Remains of influential pioneer returned to permanent mid-road grave site in Johnson County

AMITY, Ind. - The grave in the middle of the road is somewhat of a legend in Johnson County. Four months of work to preserve that grave was completed Friday.

“There’s a lot of history from Indiana in this area,” said Brian Baird, the Chairman of the Johnson County Commissioners. “We had to do something. We couldn’t just turn our back on it and let it go.”

“The mound structure that was in the middle of the road was an earthen structure that we thought was original sediment but we learned that this had been stuff that people had been pushing back onto this mound over time,” said archaeologist and University of Indianapolis Professor of Anthropology, Christopher Schmidt.

Beneath the cement surface in the middle of County Road 400 South in Amity are the remains of Nancy Kerlin Barnett. During the early days of Indiana, Barnett was an influential pioneer. She was married to a descendant of Pocahontas. After the road fell into disrepair, it was clear, her remains along with six others that were discovered at the site, were in need of some serious care.

“I think we all agree that human remains need to be treated in a special way. Well when we came to this site, the human remains were actually tumbling out onto the road. I don’t think anybody wants that,” said Schmidt.

Her grave sits in the middle of the road because her descendants stood by with shotguns, guarding her grave as the road was paved around her.

But time would eventually take its toll and the road would need to be replaced. Archaeologists spent months, unearthing and returning her, to her rightful resting place.

“I can go to bed at night, lay my head on the pillow and be fine and sleep. I can get up the next morning, look myself in the mirror and know, we’ve done the right thing,” said Baird.

There was concern over how it should be done and whether her remains would stay at that location.  But now, the Indiana legend of the grave in the road remains; this time, with a permanent plaque to remind us for years to come.

“We got to sort of ground truth what life was like for folks of the past because we all know, life in the past has certainly affected our lives today,” said Schmidt.

“Sometimes we don’t know everything we think we know, so it’s kind of neat to unearth that and understand that there’s more to it,” said Baird.

DNA tests are being conducted on the six other remains that were laid to rest at the site. It could take up to two years to identify who those people are.