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Burying the Past

Cemeteries provide so much history for genealogists and researchers.  Cemetery and mortuary records are usually accurate and are a source of birth and death dates, interment dates, and information about place of death.  When these records are compromised, most recently noted at our national cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, there is indignation over the breach of trust with regard to respect for the deceased. For early settlers in any geographical region, many burials took place outside of formal cemeteries. 

DeWolf grave and fence

 They were not necessarily recorded with a governmental entity and may have only been noted in a family Bible or as part of the oral history remembered by the family.  This was especially true when speaking of infant deaths.  In the late 1980s, the Eagle County Historical Society started a cemetery project, tracking down old grave sites on the ranches of Eagle County.  Rae Benton, former Historical Society president, initiated the project and Mildred Toomer a volunteer, tracked the graves found on the Colorado River ranches. On County Road 39, 4 miles NW of the Burns post office, there are five graves, including one for Donald G. De Wolf, Jan. 7, 1914-May 28, 1917.  The stone within an iron fence has a carved lamb at the top and is inscribed: “Tis a little grave but oh have a care, for world wide hopes are buried there.”  Mildred interviewed Joe Albertson who served as a pallbearer and remembered that Donald drowned in Catamount Creek.  [Burns-Dotsero cemetery’s (sic.), Mildred Toomer p. 7]

Stone marker, person unknown

So often, these early burials on homestead land were marked with a rock or wooden marker, no information provided.  “Two tenths of a mile up the road to the John Benton house, on the right just off the road is this grave.  Natural stone faces “Castle” [peak].  No one seems to know who is buried here.”  [Toomer p. 16] One of the family cemeteries that continually elicits questions from people driving on I-70 is the well-tended Stewart family cemetery, just west of the Dotsero exit.  It is especially noticeable now that the truck parking lot has been constructed.  The graves are protected by a wire fence and there is an additional iron fence protecting two graves within that.  An upright granite marker is for John W. Stewart (Jack), 1842-1916, grandfather of Leland “Lee” Stewart.  Jack homesteaded the land where the plot is located, close to the confluence of the Colorado and Eagle Rivers.  The ranch house built in the 1880s was located on the other side of the Colorado River.   

Stewart Family Cemetery, Dotsero

According to Lee Stewart in a 1984 interview with Bob Kretschman, Jack Stewart was not the first burial there [Eagle Valley Enterprise, May 24, 1984 p.1A].  Grover Cook, a half-brother to Jack’s wife, drowned while crossing the Colorado River on horseback and is buried within the decorative iron fence, no marker.  The baby of Edna Stewart Lemon is also buried within the iron fence.  At the foot of J.W. Stewart’s marker is a marker for the ashes of Jack Mitchell Stewart, 1923-1979, J. W.’s grandson and Lee’s brother.  And the final marker is for Elsie Trump Owens.  She was the daughter of Nelson Yost, an early settler in Dotsero, and the mother of Gene Trump who lived on Sweetwater. “A walk through a cemetery can give you a feel for local history…the families that have been here for generations, connections between families, babies that may not have been recorded elsewhere,” said Michelle Wells in an interview with Kathy Heicher [Eagle Valley Enterprise, Oct. 27, 1989 p.8].

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