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Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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WHAT HAPPENS TO THE ASHES?

A HISTORICAL INQUIRY PROMPTED BY A DEATH CERTIFICATE

                        

By Kathy Block

 

During research using Death Certificates for Yuma County to build a list of internments at Kofa Cemetery I came across an unusual and interesting Death Certificate.

 

A Native American child, named Philip Elder Simms, died July 16, 1911 on the Colorado River Indian Agency near Parker.  The cause of death was: ”Pneumonia following measles; neglect during measles.” The death certificate was written by a female doctor, Mary A. Israel, M.D., possibly working at the Agency.

 

We have learned from historical records research that many Native Americans died from “white men's” diseases such as measles and smallpox, lacking immunity from not having long-term exposure to these diseases.

 

Across the top of the Death Certificate was hand written: “All Mohave Indians cremate their dead the same day they died after they have been pronounced dead by a physician.”  For place of burial was written: “Cremated on July 16, 1911.”

 

After receiving a question from a fellow historian about what happened to the remains (ashes), I queried Kay Ellerman, a librarian at the Mohave Museum of History and Arts in Kingman, Arizona, as to what was done with the ashes? 

 

Kay's reply indicated that as far as she could tell, they cremated them and let the ashes blow in the wind. The nearby Hualapai Native Americans used to build a high pile, put the body on top and all the belongings under, and proceed to set the pile on fire. The Mohave’s used to cremate their people in the rocks also. She has seen the burned spots east of Goldroad, AZ, a historic mining area north of Oatman, AZ and the custom of the tribe is to let the wind take the ashes.

 

Now the Hualapis bury their dead and have their own cemetery close to Valentine, Arizona. (Note: many Native American cemeteries are listed on the find-a-grave site, and are found in most Arizona counties.) Kay mentioned a photo of one of the Indian Chiefs being buried in the mountains somewhere. He's in a casket and his saddle and blankets were going to be buried with him.

 

For more information on Native American burials, see my write-up at www.apcrp.org

click Education – click Native American Graves.

 

Remember, as with all graves, Native American Graves should not be disturbed or disrespected in any way.

 

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Internet Presentation

Version 022810KB

 

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