Lake County History, Chapter 129: Cemeteries

The story is a trifle long, but speaking for myself, I could not live another hour without knowing these facts. Erastus Day purchased a plot of land in 1888. Later it became a Pioneer Cemetery. One of the few gravestones still standing is dedicated to I. E. Mitchell; born 1926, died 1881, has this praiseworthy inscription:

‘Green be the turf above thee

Friend of my better days

None knew thee but to love thee

Nor named thee but to praise.

I confess that inscription is one I would like on my tombstone. It has class.

The cemetery is overgrown and in disrepair. The headstones are smashed and fallen. Some are missing to become some rascal’s paperweight or souvenir. During the period of 1856 to 1920, twenty-six persons (or sets of bones) were buried there and, possibly, includes the dusty remains of Chief George Patch, a native Chief. 

The Lower Lakes Community Action Group has shone the bright light of shame on the way these dear, departed souls were neglected. Before they could act to preserve the Pioneer Cemetery, a roadblock was thrown up. It was over money. Who held title to the bones and the plot of land?

As a first step, the LLCAG dug up (no pun intended by the author) maps, photographs, names of the interred, newspaper accounts of their doings while they moved about, whether the corporeal bodies in the graves were theirs, and were they citizens of Lake County. Those that stood in the way of this noble effort to save those revered bones made plans to disrupt and demolish the site and ignore the bones. The land was valuable.

The choice and fertile soil was excellent for growing anything from turnips tomatoes. What had been purchased by Erastus Day in 1888 for the price of a gallon of non-fat two percent milk, is worth plenty more today. Bone dust makes fertile soil. Nevertheless, the author wishes to emphasize and make perfectly clear that his added notation of helpful information as to the content of the soil is not intended to be a sign of disrespect for the dear departed, whose bones contributed to the richness and value of the property.

The opponents of LLCAG had strong arguments:

“Sell the property and use the money to upgrade another site two miles away. We must develop more burial plots. We don’t have many plots left for the new tenants, which will shortly appear and demand their place in the cemetery,” they said.

 “New containers for the bones and new gravesites will be expensive. Who has funds to maintain the present cemetery?”

Those who wished to keep the cemetery where it is had a simple argument; “We are opposed to having Grandmas and Grandpas dug up. Those pioneers should rest in peace.”

No one has used the cemetery for fifty years. No matter that the bones had turned to fertilizer, the good people are in heaven. Any bad people deserve the plowing of their bones. All there is in the Pioneer cemetery, except for memories, is less than hair and fingernail clippings and shreds of cloth and wood.

What cinched the victory to prevent destruction was the noble Native American buried there. Chief George Patch, leader of the Elem Tribe, in all his tribal splendor (or at least, his money-bead-symbol of office, dusty bones, and shreds of rotted cloth) was found at rest in his grave. The Cemetery was doubly hallowed ground; both for the God-fearing progeny, as well as for those who believe in the Great Spirit.

Discovery was by accident. A citizen of Clearlake, Mr. R.J.A. (His initials were all this writer could find to identify the person in this story) was digging a hole in his backyard for a septic tank. When R.J.A. struck wood, what his shovel uncovered nearly gave him a heart attack; there before him was a skeleton of bone fragments and one worn human molar.

Instantly R.J.A. stopped work. He dashed off an anonymous note to the Clearlake Police Department, a desperate plea for help:

‘To whom it may concern, Please, I need a favor done. I collected some Indian bones from a gravesite by the white bridge on Cache Creek… I need someone to please return them to a place of rest. My life has been a total nightmare since I’ve had them in my possession. Believe me, this no joke. Thank you, R.J.A.’ 

His short cry for assistance opened a can of worms (again, no pun intended) and litigation. Thereafter, such dug-up artifacts were treated more carefully.

Next Week: A subject on everyone’s lips; ‘Blacksmithing’


To enjoy and learn more about Author Gene Paleno’s books

Visit Gene’s website; http://genepaleno.com/

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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