May 31, 2021

Memorial Day


Today is our Memorial Day holiday here in the states.  This is a day to honor our military dead.  Quite a few people have the day off, as all government operations are shut down in addition to a lot of businesses, so there are a lot of people out on the roads and gathering for parties.  Because of that, I decided not to go hiking today, as I knew that the trails would be crowded, too.

So what is an alternative outing for Memorial Day?  A trip to the local cemetery, of course!  I had wanted to visit it since I moved here to Cedar City, but the appropriate opportunity never came up.  We have just one cemetery in town, so the earliest graves would be from the arrival of the first settlers to this area.  It is very historical. 

A lot of people like to honor their deceased relatives on this day, in addition to the military dead.  I saw that this was the case when I got to the cemetery, as there were quite a few people walking around, most carrying flowers, and many of the graves had already been decorated.  It was quite the scene!  There must have been some sort of ceremony that morning, as I ran into “Miss Iron County” leaving just as I got there.

I wandered among the headstones, taking note of some of the familiar family names.  I saw the sections for my dentist, my attorney, and my computer repair guy.  All descended from early settlers of the area.  I think this must be common for the early Mormon families in the whole state.  They tend to stay in the same areas generation after generation. 

The first settlers arrived in Salt Lake City in 1847.  Then they came down to Parowan, our county seat, early in 1851.  Later in 1851, a group settled in Cedar City to work the iron ore that was found here, hence Iron County.  St George, south of here, was settled in 1854.  These early pioneers were wasting no time in populating Utah!

The area of the cemetery that interested me most was the oldest.  A lot of the headstones were so crumbled that all of the words had worn off.  These were made of sandstone.  The earliest legible death that I saw was recorded on a headstone was in 1854.  I am sure that there were some that were earlier, too. 

I was not surprised to see the large number of deaths among children younger than 5 years old, as this was quite common in the pioneer days. The preponderance of childhood deaths was within 2 years of birth.  What I found interesting was the notation on quite a few headstones of the deceased being born in England, Wales or Scotland in the early 1800’s.  Imagine back then converting to the Mormon faith in those countries, sailing across the Atlantic, and being chased out of numerous towns because of religious persecution, before making the final wagon train trip across the U.S. to end up in Utah.  And then south to Parowan and on to Cedar City within 4 years of your arrival in Salt Lake City!  These were tough people for sure. 

Another common practice was to list all of the children of the married couple on the back of their main headstone.  I saw lists from 2 children to more than a dozen. 

Below are photos of a particularly intriguing set of headstones.   

Here we have Joseph Walker, an iron worker, born in England, and settled in Cedar City in 1851 to work the iron deposits that were found here.

Here is the back of his headstone listing 2 wives and a total of 20 children. 
Each wife’s low and flat headstone is next to his. 

At first I thought I was looking at the second marriage after the first wife had died, but that was not the case here, as both wives died a year apart, about 16 years after Joseph died.  The other possibilities were divorce, or perhaps a plural marriage.  There is no way to know for sure, as the church allowed both during that time period. Imagine having 12 children with wife #1, Betty, and divorcing her for a much younger wife #2, Emma, and having 8 more!  Also note the same middle name for both wives.  Smith was a very common name back then.  Perhaps they were related. 

It was starting to get hot outside, so I went home.  I definitely plan to wander the cemetery again at some point.  BTW—no ghosts there, as ghosts like to be where there are a lot of people to feed off of.  Hospitals, bars, big parties! 

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