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HUERFANO — Long before anyone thought to move Memorial Day from May 30 to a convenient Monday, it was called Decoration Day. It was that time of year put aside especially to remember one’s deceased family members, and to honor them by visiting their gravesites and leaving flowers. And long before anyone thought to have Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day was the time to give respect to deceased military members. Decoration Day was carefully planned. First, volunteers would go to the cemetery to cut the grass and clean the premises of debris. Programs were arranged to include patriotic and religious speeches and music. More likely than not, a procession would be formed to march en masse, with dignity and solemnity, to the graveyard. Huerfano County has about 55 burial grounds. Some of these are single graves, some are very large. If you have no family to visit in one of these places, you might want to visit just for a history lesson. No one will ever know who was first buried here, or when. Native Americans, explorers, mountain men and

others were here before the first settlers from the United States took root in the 1840s and ‘50s. The first documented burial in a cemetery was in 1871, when an infant died and was buried on the ranch property of Dr. and Mrs. James Erwin east of La Veta. This land became known as the Pioneer or Georgia Colony Cemetery and contains the remains of dozens of those Southerners who settled in Huerfano County beginning in the late 1860s. The site of this first grave is unknown. The earliest monuments erected, and remaining, are for Cora Carver who died in 1873, and John Garren, 28 Apr 1822 – 15 Sep 1873. Stone monuments for graves only became widely available in the 1870s. Before that most burials were marked with wooden crosses or even a pretty rock. The oldest marked grave in the Gardner Cemetery is that of Dollie S. Hudson. The stone reads “86 years, the first to sleep in this sacred spot”. Unfortunately, there is no date engraved but family records indicate Mrs. Hudson died in 1874. Walsenburg’s Masonic Cemetery evidently is equally old. The engraving on the stone of Samantha Shank, 25½ years, dated June 13, 1875, seems to be the oldest. One didn’t have to be a member of the Masonic Lodge to be buried here. Most of the city’s pioneers are here, such as Alexander Levy, a very early Jewish merchant and entrepreneur. Levy was every bit of a contributor to the growth of young Walsenburg as his business partner Fred Walsen. Levy’s tombstone reads, “I tried to be fair”. He was more than fair – he probably employed more local residents than any man of his day or later in his railroad and road construction gangs, many mercantile establishments and logging operations. The Masonic Cemetery was probably the first to get an irrigation system. Since the city itself did not get such a system until between 1902 and 1910, the water pipes laid into the cemetery in 1915 suggest a concerted effort. The town board kept promising water, but the system was finally built by donations of $472.50. The area had already been fenced. It has been enlarged several times. St. Mary Cemetery just south of Walsenburg no doubt has some very old gravesites. It would be anyone’s guess just who is there and when they died because the graveyard was heavily vandalized in the 1930s. Several thousand dollars worth of stones, not to mention an incalculable amount of history, was destroyed in these senseless acts. St. Mary South and North are the largest combined cemetery in Huerfano County. The south portion outgrew itself until the acreage north of the city was purchased in 1957. The Gardner Catholic Cemetery is of a later vintage. The oldest marked stone is that of Bernardo Gareth, died 5 January 1930, age 6 years. There are many unmarked graves and some may be much older. Some of county’s oldest burying grounds are those along the banks of the Huerfano River between Gardner and Interstate 25. Some of the first people to settle here from New Mexico had their farms in this valley, and lie in graves marked today by collections of rocks, nothing more. Other burials along the river include that of Rev. Abner Chastain, founder, it is said, of the second Baptist Church built south of the Arkansas River. He has two stones, the original, badly weathered, and a newer one set by the Daughters of the Revolution. He died in 1871 and is buried in a small graveyards full of unmarked graves on private property. Also in the vicinity are the St. Vrain, begun in the 1890s, and the Speed or Butte Valley dating back to the late 1870s. Also, there are the Badito family graveyards. In fact, there are family cemeteries scattered throughout the Huerfano Valley right up to Chama. The La Veta Cemetery is a singular case. The first burials may date back to the 1870s though no monuments remain. The first four acres were purchased in 1883 through subscriptions of $60.00, gathered from private citizens for land already being used for burials. These men then signed the cemetery over to the town. The Town Clerk sold the sites for $5.00 for a small lot or $10.00 for a large one. Sometimes it took years for a citizen to pay off his $5.00. Paupers and people unknown to the residents were buried at the expense of the town in Block 1. Through the years, some families had their deceased loved ones transferred from other cemeteries and reburied here, making it impossible to date the first burial. There are several cemeteries in the North Veta area, though the Sand Arroyo, or North Veta, is the largest. The earliest stones are dated back in the 1920s. About four miles northwest of this is the old Chavez Cemetery of roughly the same age. An older burying ground once lay across the highway from North Veta and was named Ojitos. It has been obliterated, like so many other rural graveyards of this area. Perhaps the most picturesque of Huerfano’s cemeteries is the Thomas Rogers in the foothills of the East Spanish Peak. This was started in the summer of 1895 when its namesake deeded an acre that already contained the remains of 16 people. Rogers’ neighbors, whose family members were among those, helped to build a fence. It is in a remote location and still used for descendents of the Rogers clan and friends. Scattered among these pioneers are the remains from the nearby coal camps. All of Huerfano’s many cemeteries contain many mysteries. Weathered and obliterated writing on gravestones is common. On the other hand, among the stones still legible, it is heartrending to see the family units with numerous markers and witness where a family ended up after an epidemic. These are just a few of the town and rural graveyards one can visit out of respect for our ancestors and the armed services members who have protected us through the past century and a half, or out of curiosity for our settlers and history.