So beautiful – and so many mysteries are buried here! We recently paid a visit to the historic cemetery on the outskirts of Virginia City. Here’s Tip #1: Be sure to bring your camera. (You’ll definitely wish you had one!)
And Tip #2: Don’t count on it being a quick visit. If you’re like us, you’ll find yourself wanting to ramble the hills of this beautiful graveyard for hours!
Mysteries abound here. Like: Who were George and Elizabeth Strasser?
George and Elizabeth are on the downward slope of the hillside, away from the main body of the cemetery. Someone has not only recently repainted their wooden headstones but also carefully laid flowers there — a kind touch adding a cheerful splash of color.
A quick search once we got home produced a few bits of their story: Both George and Elizabeth (Erhart) were born in Berlin, Germany, and were married there in 1851. George would have been a dapper 21 at the time; Elizabeth was two years older, and was 23. They decided to emigrate to America, settling in Virginia City in the 1860s, during its early mining hey-day. George worked as a saddle and harness-maker — an important trade in those horse-and-buggy days, and a whole lot safer than working as a mill-hand! A son, George S., was born in 1868.
George was 66 years old when he died of a stroke in August, 1896. A member of the local Masons, he was no doubt laid to rest by his fraternal brothers here in the Masonic section of the cemetery. Elizabeth passed away six years later, in 1902, at the age of 74.
Their headstones, interestingly enough, were originally made of stone. They must have been beautiful indeed, as vandals stole them. The current wooden markers were added by family members, luckily making sure that George and Elizabeth are still remembered to this day.
But not all the mysteries we stumbled across had such clear answers! Take this beautifully-carved small marker — a monument erected by a daughter named Lillie in memory of her father.
So, who was Lillie? And what was her father’s name? How did he die? And what ever happened to Lillie? It’s possible there’s still a record somewhere. Someday, perhaps, we’ll know!
And in the meantime, we plan to come back here, again and again.
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Visit a historic old graveyard in Mother Lode Country to see the — roses?!? You bet!
Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery off Highway 49 is a cool place to visit, all by itself. But it turns out that this pioneer cemetery’s roses are so special they even have their own Facebook page! (Just type “Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery Heritage Roses” in the search box to find them.)
Local volunteers banded together to “rescue, preserve and protect” these heritage roses so future generations can enjoy them. And they had quite a time with the “rescue” prong of their mission!
In the past, well-intentioned groundskeepers applied herbicides to the cemetery grounds and — yup, the antique roses too got sprayed. Sadly, some century-old rose bushes never made it. Then in 2014, the curator of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden reached out to local residents to try to save the remaining heritage roses at Plymouth Cemetery. Thanks to the care of these dedicated volunteers, the cemetery’s antique rose bushes are thriving again — and what a treat for the eyes they are!
Pioneers lugged these heritage roses here to the Mother Lode. Some made the journey tucked in covered wagons, while others spent months in the dank, dark recesses of sailing ships. Once here, the beautiful flowers became important reminders of home. Treasured for their heady fragrance and beautiful shape, roses were also planted as a special tribute at a loved one’s grave.
Roses can be propagated from a cutting, with “babies” retaining the same characteristics as the mother plant; identifiable varieties can be traced back hundreds of years. Here at Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery, rose varieties include the Duchesse de Brabant— a long-flowering “tea rose” dating to about 1857. Drought-tolerant and vigorous, this rose was said to have been a particular favorite of Teddy Roosevelt.
The Elizabeth Roberts rose, dating from the late 1800s, was at death’s door here at Plymouth Cemetery due — not just once, but twice! After two years of intensive TLC it bloomed again in 2017 — volunteers deemed its recovery a “garden miracle.”
A gorgeous deep-pink hybrid known as the Pulich Children rose dates back to the 1860s. Cuttings propagated from a bush here at Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery have produced bushes that now grace other gardens, including the Howard Rose Garden at the Banning Museum in Wilmington, California.
Several of the gravestones here at Plymouth are also decorated with beautiful roses graven in stone. A couple we saw on our recent visit:
The Gold Rush town of Plymouth isn’t alone, of course, in having spectacular old roses in its cemetery. Sacramento, too, has a rose garden associated with an early cemetery. The collection of roses at Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery is said to be “among the world’s best,” boasting over 500 rare rose specimens from between 1850 and 1915. Many were collected and propagated from specimens at other old cemeteries and early homesites. Check them out here: http://oldcitycemetery.com/roses.htm. And for a wonderful story about how this special rose collection narrowly escaped being regulated out of existence: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article142206839.html.
Sacramento’s historic cemetery rose collection has its own Facebook page, too: type “Sacramento Historic Rose Garden” in the Facebook search box. (Be sure to check out the cool costumes its volunteers are wearing!)
Carson Valley, too, had its own old rose bushes — including a heritage “rose” that isn’t really a rose at all. Many early homesteads were brightened by the deep red, rose-like “Pentecost Rose” peony — tubers of which are said to have first been brought to Carson Valley by Anna Neddenriep, all the way from her home in Germany.
Directions to reach the Plymouth Pioneer Cemetery:
From Jackson, go north on Hwy 49 through Sutter Creek and Amador City to reach the town of Plymouth. You’ll come to a stop sign; continue through for a short distance, then turn right on Church Street. Cross Landrun and keep going; the road will take you up a hill and jogs left; the cemetery entrance is on your right.
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We left off last week with the secret Eugene A. May had kept for over 50 years: his real name was Henry Head! He’d left his family back in Illinois after an emotional dispute with his step-mother. His own family in Empire may not even have known the truth.
After Hank’s death in 1900, his widow, Eldorado, found herself alone again. She now had buried her second husband. Eldorado would eventually marry a third time: a judge in Washoe Valley named Lamb.
Hank May’s step-daughter, Jennie, was now a schoolteacher. She had attended the University of Nevada Normal School and her first teaching assignments were at the elementary schools at Galena, Pine Grove, and Mina Nevada.
About 1898, Jennie May took a job just over the California border, and began teaching at the little white schoolhouse in Markleeville. In her oral history, Jennie would recall arriving for this job aboard the local stage: a spring wagon with two horses. The following year, 1899 Jennie accepted a teaching position at Fredericksburg School. And, as other Fredericksburg teachers had done, she roomed with the Bruns family in their beautiful ranch house adjacent to the school.
Schoolteachers were considered great marriage material. And sure enough, on December 28, 1904, Fred Bruns, Jr. wed young Jennie May in Carson City. Although she was no longer allowed to teach after her marriage, Jennie went on to become Alpine County’s longest-serving superintendent of schools (from 1916-1939). Jennie and Fred had four children together including Hubert, later a well-known Alpine rancher and supervisor.
Around 1923 Jennie’s mother, Eldorado, now a widow for the third time, came to live with Jennie and Fred. Eldorado died in 1924 of pneumonia at the age of 70, and is buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery.
Fred Bruns, Jr. passed away in 1959. His wife Jennie — step-daughter of Eugene “Hank” May (aka Henry Head) and the little girl who grew up in Empire watching the old millworks turn — died in 1970. She was 92.
Jennie, Fred and Eldorado Lamb are all buried at Fredericksburg Cemetery.
So that’s the story of Hank May, who wasn’t really Hank May at all; his wife Eldorado, who lost three husbands; and little Jennie, who used to watch the millworks turn at Empire and grew up to become an important member of one of Alpine County’s most prominent ranching families!
Hank May’s grave at Empire still looks out over the site where the Mexican Mill once stood.
Here are directions if you decide to pay him a visit: From Carson City, take Highway 50 East. Turn south (right) at Deer Run and in a short distance, turn right again on Sheep Drive. The road will curve around to Waste Management. Follow the cemetery signs and a rather unusual access road will take you up the hill (you will think you’re driving through private business property, but just follow the cemetery signs!)
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Eugene A. May was a long-time resident of of Empire, the early mining town east of Carson City. You might say he’s still a resident: his quiet grave is tucked in at the little Empire Cemetery, overlooking the valley. Little did we know when first saw his headstone — but May had a secret life!
Known to his friends as “Hank,” May moved to Nevada about 1863 and was living at Empire at the time of the 1870 Census. Around 1878 he married a young widow named Eldorado, who had a one-year-old daughter named Jennie (Eugenia). May was 47 years old at the time of their marriage and solidly middle-aged. Eldorado, on the other hand, was only about 24 — roughly half Hank’s age.
Their age difference would raise eyebrows today, but May/December romances weren’t all that uncommon back then. And for a widow with a young daughter it was a practical match. Eldorado’s first husband, Michael Dunigan, had died in 1877 after a fluming accident at Lake Tahoe, and women had few work options outside the home. Eldorado had young Jennie to think about.
Hank May was a skilled millwright and was the foreman of the Mexican Mill. He was a stable breadwinner, and raised young Jennie as his own. The family lived in a house near the mill, and Jennie would follow Hank to work, later recalling spending “many hours of my early life watching the mill process.”
Hank was a “strong Republican,” and ran for state Assembly in the fall of 1880, beating Democrat Samuel Longabaugh in the election. Jennie remembered visiting the Nevada legislature with her mother, Eldorado, where “we sat proudly on the Assembly floor.”
The Mexican Mill eventually closed about 1885, but Hank remained on as a caretaker and watchman. When the mill was later remodeled to process gypsum (used for making cement), Hank was again employed. With his skills as a millwright, he also was called upon to help build other mills and hoisting works along the Carson River through the years, including the power plant at Rodenbaugh’s Station (the old Power Dam at Ruhenstroth).
One morning in the winter of 1898, however, Hank May met with a tragic accident. According to Jennie, he “slipped near the dynamo and his arm was caught in a revolving wheel.” His arm was dislocated at the shoulder, and the bone was broken in three places.
Hank May lived for another two years, but never fully recovered. He died at his home in Empire in November, 1900. Rev. J.W. Durrance officiated at his funeral when Hank was laid to rest at the peaceful Empire Cemetery atop the hill overlooking the Mexican Mill where he worked for so long.
Soon after Hank’s death, however, an astonishing story came to light. Hank’s friend, B.F. Denton, notified newspapers back in Hank’s home state of Illinois about his death, noting that his real name was not Eugene May at all!
Eugene “Hank” May, it turns out, was actually Henry Head, son of a wealthy father (whose own name might produce chuckles today: Biggar Head).
Hank aka Henry was born in Illinois in 1832, and grew up at Sand Ridge, between Edwardsville and Alton, Illinois. Biggar had evidently remarried, and Hank/Henry got into a dispute with his step-mother that led him to leave home about 1850, at the age of 18. By 1863 Hank/Henry had made his way to what would soon become Nevada; the 1870 Census shows him living in Empire. He not only left behind his home and his family, but also adopted a new name and kept his true identity a secret: he was now “Eugene A. May.” Denton, his friend since childhood, knew about the fiction but at Hank’s insistence kept mum.
Hank/Henry held tight to his family grudge for the next 50 years, refusing to contact two living brothers back east, William and Augustin Head. A half-sister sent Hank several letters about 1880, but he refused to open the envelopes, sending each of the letters back unread. He admonished life-long friend Denton that “if he ever wrote East about him, they would never again be friends.”
Even Hank’s headstone held tight to his secret; it bears the name he was known by for so many years in Empire: ‘Eugene A. May.’
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE, INCLUDING A SURPRISING LINK TO ALPINE COUNTY!
Tune in next week to read the second half of this story, with more of the tale about widow Eldorado and her young daughter, Jennie!
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A giant thank-you for assistance with this story to Nevada historian Sue Silver for her amazing research on the Empire Cemetery! You’ll definitely want to check it out if you’re interested in any of the folks buried there. Her research is conveniently referenced by last name. Here is the link to her complete Empire Cemetery research online.
The other great resource we found helpful for this article was www.Newspapers.com. If you haven’t already stumbled across it, it’s a subscription site but definitely worth it for finding obituaries and other stories across the country. For this article, for example, we turned up the Alton Telegraph (Illinois), December 6, 1900, which gave fascinating additional contemporary details about Denton and May’s “secret”.
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“I do not believe in doctors,” quipped Brigham Young’s older brother, Joseph, in 1858. “I would rather call upon the Lord.”
It was a fairly common sentiment at the time, and for good reason: a wide variety of quacks were happily dispensing an equally wide variety of quack medicines.
There were “botanical” doctors; there were homeopathic physicians. There were traveling patent-medicine peddlers and newspaper ads confidently promoting “cure-all” remedies. In addition to ordinary physicians, there were “Thomsonian” doctors — followers of Samuel Thomson, a medical rebel who believed “restoring heat” was the trick for healing a patient. The harsh Thomson protocol applied an uncomfortable series of emetics, enemas and sweat baths, casually summarized as “Puke ‘em, sweat ‘em, and purge ‘em.”
Even mainstream practitioners back in the day were often dismissed by suspicious citizens as “Poison Doctors.” High doses of mercury and techniques like blood-letting were not unusual, and other quirky “remedies” seem outright bizarre by today’s standards.
Dr. Benjamin King approved the use of cow dung as a poultice to treat Hosea Grosch’s badly infected foot at Gold Hill in 1857, for example — a ministration that didn’t help and might have hastened Grosch’s demise. Even as late as 1892, a pneumonia sufferer in Virginia City was relieved of half a pint of his blood in a well-intended medical intervention. Ah Kee, a Botanical Physician with an office on Third Street in Carson City, claimed in his advertisements to have “cured many patients in town” — but there was also a Chinese section quietly located at Lone Mountain Cemetery.
The only ones who might have been happy about all these attempts at “curing” were the local undertakers, and those proliferated. Early practitioners of the mortuary arts in Carson Valley included M.A. Downey, George Kitzmeyer, and Samuel C. Wright.
Undertakers were evidently none too popular. Quipped the Reno Gazette Journalabout what they called the “disagreeable business”:
“[The undertaker] attends church and keenly surveys the faces of the congregation with a critical eye, . . . deftly tuck[ing] his business card under the door of the invalid. He is jolly when pneumonia gallops through a community, and howls with delight over a wholesale railroad accident. He can diagnose a case of physical degeneracy of any kind with unerring certainty at a distance of fifty feet. . . He knows the dimensions of every man in the community and the coffins he furnishes are always guaranteed to fit, so that the defunct customer can rest without danger of contracting chafes and bunions.” [Reno Gazette Journal, June 3, 1882].
One unfortunate who landed in the undertaker’s parlor, a victim of prevailing medical wisdom and probably also malpractice, was young Harrison Shrieves.
A Civil War veteran (he had enlisted in the 10th Ohio Cavalry when he was about 15), Shrieves moved west after the war and landed a plum job as a conductor on the V&T Railroad. Fate continued to smile on Shrieves for the next few years. Around 1870 he married Louise Tufly, daughter of George Tufly, wealthy proprietor of Carson City’s St. Charles Hotel (and later state Treasurer).
It wasn’t quite the “Ides of March” that got him, but it was close. Harrison Shrieves was given a well-intentioned dose of the homeopathic remedy “Nux Vomica” by Dr. Stephenson of Virginia City in 1873. Concocted from seeds containing strychnine, Nux Vomica was commonly used in dilute form to treat a wide range of illnesses from constipation and heartburn to flu. Harrison, however, was apparently given much too much. He suffered for months, and was just 28 when he finally succumbed on March 11, 1874 from his treatment. He is buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery.
There’s more about Shrieves, Tufly, Kitzmeyer, Wright and a great many other Carson Valley pioneers in my friend Cindy Southerland’s beautifully-illustrated book, Cemeteries of Carson City and Carson Valley(Arcadia Publishing 2010). Mark Twain himself commented that “to know a community, one must observe the style of its funerals and know what manner of men they bury with most ceremony,” as Southerland points out. This fascinating book highlights the final resting places of a wide variety of pioneers in this beautiful valley — from stagecoach drivers to governors, soldiers to desperados. Great photos and a helpful description of cemetery symbolism make this an uplifting and informative read. You can find it here through Amazon.com.
Another great book we wanted to mention, this one about early Nevada doctors and early medical remedies (including Chinese and Native American practices): The Healers of 19th-Century Nevada, by Anton P. Sohn (Univ. of Nevada, 1997). This one was a happy recent “find” for us at Morley’s Bookstore in Carson City, Nevada. If you haven’t been there, take time to stop in. Morley’s offers a fabulous assortment of local and Nevada history books plus a great “old-time bookstore” feel. Its 1864 brick building on West King Street is one of only four original stores still extant in Carson City. Be sure to check out the great historic photos on the wall showing this historic building’s evolution through time. Tell him we sent you.
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Alas, poor Jacob Marklee! His name lives on in his namesake town of “Markleeville.” But aside from that one honor, this first pioneer has largely been forgotten.
We know Marklee was a Canadian, born about 1821. And we know he had a fine eye for real estate, picking out the beautiful 160-acre parcel (which now includes his townsite) on September 12, 1861. Just a year and a half later, however, Marklee lay dead in front of his cabin from a pistol ball — the victim, in part, of his own hot temper, buckling on a pistol during a dispute with erstwhile partner Henry Tuttle. (Tuttle was later acquitted.)
But what happened to Marklee’s body? Where was he buried? When Jacob breathed his last on May 14, 1863, the town was still in its embryonic stages. There likely was no cemetery before this sudden need arose.
We’ll probably never know for certain where Marklee is buried. But two important clues have surfaced in a newspaper report from just three months later — so soon afterwards that the writer describes Marklee’s remains as lying “under a still freshly heaped mound of earth.”
Clue Number One: After noting a “fine stream” running through the townsite, the writer reports Marklee’s grave is “overlooking it” (the stream).
And Clue Number Two: Marklee’s burial site is also described as being “on a little eminence” above town.
Every time we visit the Markleeville Cemetery, I am drawn to the isolated point of land that overlooks the town. Two towering pines grace its edges, and the creek flows peacefully below. Could this be the spot where Jacob Marklee was buried?
It certainly fits the description. And on a recent visit to the cemetery, we discovered what appears to be the outline of a grave: rocks laid in a roughly rectangular pattern, with a depression in the middle. The view is serene. And it’s exactly where Marklee should be buried: on a little eminence (high point), overlooking the town that he founded.
We hope you’ll pay a visit to this quiet and peaceful cemetery soon, and decide for yourself!
Like to read more of the history of Markleeville’s very own “Unsung Founder,” Jacob Marklee? Additional details of Jacob’s story can be found here: http://wp.me/p8oQ7A-Z
The old wooden headstones that once graced Markleeville Cemetery have long since turned to dust. Time, neglect and a bit of vandalism have wreaked havoc here; sadly, most of those who rest in this historic cemetery now lie in unmarked graves.
But this week, at least one of the cemetery’s mysteries was solved! Thanks to a devoted great-grandson and his 96-year-old mother, the final resting place of Alpine pioneer Friedrich Wilhelm Koenig finally bears a gravestone. It’s been a long time coming; this November will mark 135 years from Koenig’s death.
Born in Prussia about 1840, Friedrich Wilhelm Koenig (or William F. as he was also known) was one of the earliest settlers in soon-to-be Alpine, arriving with his wife, Lena, in 1862. Koenig and a partner opened a store in 1864 at the corner of Main and Montgomery Streets in Markleeville — property they purchased from the estate of Jacob Marklee himself. Evidently a cautious businessman, Koenig’s ads warned sternly against asking for credit: “None need come for goods without the cash.” Even so, by 1866 Koenig himself was out of funds and filing for bankruptcy.
Koenig switched professions from storekeeper to butcher, and in 1873 listed his occupation as “shoemaker.” These apparently were more profitable undertakings; in 1873, Koenig was able to purchase the former Bagley Ranch and moved his family to Silver King Valley. There he not only ran cattle and operated a hotel but also began hauling freight over the mountain to Bridgeport and Bodie, via Rodriguez Pass.
Koenig and Lena had a total of five children, but sadly Lena died in childbirth sometime between 1872 and 1879. William soon remarried — to a widow named Anna Heppe who was working as a dressmaker in San Francisco, with two children of her own. Together, William and Anna would have two additional children.
But wedded bliss was not to be William’s fate. On November 6, 1882, he was killed in a freighting accident on his way home from Bridgeport. His wagon was found overturned, and his body was discovered beside the road, with his neck broken. His second wife, Anna, was again a grieving widow — and a pregnant one, at that. William and Anna’s last child together, George, was born in December, just a few weeks after his father’s death.
If William Koenig ever had a headstone, it disappeared for decades. But his 96-year-old granddaughter could recall visiting his grave, and luckily was able to describe the spot precisely to her son. A team of grave-detection dogs also visited the cemetery. The granddaughter’s site description exactly matched one “unknown” grave the dog team had found.
On August 18, 2017, Koenig’s great-grandson laid a headstone to honor him. One mystery grave: solved!
But several additional mysteries about Koenig still remain. Was his death truly just a tragic accident? Koenig was an experienced teamster, and there were whispers that perhaps foul play had been involved. A coroner’s inquest was convened, which concluded the death was accidental. To this day, however, the family has its suspicions. Koenig apparently had been in an altercation with a suitor sweet on Koenig’s oldest daughter. And according to a story handed down from generation to generation, the team’s outside lead horse had been shot.
And one more mystery: Where is Lena, Koenig’s first wife? It’s possible she was buried in Silver King, near the ranch. But at least one family member believes she, too, is interred in Markleeville Cemetery, next to William.
And if you look closely, there is, indeed, a second silver marker on an “unknown” grave not far away from William’s.
Watch for our next blog — we may just have found the spot where Jacob Marklee himself is buried!
Chambers Lane, a rural road at the southern end of Carson Valley, is just a place name these days. But it once was an early Alpine County homestead, owned by Civil War veteran Thomas Armstrong Chambers.
Born in St. Lawrence, New York in 1837, Chambers (like so many young men) became swept up in the turmoil of the Civil War. He joined the 6th New York Heavy Artillery as a private, probably in response to President Lincoln’s urgent call in August, 1862 for “300 more” patriots to help defend the Union. According to a fellow member of that unit, “there were no bounties offered as an inducement to enlist, and it is safe to say that patriotism is the only motive that brought this body together in defense of our country’s cornerstone, the Constitution.”
Chambers’ heavy artillery unit was trained to fire large canon, and for much of the war was stationed as a defensive force near Washington D.C. But in the spring of 1864, the group was reorganized as an infantry force assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Thereafter the unit fought in such notable battles as Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, and won military acclaim for their “gallant conduct” at the Battle of Harris Farm in May, 1864. Chambers himself was promoted during the war from private to Second Sergeant.
When the war was over in 1865, Chambers returned home to New York, where he married Margaret Morgan about 1866. They eventually had a total of nine offspring, including a pair of identical twins, Myron and Byron.
The family came west about 1873, settling first in the early mining town of Monitor, where the Chambers children attended school. Chambers worked as a carpenter. In 1892, he homesteaded a 160-acre ranch along the country road that soon took his name, Chambers Lane. A devoted member of the local community, Chambers became one of the founders of the Fredericksburg Cemetery Society, helping the Society to acquire its cemetery land in 1891 from Frederick Bruns and serving as the organization’s first president.
Chambers suffered from “consumption” (tuberculosis) acquired during his military service. “They said you could hear the entire company coughing,” a descendant noted. For this combat-related infirmity, he was granted a Civil War pension of $12 per month in 1882.
When he passed away in 1912, Chambers was buried inside a beautiful wrought iron fence at his family plot in the Fredericksburg Cemetery. His wife, Maggie, was later laid to rest beside him, along with three of their children: Myron, Byron, and Ella.
Today when you hear the place name “Chambers Lane,” we hope you’ll remember this proud veteran and Alpine County pioneer. And if you happen to visit, his Civil War headstone is the earliest military marker in the Fredericksburg Cemetery.
Like to read more stories about the early settlers who are buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery? Check out our Walking Tour book here! (it’s the fifth book on that page.)