed by the Utes. Cherokee Park in the Livermore area is named for this event.

Recently the Kniebeses spent a day on the Roberts Ranch in Livermore, corroborating three children's graves and an adult grave near the site of the Cherokee Stage Station along Stonewall Creek. In 1989, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a stone memorial marker commemorating the site of the station.

Duane Kniebes said they first visited the area in October 2000 because the late Evan Roberts had heard from his father, George, there was a burial ground near the station. Kniebes said he found an adult grave and two baby graves at that time and a third baby grave on a subsequent visit. He explained that baby graves, like very old graves, have a weaker reaction on the rods, but usually it is their much smaller physical size that is key to determining approximate age at burial.

Derek Roberts then led the Kniebeses to another site on the ranch where his father, Evan, had remembered a grave. The threesome and Cal Jennings, a Colorado State University anthropology professor who was along to observe, got some positive reaction with the dowsing rods at a disturbed site on the crest of a rise overlooking Campbell Valley on the ranch. Whether the grave is that of a Native American or an Overland Trail settler is unclear, but the unknown adult grave will be included in the survey on the strength of the rods and oral history, Duane Kniebes said.

He said it is interesting that, in his experience, children's graves are almost always placed somewhere within easy sight of a homeplace or in protected areas away from weather. Adult graves, he added, are often placed at the tops of rises and hills, where the view is agreeable and the person is perhaps closer to the sky.

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