Attica — Nathaniel Grigsby died 120 years ago, but in a cemetery near Attica on the southern Kansas plains, the farmer still is cursing the Democratic Party from the grave.
History might have eventually forgotten Grigsby’s name and overlooked his tombstone as family ties became more distant, yet Grigsby may always be remembered for his famous parting words — an epitaph he made his family promise to engrave if they wanted their inheritance.
“Through this inscription I wish to enter my dying protest against what is called the Democratic party. I have watched it closely since the days of Jackson and know that all the misfortunes of our nation have come to it through this so called party. Therefore, beware of this party of treason.”
And, like he probably hoped when making his dying wish, his message still has influence.
Grigsby has received mentions from the likes of presidential hopeful Alf Landon to a young Sen. John Kennedy. His message is all over the Internet, and there is even a Facebook page for admirers.
“It’s a real kicker to find this gravestone — it’s one that is in the legendary state,” said Kansas Sampler Foundation Executive Director Marci Penner, who visited the site when making her Kansas Guidebook for Explorers.
Moreover, when she got to the plot just outside the tiny town of Attica, “it lived up to all expectations.”
Grigsby died April 16, 1890, at age 78, living his life as a staunch and vocal Republican, said great-great-granddaughter Kathy Dick, who still lives near Attica. There is even a story that has circulated through town that the farmer once got into a cane fight with another old-timer over political views.
Someone way back when, with a different outlook than Grigsby’s, even took a pickup truck and ran over the grave, Dick said.
“The stone’s very famous,” she said, but added her relative also had a rich history himself.
Born in 1811, Grigsby went to school in Indiana with Abraham Lincoln, whom he considered a dear friend, before Lincoln moved to Illinois.
It’s said he visited the White House, and he even wrote Lincoln in 1860 and received an appointment as Republican Precinct Committeeman. He placed Lincoln’s name on the 1860 ballot.
Dick said he stayed in contact with Lincoln. The family donated letters written to Grigsby by Lincoln to Lincoln’s boyhood home museum in Indiana.
“He invited him to his inauguration, and Lincoln gave him a cane,” she said, adding, “Lincoln warned him not to get into trouble over politics.”
According to his tombstone, his brother, Aaron Grigsby, married Lincoln’s oldest sister, Sarah. She died in childbirth.
Eventually, Grigsby and several of his sons enlisted in the Civil War, fighting in Company G of the 10th Indian Cavalry, and Grigsby earned the rank of second lieutenant.
He moved to Harper County in 1885, records show.
His final request was the chiseled words on his grave. An article in the May 15, 1898, New York Times reported that Grigsby stipulated in his will that his dying wish be carried out or his family would not inherit his property.
Family, however, made sure there was a disclaimer on the stone: “Put on in fulfillment of promise to Deceased.”
Grigsby’s great-great-granddaughter Dick spent 12 years mowing and caring for the cemetery in which her relatives are buried. Three years ago, she hired a company to restore Grigsby’s grave — damaged from the truck running over it and worn from the weather. The company also darkened the etchings.
But is she a Republican?
She laughed and said, “Most of my family is. And we don’t tell if we’re not.”