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Drake! Drake! What did you die for?

Written by Jeremy Myntti

John M Drake Headstone, Provo City Cemetery

Like the throngs of other Americans, I visited several cemeteries on Memorial Day to pay tribute to my ancestors. Every time we visit my wife’s grandparents grave in the Provo cemetery, we see a nearby monument to John M. Drake. According to a family legend going back several generations, if you stand in front of this headstone and say “Drake! Drake! What did you die for?”, he will answer. The answer we always get is silence or “nothing at all.”

Since my wife’s family has visited this grave site for many decades, telling the family legend to all who come, I have been curious as to who he was and why he has such a large headstone. In order to discover his story, I turned to Utah Digital Newspapers to see if there was any information about him and why he really died.

With the information from his headstone and these newspaper articles, I now know that after service as a Union soldier in the 42nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, John moved to Utah in hopes of profiting from the boom in the mining industry. He apparently went on to earn a quite a fortune in the Woodside mine and as a partner in the Martin & Drake Live Stock Association and had “unostentatious and cordial manners [and] won the friendship of all who knew him.” His estate was auctioned off after his untimely death in 1890 due to “paralysis of the brain” at the young age of 42.

While his story didn’t have the happiest of endings, it was great to be able to find so many stories about him in Utah Digital Newspapers to learn more about this mysterious monument that we have seen for many years.

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