Pioneer Children's Memorial Vandalized

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Vandals have desecrated a poignant memorial erected west of here for four children whose trek with a California-bound pioneer family ended in the bleak Nevada desert.

The landmark just off U.S. 50 and three miles west of Sand Mountain consists of a white picket fence enclosing a pile of stones.

On top of the stones are a doll, a bouquet of artificial flowers and a few children's trinkets left for three sisters and their cousin who died nearly 140 years ago as the Civil War was nearing its end.

As legend has it, the Lebeau sisters - 9-year-old Jennie, 6-year-old Louise and 3-year-old Emma - along with their 3-year-old cousin Wilson Turner came down with diphtheria as they were crossing the 40-mile desert in 1864.

The girls' father went off on horseback in search of help and medicine, but was held up by bad weather. When he returned, his wife was readying the small graves.

In the 1940s, heavy rain uncovered remains and washed them to the current gravesite. The bones were reburied and a marker was posted that read, "Here lies children known only to God."

Area historians and some Lebeau descendants have since proclaimed the marker the site of the Lebeau sisters and their cousin.

For 64 years, upkeep of the site has passed from caretaker to caretaker.

A wooden cross engraved with the children's names and story was added by longtime grave protector Johnnie Johnson, who also built the picket fence.

When he died in 1993, he passed along the maintenance work to Gary Ridenour, a Fallon doctor.

Ridenour was making a maintenance visit to the site last week when he found a couple of four-wheeler tracks and the vandalism.

The cross had been torn apart and its horizontal portion with the engravings was removed, leaving only a marker for the boy.

Ridenour is determined to restore the site.

"I'm going to do it in a good, solid piece of metal this time," he told the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard.

While the identity of the remains may be in doubt, Ridenour said the memorial is dedicated to the people and horses and oxen who died in their quest for a better life in the fabled West.