Just across the Iowa Street bridge in KU’s West District, Pioneer Cemetery’s natural hedge border and green lawn provide a peaceful final resting place for more than 1,000 members of the KU community. The cemetery also is home to some of the state’s earliest residents. Once lost in overgrown prairie and nearly forgotten, Pioneer Cemetery was rediscovered in the mid-19th century. KU Endowment acquired the historic property in 1953 and reopened it for interments in 1968.
One notable free-state supporter, David Buffum, was buried here in 1856. Originally from Salem, Mass., Buffum was a member of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. He was in the second wave of antislavery supporters who settled in the territory in hopes of preventing slavery from spreading. Buffum died after being shot by a member of the proslavery Kickapoo Rangers. His epitaph reads, “I am willing to die for the cause of Freedom in Kansas.” Free-state supporters turned this dying statement into a rallying cry in Kansas and across the country.
The tombstone is believed to have been stolen from the cemetery in the early 1900s. Later recovered and deemed of historical significance, it was entrusted to the Kansas State Historical Society. The tombstone is now on display at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka. In spring 2021, KU alumnus and local sculptor Karl Ramberg created a replica of the Buffum tombstone based on photos and measurements of the original.
Back home on the Pioneer Cemetery grounds, the white tombstone stands as a reminder of those who pushed against proslavery boundaries, transformed free-state supporters’ rally cries and fought for abolishing slavery in the territory now known as Kansas. Buffum, whose last words proclaimed his willingness to die for freedom, displayed the true Jayhawk spirit.
David Buffum Tombstone text
DAVID C. BUFFUM
Born at Salem, Mass.
Nov. 11, 1822,
Died near Lawrence Kansas
Sept. 17, 1856.
His death, although a great loss
to his friends and the community,
has been a great gain to the
cause of Freedom. He was devo-
ted to the cause for which he
suffered; his last words being
“I am willing to die for the
cause of Freedom in Kansas.”