When we first ran across this old overgrown cemetery above Central City in Colorado, the first thing we had to ask ourselves was, "Who are the Knights of Pythias?"
Maybe you know, but I had to look it up. I guess that's the old person's way of saying I had to Google it. My gracious, how did we ever know things without Google? Trek all the way to a library? Wow, we had a lot of energy. Anyway, I found out, if you don't know, the Knights of Pythias is a fraternal order founded in 1864 in America. Of it, our revered then-president, Abraham Lincoln, said, "It is one of the best agencies conceived for the upholding of government, honoring the flag, for the reuniting of our brethren of the North and of the South, for teaching the people to love one another, and portraying the sanctity of the home and loved ones." Well heck, who wouldn't want to join on those words of endorsement?
And again, maybe you know, but I had to Google "Pythias," as well. He and his pal, Damon, are historical characters who lived in the 400s B.C. and the depth of their friendship is the subject of Greek legend. They belonged to the Pythagorean Brotherhood founded by the father of Greek philosophy, Pythagoras, who held that the two most excellent things for man were "to speak the truth and to render benefits to each other" through bonds of friendship and loyalty. Pythias and Damon's bond has been immortalized by a historical incident in which they had each others' backs when the king of Syracuse condemned Damon to death. (Various renderings of the tale switch the roles of Pythias and Damon ... which can be confusing.) The fraternal order says, "Their loyalty to each other, the adventures that beset them, and the outcome of this noble friendship form the basis for one of the most beautiful stories of history as exemplified in our ritual."
Though many of the gravestones are in disrepair or have disappeared altogether, it's a pleasant cemetery that now finds itself nestled among the aspen trees, with wide paths through the forest. Of the five old cemeteries in this area, all pretty much right next to each other, I find this one the most peaceful.
George Stroehle, below, was born in Austria and fought in our Civil War. Most army units had a band and George was a musician, first class. (Naturally I want to know what instrument he played!) The 45th Illinois Infantry was a highly-respected Union infantry regiment that fought in some of the most famous battles of the Civil War including Shiloh and Vicksburg. I don't know which years he served in the infantry, but it existed 1861-1865 expressly to fight in the Civil War, and was disbanded afterward. His kids are buried across the road in the Masonic cemetery.
I can't say exactly why, but I really like Captain Webb's disassembled gravestone right along a path between the Knights of Pythias and the Central City cemeteries. I guess I want to know what he was a captain of. I couldn't find any information on him; his wife was born in Cornwall, but I found nothing further on her either. These are three photos of it in different seasons.
My little phone camera actually tends to work pretty well catching sun rays and lens flare, and as I walked by this gravestone I noticed a beam from the very low sun striking the top of the stone. So I got out the phone and snapped a pic but planned to maneuver around to arrange the scene such that the sun beam was directly above the pointed finger. But alas the phone ran out of battery, so I only got this one photo. Even though it wasn't what I ultimately wanted, I think it's still a pretty fun picture.
The boundary between the Knights of Pythias Cemetery and the Central City Cemetery is not clearly denoted. On the west side of each cemetery there is a gate and metal fence; the cemeteries are side-by-side and there is nothing I can see separating them into the northern one (Pythias) and southern one (Central City). There may have been a fence in times past, but walking between the two you come across this lovely vista, and the grove of aspen trees seems like the natural border for them.
To me it seemed that Nellie Ballard's grave, both photos below, was on the Central City side but she's listed in Find A Grave in Knights of Pythias with an additional, but not filled-in, entry in Central City. I found several other names that had two listings in both cemeteries, so I think the boundary is fuzzy to everyone. It's hard to tell from the photos, but this is right on the connecting pathway. Nellie has such a friendly tree arching over and protecting her.
So now we have wandered far enough south that we are conclusively in the Central City Cemetery.
"Chas" Engdahl (given name Charles) died instantly in 1907 inside a mine in Russell Gulch when a series of dynamite charges he was tamping 1,600 feet below ground exploded.
One of the best things about exploring the old cemeteries near me is that a lot of the epitaphs spur me to learn local history that I didn't know before. I learned a lot in Leadville's Evergreen Cemetery a couple years ago. Having run across this tombstone below, I was motivated to Google the Sleepy Hollow Mine, and learned about a major event in the early days of Central City -- the Americus and Sleepy Hollow Mine disaster.
A major issue with mining here is keeping water pumped out of the tunnels and working areas below ground. We recently ran into a fellow who is working in one of the old mines in Central City that has been purchased with plans to restart production ... after about 200 feet of water is pumped out. Anyway, several adjacent mines in 1895 were in a dispute over the issue of drainage and prorating the expense of drainage between several owners. One of the owners decided to let the water collect in the lower portion of their mine which was above portions of the adjoining Americus and Sleepy Hollow mines. The reservoir of water broke through a section of ore and everyone below the line of the break was almost instantly submerged, "and their bodies must lie there for weeks," according to a newspaper article from the time. The article describes the rescue effort:
"The sounding of the whistle gave the first signal of disaster, and soon the shaft building of the Sleepy Hollow mine was so crowded with families and relatives of the imprisoned miners and those wanting to give assistance that it was almost impossible for the work of rescue to go on.
Sheriff Williams finally arrived on the ground, the building was cleared and practical miners offered their services in lowering the bucket. The farthest depth attained was 330 feet, the accumulated gas forced up by the rising water being such that a candle would not burn at a greater depth.
A second effort was made, a larger sized safety lamp having been place in the bucket. The rescuer who fist descended in the bucket found Mr. H. Prisk at the 330-foot level. On reaching the surface he was almost in an insensible condition. Another man went down afterward, but was unsuccessful in reaching a lower point in the shaft owing to rising of water."
Fourteen men in total drowned in the mines, two in Americus and twelve in Sleepy Hollow. Below is a historical photo of the funeral in Central City for the disaster victims.
Mr. Albert T. Chappel was thrown from a wagon while hunting with friends, and as unlikely as it seems, his double-barreled shotgun discharged in the fall. The shell from one barrel hit his arm and from the other hit his leg, which subsequently had to be amputated. Although the amputation was successful, he died but three days later from gangrene. He was 21 years old.
I'm afraid I just have to chuckle at Mr. Ely's middle name — the "J" stands for Jabez — because I always thought "Jabez" was a made-up name for the Ogden Nash poem, "The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus," which features the naughty boy, Jabez Dawes. It says Mr. Ely was a "pioneer of 1858" ... I've seen that epitaph on several gravestones in various mountain cemeteries in Colorado. Just makes me wish I knew more of his story; these epitaphs are such a tease!
I find it so interesting to see where the people who died here hailed from. Big cities have the reputation as the "melting pots" of America. But the old mining camps and towns were full of immigrants as well. I think Ireland and Cornwall are most highly represented around this area, but George Stegner, left, was born in Saxony, Germany.
Thomas Hooper, born in England, died in 1881, aged 22, in the United Gregory Mine when a block of rock above him gave way beneath an ore cart and he was crushed to death under one ton of ore.
William Reynolds died at 31 from “miner’s disease.” No further description is given of what exactly that means, but I presume a type of lung disease, as is probably the most common health affliction of miners. His parents are from Cornwall. His dad died of heart failure. I find these tidbits interesting because they are some of the few male deaths not listed as some sort of accident. Of course many a cause of death is a mystery to history, not noted for posterity, but of the ones I find info on, it's rare to see a non-accident cause listed, even though William’s was still related to mining. Both men's obituaries specifically mentioned they were very well liked among their peers. Mrs. Reynold's death is listed with the now outdated term, “apoplexy.” I.e. a stroke.
A few more shots I have no further info about, but I think they are picturesque amid the mountain forest reclaiming them.
When I looked up Joseph Nicholas George, gravestone on the left below, I discovered he is buried in yet another discreet cemetery, even though there is no indication that it is separate from the Central City one. But there is actually a tiny Foresters Cemetery, for members of yet another fraternal order, the Ancient Order of Foresters, which originated in England in 1834. If you’re curious, as of course I was: This order, evolved from the even older Royal Foresters, was at first a social order until the members decided they had a duty to assist their fraternal brethren who fell on hard times “as they walked through the forests of life.” Rather than allowing their families to become destitute if the head of the family was incapacitated, the members began paying money into a common fund to dispense as “sick pay” and funeral grants to those in need. I like that their chief officer is titled simply High Chief Ranger (and the various lower ranks are other types of “rangers”) rather than some kind of ridiculous title (in my opinion) of other orders like Noble Grand (IOOF), Exalted Ruler (Elks), or Worshipful Master (Masons), etc. The Foresters seem a little more humble and egalitarian.
Lillie Mitchell, aged 7, is the stone on the right, also in the Foresters.
So to my knowledge so far, all in one basically contiguous area above Central City, there are seven cemeteries for the old miners and pioneers, five of which belong to some fraternal order.
Read more articles about Colorado
Read about more Colorado cemeteries