Cemetery of the Week #60: Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery

Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery
aka Yosemite Cemetery
Yosemite Village, Yosemite National Park, California 95389
Telephone: (209) 372-0200
Founded: 1870ish
Size: ¼ acre
Number of interments: Approximately 50
Open: every day

Even armed with the Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery, it’s not easy to find the Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery. When I visited, its sign was hidden between parked cars, behind the grocery story and employee housing.

Shadowed by trees and surrounded by a low split-rail fence, most of the graves in the Pioneer Cemetery are marked with plain wooden signboards, painted Park Service brown. Some grave monuments are carved from Yosemite granite.

The earliest grave marker in the cemetery records “A Boy.” Jack Leidig, an old-timer who grew up in the Valley, remembered him as the first person to be buried in the graveyard in 1870. The guidebook theorizes that this area was chosen for a cemetery because the natives had already used it as a burial ground. The Miwoks and Paiutes did not mark their graves, but Native American remains have been uncovered over the years during construction projects in the Valley.

Galen Clark, the first guardian of Yosemite in 1866, selected the granite boulder for his tombstone and planted six trees to shade his grave. Clark lived for 20 years after he’d planned his grave. Four of his trees still survive.

An enormous slab of local granite commemorates the Hutchings family. “Daughter of Yosemite” Gertrude (Cosie) Hutchings Mills was born in the Valley and lived there on and off through her 89 years. She served as postmaster of Yosemite Valley, then as schoolteacher in the village of Wawona, just outside the park’s boundary. When she married, she left Yosemite for 42 years, but after she was widowed in 1941, she returned every summer to work in Yosemite Valley, staying in a tent in Tuolumne Meadows.

Effie’s wooden grave marker

A weathered board marks the grave of Effie Maud Crippen, who died August 31, 1881, “age 14 yrs, 7 mos, 22 days.” “She faltered by the wayside and the angels took her home,” it says. According to the guidebook, Effie moved to Yosemite with her family in 1877. She loved the valley and explored it on horseback, sketching it and describing it in her poetry. A photograph from the year before she died shows her as a serious girl with a thick dark braid, wearing a shin-length skirt and low button-boots. Although hard to imagine, humans had already begun to litter Yosemite by August 1881. Wading in Mirror Lake, Effie stepped on a broken bottle and severed an artery in her foot. The 14-year-old bled to death.

Not far away from Effie’s grave stands a marble marker “In Memory of Albert May, native of Ohio,” who also died in 1881. On his stone, two manly hands clasp, signifying friendship. Marble doesn’t occur inside the boundaries of Yosemite; the Sierra Nevada Mountains are granite. This stone must have been brought in by mule train to mark May’s grave, hinting at the high regard his friend A. G. Black, who erected the stone, must have held for him. May worked for Black as a carpenter and caretaker at Black’s New Sentinel Hotel. Rocks the size of grapefruit ringed the grave itself when I visited.

John Anderson’s monument

John C. Anderson’s marker declares that he “was killed by a horse on the 5th of July 1867.” “Beloved by all,” it says. On his stone, a willow bends under the weight of its own branches like a person burdened by grief. The faded inscription had sunk into the ground.Luckily, the guidebook recorded it:

“Be ye also ready for ye know
not the hour the Son of Man cometh
Dearest Brother, tho had left us,
Here thy loss, we deeply feel.”

When gold fever struck him in 1856, John C. Anderson traveled from Illinois to stake a claim in Yosemite Valley. The gold claim didn’t pan out as richly as the hotel he and three other prospectors built for travelers to Yosemite. He served as the hotel’s coachman on the day he died.

Contradicting the date on the stone, the Mariposa Gazette reported that Anderson had been kicked by a horse and died almost instantly on July 13, 1867. In fact, the authors of the guidebook found many errors in the birth and death dates on the gravestones. Either this was a function of the delay in getting the news to Mariposa to be published or, as in Anderson’s case, the extreme time required to import the marble to mark his grave.

Originally, Anderson had been buried at the foot of the Four-Mile Trail, before being exhumed and moved to the Pioneer Cemetery. Tradition relates that his friends thrust his green locust-wood switch into the ground to mark his first grave. All locust trees in the valley supposedly descend from that green grave marker. I liked the romance of the story, even if the locusts are invasive. Ansel Adams made a beautiful photograph of them shrouded in snow.

In the old days, people had been buried all over the park, where they fell or near places they’d loved. At some point, all the bodies that could be located were gathered together into the graveyard.

Here, in this quiet, tucked-away corner in one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country — averaging three million visitors annually — these permanent residents have become part of the living history forever. Even if their lives had been brief and their deaths agonizing or sad, their spirits had been woven into the beauty of the valley.

A Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery is available to borrow or purchase at the Valley Visitor Center. My review is here.

Yosemite has a second graveyard tucked away in Wawona. Ask at the Wawona Visitor Center for its location.

Useful links:

Walking tour of the Pioneer Cemetery, mirroring the text of the guidebook.

Historic places of Yosemite

List of burials in the Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery

Article from 1961

Other California pioneer cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #13: Mission Dolores Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #25: Ward’s Cemetery, Bodie

Cemetery of the Week #37: Calistoga Pioneer Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #64: Coloma Pioneer Cemetery

3 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #60: Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery

  1. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #25: Wards Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

  2. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #37: Calistoga Pioneer Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

  3. Pingback: If you should visit Yosemite… | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

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