Halloween Eve was a perfect day for the fourth tour in the Idaho City Chamber of Commerce Fall Series, Getting to Know Idaho City (Better).
Walulla’s Coffee and Bake was our launching point. Bill and Connie took good care of us. Connie used her culinary confection making skills to provide our sweet tooth’s some pre-hike satisfaction. Our Cemetery Dirt was pretty darn tasty! Bill provided warmth with his barista skills. Hanging around Idaho City is completed by the goodies and relaxation found at Walulla’s, be sure to try it out on your next visit to our lil’ mountain town.
At 5:30 we drove Montgomery to Centerville Road and just past the creek bridge veered left on Buena Vista following the Pioneer Cemetery sign. Walking to the cemetery is possible although you have to have some gusto for racking up the miles on foot to do that and the hiking of the cemetery trails both. Joyce Obland (Graves-R-Us) served as our guide, with extra input from local history buff Rhonda Jameson as well as a couple other longer time locals. We were provided with the cemetery flyers which are available to the public via the Visitor’s Center as well as several business locations for a donation. (As little as a quarter is asked for this great information; or donate kindly so that upkeep and maintenance costs are defrayed.) These guides add to the tour by providing more background on several of the graves than could ever be compiled on a headstone.
At the gates, we stood and listened to our guide while we became absorbed by the history of the spirits housed beyond. The City of Idaho City owns the cemetery but it is maintained and cleaned by the Idaho City Historic Foundation. The records of this place of rest are not complete. Work has been done by cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radar will also be utilized to discover more of the existing grave locations. Cemetery plots are still available here but they are outside the main older fenced area to insure no disruption of existing grave sites. The land for the Pioneer Cemetery was deeded in 1863 from a mining claim owned by Marion More (Mores Creek). It was deeded with the understanding that there could be no mining and no lumbering of the area. Eagle Scouts have worked with the ICHF key members to complete different areas of maintenance in the cemetery over the years. During the annual “Polish a Gem” community clean up day every spring, work is done by volunteers and community service workers to renew the area. Donation boxes are located at the entrance as well to help with the projects necessary to maintain this historic cemetery.
Meandering our way along the path we learned that only 28 of the first 200 buried here succumbed to natural causes. The others were mainly politically related killings. The tell tale story of the times of North vs South dictated many of the deaths. Whether in the assay office or in the court, favoritism was shown and disputes ensued resulting in the bulk of these early burials. Many young are buried here and one of the earliest graves was that of Grover Jones, a young boy of only seven years. The flyer and map identify in detail 15 gravesites. Many others are noted on the map. Pioneer Cemetery is Activity Map 16 which can be found at the Visitor’s Center, Simply Fun and other business locations around town. It is included here as well. The Chamber is working to make the entire collection of activities in Idaho City available via QR code and online. Creating awareness of the wide variety of activities appealing to various interests works hand in hand with the mission of the Chamber, to promote local business by showcasing what makes the area, places and environment so exceptional.
Our group felt the tranquility of our surroundings and chatted as we made our way around the grounds. We took in the ornate iron work surrounding many graves, the headstones with lambs (representing children of God), open books (representing teacher) and open gates (representing the gates of heaven). We saw initialed footstones and newly placed momentos of remembrance. Tales of the Pon Yam coming to retrieve the bodies of the Chinese from this cemetery in 1906 were shared by our guide. The bodies were returned to their homes for burial as their religion dictates. We embraced the history and skirted the tales of hauntings. Set your sites on a visit here to our lil’ mountain town and enjoy the rich history of the Northwest Territory turned state of Idaho.