FT. MYERS, Fla. - Records before 1926 are incomplete at best. There are bodies in graves unmarked, if not entirely forgotten by the slow passage of time.
Such is the Ft. Myers Cemetery's earliest history. Privately owned when it first opened in 1888, the cemetery has grown to more than 65 acres. Record keeping improved when the city took over in the 1920's.
Many of the headstones and vaults are weathered, shaded by thick moss draped from the branches of the large oak trees across the property.
"There are a lot of people buried here who don't have headstones," says Helen Farrell.
Farrell has spent the last few years researching the cemetery. It began as a way to honor her daughter, who is buried on the grounds.
"They really had no idea who all is buried here," Farrell said of the records she's uncovered.
On Memorial Day, flags dotted the landscape. Even unknown veterans are honored, including an unnamed Confederate soldier from the Civil War.
But it's back in a corner, deep in the recesses of the cemetery, that a small flag waves next to a solitary marble slab. Inscribed on its face: "Unknown, Seminole War."
"I believe this is a memorial," Farrell tells WINK News. Neither her immediate records, nor those within the city's hands, reflect any Seminole War veterans actually burried in the cemetery. The back of the marble slab reads, "Erected in 1974."
It may not mark a gravesite, but Farrell says that doesn't mean there aren't Seminole War veterans - even Native Americans - burried in the cemetery.
Ft. Myers began as its name implies. A fort along the Caloosahatchee River served as an outpost for some of the area's earliest settlers. In the 1800s it was the posting point for U.S. troops battling the local Seminole tribes for control of the area.
The third and final war ended long before the Fort Myers Cemetery opened. Many casualties of the wars were buried in a cemetery that once laid on what is now the intersection of 2nd and Fowler streets in downtown Ft. Myers. Their remains were later disinterred and burried again at the Ft. Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola.
But for those who may have served and lived in the area for another 30 years, Farrell and others believe it's possible they were burried in the new cemetery. They may even lie beside members of the Seminole tribes they battled earlier in life.
In fact, some say they may be among Florida's first veterans.
"Even though you might personally be against war... you have to honor and respect those men - and women now - who give their lives to defend their country," Farrell said. "It's a tremendous honor beyond what a lot of people can understand; that you could love your country so much you'd be willing to give your life for it."