You know, no matter how long you live in a place there’s always something you don’t know about, things you’re still able to discover. I’ve been in Carson City over 20 years, and until today I had no knowledge of Carson City’s Pioneer Cemetery. Maybe that’s because this thing is really well hidden. There are no signs pointing you to it, it’s in a part of town you don’t go to unless you have a reason for going, and it’s barely visible from the road. It only has a tiny presence on the web and in a couple of library books. Even when I wrote about the Lone Mountain Cemetery earlier this week, I skimmed past the link pointing to the Pioneer Cemetery. It’s Carson City’s forgotten cemetery, which is odd because it was also Carson City’s first cemetery.
To get to the Pioneer Cemetery (which was also called the Walsh Cemetery, because it was on the Walsh Ranch), you drive west on Fifth Street, towards C Hill. Right at the bottom of the hill, Fifth Street curves sharply to the left and turns into Terrace. Right there at the curve, there is an empty lot in between two houses. Park there and hike about 150 feet up the hill, and you’ll reach the cemetery.
There’s not a whole lot to see at the Pioneer Cemetery. Most of the bodies were actually moved to the Lone Mountain Cemetery long ago, but a few scattered graves are still marked, and presumably there are several bodies lying underground here that are not marked. The cemetery stretches along the hillside, running north to south right along people’s backyards. A few crude hiking trails connect the graves, and with one exception the headstones are all sticking up from their surroundings, so it’s easy to find your way from one to the next. The ground is also trampled and uneven because this was one of the front lines of the Waterfall Fire four years ago. Brave firefighters fought here to save the houses from the flames that swept down the hill. A few charred bushes still remain as reminders of the fire.
In the foreground, the skeleton of a bush burnt in the Waterfall Fire. In the background, a headstone.
The most notable thing about the Pioneer Cemetery is that it was the first resting place of Major William Ormsby, after he was killed in an Indian ambush in May of 1860. I say the first resting place, because his body was later dug up by relatives and taken out of state. A large stone marker stands on the spot where his grave was, with a plaque about the cemetery.
The plaque reads: In May, 1860 Major William Ormsby was killed in an ambush by Paiutes at Pyramid Lake. In June, 1860 William Allen, a scout, was the last of some 40 white men killed in the ensuing war. Both were interred here, but Ormsby was later reburied in N.Y.
Next to Ormsby’s marker is the grave of William S Allen, another casualty of the Paiute War.
Inscription reads: William S. Allen of Callaway County, Mo. Born October 25, 1828 and shot by Indians near Pyramid Lake while at the head of a Scouting Party called out by Col. Haynes. June 5, 1860.
These two grave markers are visible from the road, if you know to look for them. But when you reach them, you realize that the cemetery stretches further to the south. Off in the distance you can spy two more markers, a couple hundred feet distant.
Two more graves off in the distance.
First is the grave of Mary Lou Gardner. Do the math here, and you can tell she was only a year and a half old when she died. Pioneer life was hard, especially on the little ones. That the Lone Mountain Cemetery has an entire section devoted to babies is testament to that.
The inscription reads: Sacred to the memory of Mary Lou, daughter of M.C. and H.M. Gardner, born Monteray, Cal, March the 18, 1860, died November the 14, 1861.
Mary Lou’s tombstone is slowly sliding down the hill
At the far end of the cemetery is the headstone for Edward B. Buckley, a 25-year-old Irishman. Edward’s stone seems to be sinking into the Earth.
The inscription reads: Sacred to the memory of Edward B. Buckley. Died Nov 17, 1868; aged 25 years. A native of Kanturk, Co. Cork, Ireland. Erected by his brother, John B. Buckley.
As you’re clambering around the hill, you should watch your step. Because if you don’t, you’ll trip over the fifth grave in the Pioneer Cemetery, that of the 3-year-old Ronin boy. This stone has toppled and cracked, so it’s impossible to read the whole first name. I do see a “hn” on the stone, so maybe his name was John?
(Jo)hn Ronin, Born Aug. 8, 1868. Died Oct. 18, 1871.
These five grave markers were the only ones I found on my excursion this morning. Doubtless there are other graves on this land, other pioneers who could only afford wooden markers, or no marker at all, and so are lost to history. If you turn your back on the city, and look up at the barren, windswept hill, you can get a sense of how lonely it was for these first brave settlers of Carson City. And of the small funerals that must have taken place on this hillside, in this tiny cemetery on the edge of a new town.
wow, that’s so sad. i have a family tree, and i turns out that one of my ancestors is buried there. i was searching for pictures online, and they all seem so sad, but this, is the most lonely.
An additional and very important note is that High Sheriff John L. Blackburn is buried in the immediate vicinity of Ormsby’s marker and Allen’s headstone. Blackburn was the first Nevada police officer murdered in the line of duty on on November 18, 1861. He was stabbed to death by Bad Guy Billy Mayfield, in the St. Nicholas Hotel, located on Main Street in Carson City. The location today, would be just about where the fountain is located in front of the North most Attorney General’s building, on the west side of Carson City’s Main St.I brought the documentation to the attention of a Nevada Historical Society Historian and efforts are now being made to place a memorial to that effect next to Ormsby’s and Allen’s markers.Ironically, you can see the Attorney General’s Building’s fountain from the Police Officers Killed Memorial located on the Legislative grounds. I wonder if Sheriff Blackburn ever could have imagined that he would be the first of 104 Nevada Police officers that have now been killed in the line of duty,and that the memorial to him and them would be placed in the line of sight of his own murder.Kinda spooky huh? The placing of Blackburn’s Memorial should be on on or about either Memorial Day or November 18 of 2009. Hopefully we can have an Honor Guard, Lawmen and women,Bagpipes and historical re-enactors from the area present.
Thanks for this article.
I live near the pioneer cemetary and have been concerned that it is so neglected.
November 6 2009
I am currently writing my second book on Carson City cemeteries. THe first is on sale at the Lone Mtn Cemetery here in Carson.
New book is due out next Spring. I am interested in finding older photos of Carson City and Carson Valley cemeteries (this book is on historic cemeteries and stories)
There will be a memorial dedication for John Blackburn on November 18 2009. Details should be out soon.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for giving the location of this cemetery. I, too, found out about the Nov. 18th dedication, but didn’t know how to get there. Dedication is to be at 1pm, honoring the former sheriff who was the first in area to be killed in line of duty.
A more specific location,where High Sheriff John L. Blackburn was murdered is the Northwest corner of what is now the intersection of Carson St. and 2nd.St.,in the St. Nicholas hotel bar area,ironically where the Hero’s Memorial Building is now located.Old maps can be deceiving.This location is just a stone’s throw from the previously described fountain that I mentioned in my earlier e-mail and still within direct sight of the Nevada Police Officer Memorial.Thanks Frank.
guess ill have to check that out next time i go to carson city. john l. blackburn was my great grandfather’s uncle
I am the historian for the Nevada Law Enforcement officers Memorial and worked to have the plaque placed near where Sheriff Blackburn was buried. It is great to find a relative of the Sheriff. Each year we hold a memorial service honoring all of our officers killed in the line of duty. We have a State Peace Officers Memorial on the Carson City Capitol grounds and Sheiff Blackburn is the first one we listed. Is there any chance you may have a photograph or any information about the Sheriff before he came to Carson City. We host several internet sites that honor our officers and we will like to include a photo or information about his life. We would also like to invite you to our next memorial. It will be the first week of May, 2013. Please feel free to contact me.
P.O. Box 3247
Mesquite NV 89024
As kids growing up in the neighborhood just top of 5th street, we would hike up to the graves all the time. That was when there were no houses to very few houses that reached so far up the hill and there still Savage ranch to the south and the apple orchard and bog where one could play for hours. I am sad to see how the the city has spread over C hill and to the south. I just recently transferred some 16mm footage from 1947 and really there was nothing, or perhaps perhaps it was still part of the Walsh Ranch from Westview Ave. reaching all the way up the mountain and over to Kings Canyon. As kids we were always fascinated with the graves. We knew nothing about the history of them then nor did we realize that it was a Pioneer cemetery. We made up stories about the people buried there. Thank you for your research and I will pass this website along.
Cannot the grave stones be repaired especially for the children. people should have pride in the people who died all those years ago.
I wonder what this area looks like now after the hard winter we had.
How to save the Cemetery? In a few years it will be gone. That’s a real history.
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