Pinal City Cemetery Preservation

A little over seven years ago Lance and I wrote a short blog post regarding a trip we made out to the historic Pinal City Cemetery. Up until 1916 that small parcel of desert was the burying grounds for the residents of Superior and the now defunct mining camp of Pinal City. The impetus of our visit stemmed from information gleaned from a local that Celia Blaylock (aka Mattie Earp) was buried out there. We found it intriguing that Mattie would’ve ended up in little old Pinal City 170 miles away from Tombstone (where the Earp family earned infamy).

Carefully following our informant’s instructions, which included turning left at a plastic bag tied to a mesquite tree, we arrived. Our wonderment was genuine when we saw a handmade memorial dedicated to Mattie Earp, replete with flowers, a photo, and a poem. We spent a few more minutes wandering around the cemetery though there wasn’t much else to see; a few gravestones, dozens of unmarked sites, broken beer bottles, shotgun shells, and a large overhead power line.

Since we found it interesting we snapped a few photos and later wrote about our outing on our website. Little did we know it would spark such interest or such controversy.

To date our Pinal City page is the most viewed post on our website. Obviously, people are still captivated by that time period as evidenced by some of the comments we received, “I love history and have always been fascinated with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday etc…I have always said I was born in the wrong place and time.” “I live in the wrong time. I would have loved to have lived in the late 1800′s!”

The Old West still looms large in imaginations across the globe—we can thank authors Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, director John Ford, actor John Wayne and all the Spaghetti Westerns for that phenomenon. Mattie by her association with the (in)famous Wyatt Earp is part of that western mythos. Today Tombstone is a vibrant community that has survived the last hundred plus years by heavily marketing the stories of the Earps, Clantons, Cowboys, and Indians. So it stands to reason that anything even remotely related to the Earps will get attention.

The first debate regarding our post revolved around the fact that we included directions to the cemetery on our website. Some folks objected to the publicity, blaming us for a rash of vandalism at the site. Then, as now, we politely disagreed with that conclusion. The odds of someone looking it up on our website and then heading out there to purposely wreak havoc were/are exceedingly low. We also felt the charge to be unfair since the cemetery was unfenced, on public land where off-road vehicle use was rampant, and the area was littered with its share of “recreational” refuse.

After a Tonto National Forest employee removed Mattie’s memorial things really got heated in our comment section. Apparently someone had expanded the memorial and since the cemetery is on Forest Service land and the marker had been installed without permission, it was trashed. Locals and Western history enthusiasts were angered by the removal while Tonto employees were exasperated by the flaunting of rules. Our comment section saw a lot of action as rumors flew and fingers were pointed.

Interested in learning the truth I attempted to contact officials with knowledge of the situation in Superior and at Tonto National Forest. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t get a hold of anyone to help me suss out the truth. While this drama was playing out in the comments we were out of state and unable to physically check on the cemetery for ourselves.

In July of this year, frustrated by all the confusing information, I made one more attempt to contact someone at Tonto National Forest. You can imagine how delighted I was when Steve Germick, the archaeologist at Tonto, returned my call. Even more so when I discovered he was a treasure trove of information about the cemetery.

According to Steve the cemetery was in use from 1877 until 1916. Though there are no detailed records for the cemetery he has pieced together information for 42 or 43 burials and suspects there are possibly 100. He also shared that there are two families whose descendants routinely maintain their graves, the Harkeys and the Guzmans. Amazing to think that through the past century of mining booms and busts in both Pinal City and Superior, there are still relatives living nearby.

While we were on the topic Steve debunked a tidbit we had included in our original post—that the Earp’s stopped off in Pinal City on their way to Tombstone. There is no record of their having done so and according to their itinerary they couldn’t have had time to make the detour. Well, that settles that. Which brought up the question of how Mattie ended up in Pinal City?

It is well-known that in 1881 Wyatt dumped Mattie (whom he was never married to, though she used his surname) and took up with the actress Josephine Marcus. They went on to live a well-documented life along the west coast while Mattie slipped into relative obscurity.

Steve reminded me that “Big Nose” Kate Elder, Doc Holliday’s common-law wife, lived in Globe where she owned a boarding house. He has uncovered evidence that shows Mattie joined Kate there sometime after late 1882. He theorizes that Mattie probably stayed in Globe until Kate left for Glenwood Springs, Colorado in late 1887. From Globe it was only 25 miles to Pinal City a mere hop, skip, and jump.

The highlight of our conversation was when Steve revealed Tonto National Forest’s official plans for preserving the cemetery. The plans included a boundary fence and signage as well as a trail link to the Legends of Superior Trail (LOST). LOST, which debuted in 2011, is a six-mile trail that connects the town of Superior to the Arizona Trail. Unique features, both historical and natural, are pointed out along the way with the help of a brochure.

In mid-December Steve emailed over photos of the completed work at Pinal City Cemetery. A sturdy fence now surrounds the site and there are two signs, one details the history of the cemetery while the other is a small memorial for Mattie Earp. This is such an wonderful development! I know that many other interested parties will share my excitement.

If you are interested in seeing the improvements for yourself you might want to head over this coming weekend. The Superior Home Tour runs both Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th and I heard that there will be a talk at the cemetery included in the festivities. If you can’t make it this weekend, the second annual Legends of Superior Trail Eco Tourism Festival is coming up on Saturday, February 16th and there will a dedication of the cemetery at 4pm.

We are looking forward to getting up there to admire the changes at the cemetery as well as hiking LOST one of these days. So many positive changes! Photos below courtesy of Steve Germick, Archaeologist, Tonto National Forest.

Previously:

10 thoughts on “Pinal City Cemetery Preservation

  1. Erin Willett Post author

    I want to send a huge shout out to all parties involved in making the improvements at the cemetery – folks at Tonto National Forest (particularly Steve Germick), historian Vincent Murray, Forest Service Hot Shots, local ranchers, the True West Preservation Society, and the Pioneers’ Cemetery Association. (Forgive me if I left anyone out it.)

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    *Updated to correct Vincent’s affiliation with the project.

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  2. Erin Willett Post author

    Just received more info from Steve Germick the archaeologist at Tonto National Forest regarding the upcoming events: “This Sunday, 1 pm, I will be giving a short presentation about the cemetery at the Superior Home Show. Also will do the same and lead tours to the cemetery during the Superior Trails Ecotour Fest. on Feb. 16.”

    Sounds good!

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  3. Vincent Murray

    As a correction, I don’t work for Tonto National Forest. I’m a professional historian who was aware of the controversy regarding the cemetery and put together the preservation plan (pro bono).

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  4. Erin Willett Post author

    Mea culpa, Vincent. I made an assumption based on your intimate knowledge of the situation (from your comments) and involvement with the preservation work.

    We certainly appreciate all you’ve done for this special place!

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  5. Pingback: February, Anything But Boring | Adventures with Lance and Erin

  6. John

    RE: DIrections which allegedly lead to the Pinal City Cemetery – Directly across Hwy 60 from the Forest Service road that is referred to in the directions, is a single-wide modular building and a tall pole with an airport wind sock at the top of the pole. Turning in a northerly direction off of Hwy 60 onto the Forest Service road, you will travel seven tenths of a mile to the fork in the road where you were adviced to bear left. (Looking down the right fork, you will see the electrical sub-station referred to in the directions.)

    I said that the directions given by the original bloggers ALLEGEDLY take you to the cemetary, because after a couple of hours of searching we never found it. Going west from the fork at the sub-station we checked every trail and path on both sides of the road for about five miles. The only plastic bag in a tree that we saw was on the left side of the road (South side) not the right side as the directions stated, and near that bag there was not a path or trial which went to the left (South). There was a trail on the right (North) side, and we drove about 1/2 mile down it, but did not see any sign of a cemetery. I would submit that a plastic grocery bag hanging in a tree is not a very “permanent” nor accurate marker. Had I been able to find the cemetery, I would have noted here the distance it was in tenths of a mile from that fork in the road. Perhaps someone else who has found the cemetery can give a more accurate account of how to get there.

    It was a nice day for exploring, warm and sunny, lots of flowers in bloom, but disappointing since we could not locate the cemetery.

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  7. Erin Willett Post author

    Sorry to hear that the cemetery eluded you, John. We freely admit that the final turn is poorly marked and tricky to find. We sincerely wish that Tonto National Forest would install a sign or two but until then finding the cemetery will remain an adventure…

    That said, I have cobbled together some more detailed information that might be helpful: Set your trip odometer to 0 as you turn north onto Silver King Mine Road. Drive past the Harborlite Corp’s gravel piles and stay to the left at the fork. You will now be on Happy Camp Road (though it is unmarked). Do not drive toward the electric power substation. You will drive through an arroyo. After climbing out of the ravine you will be heading west. Slow down as your odometer reaches 1.1 miles. There should be a Qwest fiber optic cable marker on the right. Continue another 75 feet or so. Follow the dirt track to the south. There are several unmarked routes in that area so stick to the one most heavily used. At about 1.8 miles you should drive under large power lines and the cemetery will be directly ahead.

    John, if you ever get another chance to look for the cemetery we hope this information gets you there.

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    1. John

      Erin

      Thank you so much for the new directions to the cemetary. We will not get back there this year, but definately will next winter. We will be leaving in two weeks for our home in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, and return to Arizona next November for the winter.
      If you haven’t traveled to the Upper Peninsula yet, you certainly would enjoy touring the UP. Exploring the beautiful sandy shores along Lake Michigan as you travel highway U.S. 2, plus visiting Mackinac Island (the movie “Somewhere in Time” was shot there many years ago), the Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore at Munising, Copper Harbor, or searching for Agates on the beach at Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world by area, and contains 3 quadrillion gallons of water.

      Again, thanks for the additional directions.
      John

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  8. Erin Willett Post author

    I visited the UP once briefly many years ago, John. You have a lovely place to spend the summer! It would be nice to get back up there and do some more exploring. This is one amazingly beautiful country we live in.

    Pinal City Cemetery will be waiting for you to explore next winter. Until then, safe travels!

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  9. Erin Willett Post author

    Received some feedback on the directions from Joe who visited Pinal City Cemetery yesterday:
    “Found the cemetery with no problem. I borrowed a truck just to be safe. But a car could make the drive. I used your directions in getting there. They are right on the money, as for the Qwest marker on your right I would put take a left at the second dirt path and stay to the right and will take you straight to the cemetery.”

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