Just outside of Ottumwa on Highway 163 in Wapello County is a small, brown road-side marker that simply reads "Historic Site". If you are traveling too fast on this four lane highway, you'll miss it. It's a quick turn onto a gravel driveway and soon thereafter you find yourself in a grassy area where a few cars can park.
I am sure hundreds of cars pass it every day without ever stopping to see what is important about this marker. That's too bad.
On a recent Sunday, a couple of friends and I made the brief stop. You don't have to spend any more than a minute or two, but it's worth it.
In the corner of this small parcel of land is the grave site of Curtis King. At the age of 80, he answered President Lincoln's call for volunteers and thus became the oldest man to see action in the American Civil War.
Prior to my stopping, I had no idea about Curtis...but I've had a good time googling a bit more information about him. It's a great piece of Iowa history and trivia.
There's a small concrete bench and a metal fence around the grave. The grave also has a few other insignia, including a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) marker and some flags next to it.
I found a great biography about Curtis online which notes several other interesting facts. He was born at the end of the 1700's, not long after the founding of our country, and was a son of a Revolutionary War soldier. He was an apparent lineal descendant of Pocahontas. He was blind in one eye and was the father of 21 children, including the youngest being only 15 months old at his death before the Civil War concluded. I would encourage you to read the whole biography as it has some other fun facts as well.
Iowa has a rich Civil War history despite not being a place where very few of the battles actually transpired. Our state provided a strong percentage of forces to fight for the North. Earlier this year, a friend and I enjoyed visiting the our only national cemetery in Keokuk. I would encourage you to stop by to pay your respects to Curtis the next time you are in the area.