More than a century after the death of his great-great grandfather, Richard Hite Robbins of Galva, Kan., sat at his ancestor's grave, as members of the Elijah Gates Camp No. 570 held a headstone dedication service Saturday afternoon at Elmwood Cemetery in Mexico.
Pvt. Byron S. Hite was born April 16, 1837, in Frederick County, Va., the second child of Phillip A. and Mary (Wilson) Hite. In 1858, he moved by himself to Callaway County. The following year, on Nov. 3, 1859, he married Virginia Allen of Callaway County, daughter of James D. Allen and Sarah Smith.
Hite was a Confederate Civil War Army soldier, who died in 1892. He was shot at least three times, but survived the war to become a prominent businessman in Mexico. Hite invented and patented the Hite Heat Fender.
The headstone dedication service – held in Hite's honor – drew several Elijah Gates Camp members dressed in period clothing, local educators, out-of-town visitors and other spectators – more than his great-great grandson said he had ever expected. The headstone was obtained through the Veteran's Department and placed between the tombstones of this wife, daughter and sons.
"I discovered Mr. Hite while doing research on Civil War veterans in Callaway County, and I discovered that Mr. Hite had never had a headstone even though he was a veteran," said Kevin Wenzel, quartermaster Elijah Gates Camp No. 570.
"These men deserve these stones. It doesn't really make a whole lot of difference what side of the war they were on, race or creed, they fought for what they thought was an honorable situation, and after it was all over they made their life and went on about their way."
Elijah Gates Camp No. 570 also did a service dedication for the Lillard Brothers, two area African American soldiers, who are also interred in Elmwood.
"After Hite was shot, he did survive and was kept at a fort in Rolla, and then taken to the Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis. He was brought back to Callaway County and put on trial for stealing a few horses, some bridles and other equipment before leaving with Col. Joseph Porter. He was found guilty and sent back to the prison and one night was able to spirit himself away," Wenzel said as he briefly detailed the soldier's life.
He came back in late 1865 and was farming in 1870, and not long after that he developed the Hite Heat Fender and moved to Mexico in late 1870s and started manufacturing that device here.
"He did very well and was able to retire at age 58 in 1889. Upon his retirement, he moved to Kansas City. He built a new house there on Seventh Street, which still stands, and I've taken pictures of it," Wenzel said. "He met his demise unfortunately one morning, in trying to eradicate his chicken coop of lice. The ensuing blast, after he had painted down the walls with gasoline and then lit a plate full of sulfur, ignited the whole building."
Page 2 of 2 - Wenzel said it has been told that the "roof blew 20 feet into the neighbor's yard."
Hite was burned to death and one of his son's was also slightly burned, but recovered. After Hite's body was recovered, the family loaded him on the Wabash Railroad and brought him back to Elmwood Cemetery, where he was interred. There were already three of his children buried there. His wife later joined him in 1892.
"Hite had a rather unfortunate demise. That was part of what intrigued me about the story," Wenzel said. He encourages everyone to trace and cherish their family roots. "It's worth knowing."
"It's amazing to see all these people and all the effort that went into this ceremony today. It's an honor and I'm grateful that I could be here representing the family," Robbins said, following the ceremony. He said he had heard stories about his great-great grandfather, but that Wenzel had also filled in a lot he didn't know. "I call him the foremost expert on the life and times of Byron Hite. His efforts have been unbelievable in tracing this kind of history."
Wenzel said he found Robbins on Ancestry.com, and that he had been working on the project at least six months before last weekend's ceremony. They contacted Robbins in March and told him of the ceremony being planned.
Robbins said what is left of the Hite branch is now living in central Arizona. He is the middle child with an older sister and younger brother. During the ceremony, the Elijah Gates Camp No. 570 presented Robbins with the flag that draped his headstone. Robbins plans to display it in memory of his great-great grandfather.