Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project
Scenic Loop Placer Graves Site
By Allan Hall – APCRP Certified Coordinator
The area north of Wickenburg, between the Hassayampa River and the old mining communities of Stanton, Octave and Weaver to the north, has been the target of gold seekers since 1863. After potato-sized nuggets were reportedly discovered on top of Rich Hill, hard rock and placer miners poured into the district. You didn’t have to be a plumber to understand that things run downhill, and this concept was not lost on the prospectors – for good reason. A significant portion of this area is alluvial – formed by the inexorable erosion and flooding that wears down mountains and moves soil to lower areas. See Figure 1.
Figure 1, Alluvial area between
These same forces have been transporting and depositing gold in the washes and alluvial fans for millions of years. Unfortunately, the lack of reliable sources of water required early placer miners to use inefficient methods, such as dry rockers. The amount of gold taken by successive waves of small claim holders will never be known, but one thing is certain – the people who sought their fortune (or to merely eke out an existence) left a legacy of isolated graves throughout the area.
A Closer Look
This article focuses on a single wash where we have confirmed at least thirty graves in nine separate burial sites, as shown in Figure 2. Three visits have been made to the area since March, 2008, but no systematic survey has been conducted yet.
Figure 2, Current inventory of grave sites. GPS Datum is WGS84.
The distance separating the lower grave, near the bottom of Figure 2, and the northernmost pair of graves is 6212 feet. Most burials are located along the margins of the wash or on the adjacent hillsides. The distance from the Hassayampa River to Stanton is slightly greater than seven miles, and the terrain features washes and gullies that run in a generally north to south direction. Given the fact that less than 1.2 miles of a single small wash have been examined - and that only superficially – the potential for discovering more pioneer graves is considerable. Other APCRP members have reported lone graves a few miles to the northwest near Martinez, Weaver and Antelope Creeks.
A brief characterization of the nine sites includes the following:
o One cemetery containing 16 male graves (Hilltop).
o One cluster containing six male and one female graves (CLSTR 1).
o Seven dispersed lone graves – all male.
o Except for the “Hilltop” location, all graves contain rock outlines or mounds.
o The nine sites may span the period between the 1860’s and 1930’s.
Credit for discovery of the first grave sites goes to local members of the Miners Creek Prospecting Club, who are working placer claims on several sections of BLM land. Their invitation and continuing observations have enabled APCRP to establish what we now call the “Scenic Loop Placer Graves” area.
The Lower Graves
The three lower graves sites (SL5, SL4 and SL1) reside on an alluvial fan between the hills and river. This area has a very gentle slope and has seen the deposition of much soil during the current geologic era. Sedimentation has become so pronounced that no rocky prominences are visible and there are almost no rocks or boulder laying on the surface. This feature has made it easy to locate the three graves described below.
Figure 3, Male Grave Designated “SL5”
Figure 3 shows the southernmost grave in the Scenic Loop Placer Graves group, as listed in Figure 2. The dark lava boulder accurately marks the head position of this juvenile grave, but the dimension extends beyond the small cluster of rocks to the left of the headstone. It is likely that some disturbance (flooding, cattle or otherwise) has caused some dislocation of the rock mound. Notice that there is a gray boulder at the extreme left center of the photo, in the shade of the mesquite tree. That rock may belong to the original grave mound. Based upon measurements, I estimate this juvenile to be four years or less in age. This site has not been restored.
The apparent “flatness” of the terrain in this photo characterizes the area between the hills (north and right) and the river (south and left). You can readily see that it has a flat appearance and contains no rocky outcroppings.
The trail in the upper portion of the photo leads north toward the “Hilltop” cemetery, which will be discussed later. This trail dates to at least 1890, but may be as old as 1865.
Figure 4, Male Grave Designated “SL4”
Figure 4 is the second grave from the south/bottom and is identified as “SL4” in this article. The distance between SL5 and SL4 is only 364 feet, but this photo shows a pronounced change in the slope, or gradient, because it is closer to the hills that are left and north. SL4 is also a juvenile male grave, but the dimensions suggest an age that is perhaps eight to twelve years. The large reddish stone shows the head-end of the grave and the orientation is nearly identical to SL5. In other words, both graves face toward the west. Notice again the absence of rocky outcroppings in this photo.
Figure 5, Male Grave Designated “SL1”
Figure 5 shows the third grave from the south/bottom and is identified as “SL1.” (The naming convention has no bearing on the order in which graves were discovered.) This photo was taken after the dimensions of the juvenile grave were established. The small wash that is the subject of this article is to the left/north of the photo. As with Figure 3 & 4, the area around this grave shows an absence of surface rocks.
The SL1 grave is also a male juvenile and, based upon dimensions, is thought to be between six to ten years of age. Grave orientation indicates that it faces toward the southeast. Flagging pins show the grave outline. It is likely that the rock mound at the left end was intended to be a head marker.
There is considerable similarity between the three lower graves:
o They are all juvenile males
o Each is marked with rocks
o Each grave is situated in an area that is relatively smooth and is (otherwise) free of stray rocks or natural outcroppings.
Moving Up the Wash
The first three graves are located at the lower end of the survey area. As you proceed north, the terrain turns into a typical wash with low hillsides on the east and west. Rocky material - primarily boulders and gravel - becomes much more pronounced.
Figure 6, First
Grave Located in
The lone adult male grave in Figure 6 is located next to the wash (partially visible in the upper right corner of the photo). This is the fourth grave site above the bottom, as shown in the topo map in Figure 2. It is designated as “LG-Alpha” to signify that it was the first grave to be confirmed in this area.
The rock outline in the photo is virtually unchanged from when it was first discovered by a member of the Miners Creek Prospecting Club in early 2008. After being alerted to the grave site, I verified the dimensions, set corner pins, and then straightened the rock outline. The original stone at the upper end of the grave was replaced by me with a larger rock to improve the visual reference to the head position.
Figure 7, Cluster 1-A
Approximately 100 yards north of the “LG Alpha” grave there is an unusual cluster, partially shown in Figure 7. The grave in photo center is that of a young juvenile male that measures 34” tall by 14” in width. The headstone (which is untouched) appears to have been partially shaped prior to placement. The rock outline was straightened by me after dimensions were established during the most recent survey in July, 2009. Notice that some of the relocated stones exposed the build up of sediment
The rock-mounded area above and left of the juvenile grave contains three burials – one female and two males. Because these graves have a common rock mound, there is reason to believe they are co-burials (that is – the three burials may have occurred at the same time. The directional orientation of these four graves faces toward the east.
Figure 8, Cluster 1-B
There are three more male graves approximately 50 feet north of Cluster 1-A, shown in Figure 7. Two of these graves are shown in Figure 8, and the third is out of view to the left. The grave in the center foreground is obviously rock-mounded, while the grave at upper left is faintly outlined and covered by sand. Preliminary surveys indicate that both are adult males that face in a northerly direction.
Whether cluster 1-A and 1-B are connected by a common event, a historical era, or a shared ethnicity is unknown at this time. The physical separation of 1-A and 1-B suggests these graves are not related in a familial sense, but that does not mean they are not connected in some other way. Until or unless historical documentation can prove otherwise, I am forced to describe these seven graves as a common (but dispersed) cluster.
The Hilltop Cemetery
The sixth burial ground, identified as the “Hilltop Cemetery,” is unusual in several respects.
Figure 9 provides a view of the central area of the burial ground, with a marker flag showing one of the sixteen male graves. The wash is downhill beyond the upper right corner of the photo. If this does not have the appearance of a traditional cemetery, you are not alone in that judgment.
The graves are dispersed over an area of roughly 20,000 square feet and do not appear to be well organized – that is, there are no discernable rows. Directional orientation of the graves appears (at this time) to be random. Unlike the grave sites shown in Figures 3-8, there is no consistency in the use of rock outlines or mounds. If anything, it appears as if there was a conscious effort to obscure the site.
It would be tempting to classify this as a large grave cluster, except for one thing…
Figure 10, Saguaro
Figure 10 shows a stately saguaro that is adjacent to the cemetery. It was purposely “topped” many decades ago, causing it to produce the “V” shape when new arms grew in place. Some APCRP members are familiar with this phenomenon and have found it to be a reliable landmark to graves and old trails. I believe it is no coincidence that this saguaro is only a few yards from the cemetery.
The “Hilltop” needs to be methodically surveyed and documented when cool weather returns. Neal Du Shane and I have managed only a preliminary assessment, having confirmed the presence of sixteen graves in a highly disorganized site. This is an unusual place that deserves more study.
Figure 11, Male
Approximately 445 feet northwest of the Hilltop Cemetery is the seventh grave site, shown in Figure 11. It is an adult male with a fully covered mound of rocks and boulders and is situated on the west margin of the wash. The acacia and mesquite need to be cleared before a proper survey can be completed. The long axis of the grave appears to be nearly six feet in length and directional orientation is roughly NNE to SSW. The head-end of the grave has not yet been determined. The area on the opposite side of the wash, near the top of the photo, also needs to be thoroughly investigated.
Graves at Northern Edge of Search Area
The final two grave sites at the upper end of the search area are virtually parallel with each other at N 34o 04’ 15” latitude. They are, however, on opposite sides of the wash. The grave on the western side is a juvenile, as shown in Figure 12.
Figure 12, Juvenile Grave Designated “SL9”. Courtesy of Miners Creek
Unfortunately, I ended up on a trail on the wrong side of the wash and was unable to reach this site to do a survey. The photo, which was kindly provided by the Miners Creek Prospecting Club, indicates a very neat rock outline that appears to be completely undisturbed. I can only estimate its size to be barely two feet in length, so this was probably an infant or very young child. The second grave is above the wash on the east side and is an adult male with a partial rock outline. These two graves probably share no relationship, since they are separate by a distance of 420 feet. These sites need to be revisited to complete proper surveys and documentation.
You can’t help but wonder about the circumstances that produced the burial sites shown in this article. Why are there so many lone graves of children? What year was the saguaro topped to produce the landmark adjacent to the Hilltop Cemetery, and why is that site so disorganized? With nine burial sites (and counting) along a 1.2 mile stretch of this wash, how many more graves remain to be found? Since this is a small and obscure wash, what waits to be discovered in the larger washes that run from the Stanton - Octave area down to the Hassayampa? Obviously, much more exploration is needed.
The article opened with a reference to mining activity that began in the mid 1860’s. Mining camps and settlements were established at Weaver, Stanton, Octave, Yarnell and Congress. To the south, Vulture City was a much larger mining town than Wickenburg; but a reliable history of the area in between is pretty thin. Trails existed before roads like “Stanton-Hall” and the Congress road were built, and these routes were used by miners, settlers and travelers. There were ongoing hostilities between the Anglo settlers and the Yavapai and Apache tribes until about 1873, and robberies and killings by outlaws occurred frequently. More than a few people probably met their death through violent disagreements over mining claims.
Although events such as these are likely contributors to some of the burials, it does not explain the lone graves of children very well. Anecdotal information exists of “Depression Camps” that existed north and east of Wickenburg for a time during the 1930’s. It is possible that some graves, (such as SL5, SL4 and SL1) may be attributed to the personal tragedies of families who moved through this area in a time of national misfortune.
Access to the wash and grave sites begins north of Wickenburg at milepost 195 on US-93 where Scenic Loop Drive begins. The road becomes dirt after about 200 yards. Remain on the main roadway until you come to the following coordinates:
N 34o 03’ 19” by W 112o 40’ 59” (WGS84)
This is the point where you will turn left (north) into the wash. I recommend that you preload these coordinates in your GPS unit so that you will obtain directional and distance guidance as you approach the trail. There are a myriad of recreational trails in this area and visual navigation and ‘dead reckoning’ will be difficult.
If you would like a detailed map with complete GPS Tracks, just let Neal or me know. I will put together a complete route with mileage checks for you in the next few weeks.
Obviously, much more exploration is needed.
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