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Pioneer Reburial Dedication in old Phoenix cemetery

At the grave site of the early pioneers.
At the grave site of the early pioneers.
Photo by Debe Branning

The Pioneers’ Cemetery Association welcomed guests to the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park (cemetery) on Saturday, February 22, 2014 for a long anticipated “Pioneer Reburial Dedication” of the remains of 14 early Phoenix pioneers.

The grave of the early Phoenix pioneers are honored.
The grave of the early Phoenix pioneers are honored.
Photo by Debe Branning

We began this touching story in the Spring of 2010. A few caskets containing human remains were discovered by construction crews preparing the foundation for the new Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office administrative headquarters. There were portions of old caskets and a few scattered bone remains discovered in the rubble.

Construction came to a halt as archaeologists stepped in to do an assessment of the property. The remains had been buried in a cemetery that once existed on the site at 5th Avenue and Jackson in the 1870’s and 1880’s—part of the original town site of Phoenix.

In 1884, several fraternal organizations and Phoenix city government purchased land near 13th Avenue and Madison for opening a new city cemetery. Many families and the city removed burials from the original cemetery to the new location—but, as it often happens in these moves, several of the graves were left unclaimed.

Logan Simpson Design completed doing the archaeology, recovery, and documentation of the remains along with the guidance of the Arizona State Museum.

The members of the Pioneers’ Cemetery Association rallied for the remains to be reburied in the historic City Cemetery located at the Pioneer Military and Memorial Park straight from the start. After all, this would have been the location of their 1884 burial if their remains had been discovered over a century ago. The historians scanned the cemetery for a known vacant plot that could be used for the 14 lost pioneers. Documentation showed the vacant Greenhaw family plot was available as the family had been re-interred at Greenwood Cemetery long ago. Its ornate gated fencing was still in place.

After all the research and documentation was completed, it was unanimously agreed that the pioneers should be placed with their loved ones in the old City Cemetery. A private interment took place in June 2013. Greenwood Memory Lawn provided the labor and equipment for the burial.

With all said and done, everyone felt it was finally the proper time to celebrate the lives of these hearty pioneers. Guests were encouraged to come dressed in period clothing and participate in a solemn walk to the grave site and give them a final blessing.

Guests speakers were Mary Rose Wilcox—Maricopa County Supervisor, Dr. Todd Pitezel—Arizona State Museum Tucson, and Mark Hackbarth—Archeologist with Logan Simpson Design. Reverend Philip Rye led the folks dressed in period attire out to the mass grave site. A tombstone was donated with funds provided by Paul Messinger of Messinger Mortuary to mark the remembrance of the early pioneers. After the blessing and prayer was recited, one by one, the period dressed attendees tossed a white carnation onto the mound to honor the dead. Photographs were taken—much like they did in the days of old, and the group retreated back to the historic Smurthwaite House for light refreshments.

Special thanks to the PCA Reburial Committee and all their hard work to make this day happen.

Stop by to see these pioneers along with many more in the Pioneer Military Memorial Park (cemeteries). The cemetery is open most Thursdays from 10am to 2pm, and on Open House dates. See the calendar on the website.

Don’t forget! The next Historic Walk in the Old Cemeteries will be held on March 22, 2014. The cemetery will come alive with re-enactment characters portraying some of Phoenix’s early lawmen. Cost of the guided tour is only $10 for adults, $5 for students under 12, kids under 5 are free. Purchase a root beer float for only $2 immediately after the walk. The Kaos Funeral Car will be on hand to display their collection of classic hearses.

Pioneers’ Cemetery Association: www.azhistcemeteries.com

Arizona Haunted Places Examiner: Debe Branning nazanaza@aol.com