When war passes over a landscape, it often leaves unmistakable traces behind.
From Gettysburg to the Somme, places that once were battlefields can seem to hold the memories of the dead in the very soil underfoot, the wind in the trees.
Not in Western New York.
The Niagara Frontier was a field of war 200 years ago, and also a war graveyard.
But it is all largely forgotten.
This week, the War of 1812 and the region's place in that war will be commemorated when the United States and Canada send emissaries here to mark the many local battlefields from that bitter three-year conflict.
Behind those ceremonies rest the discoveries of researchers, both in Buffalo and elsewhere, who claim that the evidence left by history shows this:
The Niagara Frontier was one of the most deadly, if not the deadliest, of the killing fields in the War of 1812.
"No other place in North America saw more action," said Patrick B. Kavanagh, a historian at Forest Lawn in Buffalo, which contains about 300 graves of men and women connected to the episode in the region.
"That triangle of territory, from Black Rock to Buffalo, was horrific. Lewiston was destroyed. Youngstown was destroyed. The Niagara Frontier was just the killing fields of the war.
"It happened here."
Today, two centuries after the fighting, the magnitude of the losses can still be difficult to grasp.
Numbering, and naming, the dead of the War of 1812 has always been a challenging task.
"Records were poorly kept, so it is impossible to know with certainty" how many people died or were wounded in the conflict, is the way Donald R. Hickey, a historian at Wayne State College, put it in a recent book on the War of 1812.
Hickey's book cites a death toll of 2,260 battlefield casualties for Americans during the war, but estimates that with deaths from illness and combat wounds and accidents, the real tally would have been "close to 20,000." (British losses were likely in the 10,000 range, and Native Americans probably about 7,500, Hickey's book states.)
It was a terrible way to suffer and die.
Many of the conflict's soldiers died in primitive conditions, whether in makeshift military hospitals - where painkilling drugs, modern surgical techniques and the importance of hygiene to prevent infection were still unknown - or on the fields of war.
Some were buried quickly in trench-like mass graves. Others were buried without markers to show where they lay. Whether from wounds or the rampant diseases that afflicted the men involved in combat - ranging from diarrhea and typhoid to smallpox and measles - those caring for the sick and burying the dead were often little healthier than their charges.
Needless to say, accurate records for many of these deaths have not been easy to collect.
This year, however, a new estimate of the casualty tolls of the War of 1812 throughout the Northeast has been compiled by a Plattsburgh resident, Jack Bilow.
After spending seven years gathering military records from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as well as other military and genealogical data, Bilow has released a "War of 1812 Death Register" that contains what could be the most comprehensive list yet developed of 1812 war dead for the Buffalo Niagara region and beyond.
It encompasses some 20,000 men's names, with other biographical data when available - such as hometowns, ages, reasons for death, and the names of surviving dependents.
Bilow said his educated guess is that casualty totals for the American side in the War of 1812 would actually approach 25,000, or even 30,000, people in all, if all the names were known - a figure higher than some previous schools of thought. (Bilow's book does not cover deaths in some Southern states.)
An educated estimate of the number of men who died in the Buffalo area - whether killed in fighting or by dying in hospitals here - would be in the range or at least 1,000 men or more for Buffalo itself, with another likely 1,100 or more dead in Williamsville, the site of a key military hospital. In Black Rock there were still more deaths, Bilow said.
"Put together, with the wounded, there is no other book like this," said Bilow of his register, which was recently rated five stars by a prestigious New England genealogical publication.
"It was pretty extensive. It cost a lot of life."
Bilow said that aspect of the war has been misunderstood or ignored over the years.
"The main reason the War of 1812 came to an end was because of where you are, that whole [Buffalo] region," he said. "The main reason they signed the Treaty of Ghent was because of the Niagara Frontier and the Battle of Plattsburgh. I stand by that."
By way of comparison, the Civil War is now seen by some, according to the most recent published estimates, as having cost the lives of 750,000 men, or possibly more, up from previous estimates of around 600,000.
However, in 1812, a half century before the Civil War, the population of the United States was smaller - in 1810, the white population of the country was in the range of 6 million.
That means a loss along the lines Bilow estimates - at 30,000 men - would have been in the range of .5 percent of the white population at the time.
"This is a book of bad news, mostly," said Bilow, who started on the project after becoming intrigued by the unknown dead of the war buried near his hometown. "Either you were taken prisoner, or you were wounded, or you died on a battlefield or in a hospital."
Bilow's 522-page register - which he said he compiled to help genealogists and other historical researchers - covers the dead, wounded, killed in action and prisoners of war in New York, Vermont and along the Canadian border. It includes some British names as well as American ones. A separate section covers the Battle of Plattsburgh.
One sample entry tells of Corp. George P. Valentine, 27, a native of Ireland, who died at Buffalo on either Oct. 9 or Oct. 13, 1812. Bilow's note on Valentine's death states that he died "of wounds received in action in boarding the Caledonia or at Black Rock."
Another entry, about one John Lamphier, 36, a Connecticut native, tells of Lamphier's fate on the Niagara Frontier on Sept. 13, 1814: "wounded by cannonading died of sickness."
A Lt. Charles Macomb died here at age 22 in 1814 of wounds incurred during a wartime duel, Bilow's record shows.
And Stephen McCarrier, 28, a Pennsylvanian, was unlucky enough to "cut off his right hand while building huts for regiment" in the Buffalo area. He survived.
Many of the American men listed - their identities culled from half-pay pensions paid to their survivors, in boxes of old militia and military records, and in other ways - were from New York, New England, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia, Bilow said.
Even 200 years later, Bilow said, it's important to give these men their due.
"What little recognition we are able to give these guys, they have now," said Bilow, a retired corrections officer, who went through at least 13 rolls of microfilm at the National Archives during his research, in addition to other resources. He said he was so determined to be accurate that he read through the microfilm reels twice.
"At least," he said, "their names are out there now."
Bilow said his research has revealed that the Niagara Frontier was one of the deadliest, if not the deadliest, for soldiers during the War of 1812.
"You were the major front of the war," said Bilow. "If you look at the facts and figures, the Niagara Frontier was where it was at."
When people nowadays think of the War of 1812, they likely think of "The Star-Spangled Banner," lyrics composed by Francis Scott Key after Fort McHenry in Baltimore survived a British bombardment.
Or they may think of New Orleans, and the dramatic fighting there involving such charismatic figures as Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson.
Chances are, they don't think about places like the Garrison Road Cemetery in Cheektowaga.
In fact, despite the two-century history of the diminutive cemetery on Aero Drive in the first-ring suburban town, there are likely many people in Western New York who don't know about the cemetery, said Tom Johnson.
The town is hoping that will change, now that an incipient $23,000 restoration will take the appearance of the cemetery's fence and gate back to its vintage look.
The idea is to draw visitors - and increase knowledge about the War of 1812 and its victims, especially those in Western New York, said Johnson, a retired Dunlop employee who is chairman of the board charged with preserving the site.
The Garrison Road cemetery, also called the War of 1812 cemetery, is the largest single burial place for War of 1812 casualties in the region, said Johnson, a former Cheektowaga councilman who has been instrumental in overseeing the preservation of the site during the past three decades.
The cemetery is known as the "Garrison" burial ground because, during the war, it was the repository for the bodies of men who died in the military hospital located on Garrison Road in what is now Williamsville.
"They all died," said Johnson. "If you were wounded in those days, you had terrible infections, terrible diseases. You were a goner."
The bodies were trundled a mile or two overland to the cemetery - then a rural area surrounded by farm fields and forests - and placed in the ground.
"The villagers didn't want them buried in their graveyard," said Johnson, citing fears of disease. "So a farmer offered to let them have the back half of his farm field."
Johnson said a professional underground radar survey of the cemetery, which since 2002 has been a national historic site, shows that both American and British soldiers are buried in narrow, and relatively shallow, trenches in the plot.
"My God, there are just mounds of them," said Johnson, walking through the cemetery on a recent afternoon. "There are bones, skulls, thigh bones, arm bones. You can make out the long bones (on the radar images), like the thigh bones."
White crosses in the graveyard signify masses of bodies beneath the surface. At this point in time, so many years later, it is impossible to tell exactly how many with any certainty.
"There's probably at least 500 of them," Johnson estimated.
Bilow's register shows that the number could actually be much higher than that.
These graves contain men whose identities have been uncovered, to some extent, over the years, Johnson said. But some of these victims will remain forever unknown.
"The average Cheektowagan - the average Western New Yorker - doesn't know anything about this," Johnson said. "People's knowledge of history begins with the Civil War. They just don't know."
Another place where the scars left by the War of 1812 can still be seen is Forest Lawn.
There, the personal, hometown side of the oft-forgotten war can be found.
In the historic Buffalo burial ground, said researchers who have studied the subject for years, lay the bodies of hundreds of people who were involved with or affected by the war, both on the battlefield and homefront.
Among them are soldiers, housewives, Native Americans.
For instance, Sarah Lovejoy, the only woman known to be slain during the burning of Buffalo, rests in the cemetery beneath a stone that reads: "Killed by the Indians during the Burning of Buffalo."
Also there is Simon D. Wattles, who was killed at Fort Erie at 33 years old.
And Farmers' Brother, a Native American, who led an attack at Devil's Hole.
"The people around here, for the most part, they did not want this war," said Kavanagh, a historian and tour guide at Forest Lawn who has studied the War of 1812 and its casualties for many years. "Things here were good. People were marrying, building things. They were intermarrying with Canadians, there was trading going on. The Black Rock ferry was really busy. Things were really good."
As a result, Kavanagh said, the gravesites of women like Lovejoy are important - and often included on cemetery tours - because they illustrate the impact of the War of 1812 on regular people, such as civilians and women.
The tours and historical information gathered by the cemetery are part of an ongoing effort to boost the region's understanding of the ways the war played out here.
Kavanagh has spent years putting together an exhaustive inventory of the hundreds of dead in Forest Lawn who had intimate ties to the conflict.
What would he like people to realize, or to understand, about these figures?
"Just what happened here," Kavanagh said. "The people. This 30 miles. From Buffalo to Fort Niagara, on both sides - these people lost everything."
"Like Mrs. Margaret St. John," he continued. "When the war starts, she's a wife and a mother of 11 children. By the time Buffalo is burned, in December, she's a widow with 8 children. She lost children and her husband."
"We want to tell their stories."
When war passes over a landscape, it often leaves unmistakable traces behind.