DOUGHERTY — The tombstone of Oklahoma pioneer William Potes spent decades in places it didn't belong. Originally stolen from a cemetery in rural Murray County, it was discovered in an abandoned Texas college dormitory in 1982 and spent the last 26 years in the back yard of amateur genealogists Mike and Donna Ballard of Krugerville, Texas.
The Ballards tried at various times to determine where the tombstone belonged. A foot injury put Donna Ballard in a cast this summer, and with little else to occupy her time, she spent eight hours a day for a week on the Internet trying to figure out where Potes' marker belonged. She ended up on a genealogy message board, communicating with Potes great-great-great-grandson, Roy Wilkerson of Duncan. Turns out, Wilkerson was working almost as hard to find his ancestor's marker as Donna Ballard was to return it. The online conversation resulted in a "reunion” between Potes, who died in 1886, and his wife. Donna Ballard learned that Potes had been injured in the Civil War and died within months after he came to Oklahoma on a wagon train. His death was related to his old war injury, her research found. Donna Ballard said her research indicated the tombstone went missing around 1950. A security guard at Texas Woman's University in Denton discovered it when some old dorms were being razed to build new ones. He took it to the Ballards in 1982 and asked them to help solve the mystery. They did. It just took a while.
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Roy Wilkerson of Duncan, helped by his son, Koy, and wife, Kimberly, puts an ancestor's tombstone in place at a Murray County cemetery. At left is Donna Ballard of Krugerville, Texas. Photo provided by Donna Ballard