PIONEER MEMORIAL CEMETERY

By

Nicholas R. Cataldo (2008)

San Bernardino County is chock-full of interesting places to visit. One of the most fascinating, yet rarely mentioned, is Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in San Bernardino.

Strolling through this 150-year-old graveyard and reading the inscriptions on these headstones is like taking a page out of "Who's Who" in San Bernardino County history. For this is the place where many of the early settlers who helped develop our homeland were laid to rest.

Pioneer Cemetery got its start in April 1857 when the town purchased the northeast corner of Seventh and Sierra Way (known at the time as Kirtland Street) from Amasa Lyman, Charles Rich, and Ebenezer Hanks for $125 to be used as a cemetery.

The San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society sponsored a guided tour of Pioneer Memorial Cemetery earlier this month. Thirteen graves were visited and a number of family descendants were on hand to give a personal view of their ancestors. These were the stops on the tour:

Remains of 12 pioneers from the old unmarked Seccombe Lake Cemetery. There were several burials close to one another on the south side of Seventh Street (across the street from the south entrance to Pioneer Cemetery) on a bluff overlooking Garner's Swamp (today's Seccombe Lake Park). The remains were discovered in 1989, during ground clearing for a baseball field. The remains were transferred to Pioneer Cemetery


Nathan Swarthout (1823-1903)

Nathan Swarthout (1823-1903) enlisted in the Mormon Battalion and was mustered out in the fall of 1847 in Los Angeles. Swarthout later went north to Sutter's Fort and was one of the first to mine gold on the American River. On Aug. 25, 1851, he married Emma Smith Tanner at Sycamore Grove near San Bernardino.

Richard and John Henry Stewart. John Henry (1823-1885) built the first pressed-brick structure in San Bernardino. And the elaborate 400-room Stewart Hotel - known as the finest of its kind south of San Francisco - was built by Richard (1850-1919) in 1887.


Virginia Ann Cooksey Earp (1821-1893)

Virginia Ann Cooksey Earp (1821-1893). As matriarch of the Earp clan, Virginia Ann endured more than her share of excitement. She supported her adventuresome husband on two overland trips from the Midwest to the San Bernardino Valley, in 1864 and again during the late 1870s.

Thomas Jefferson Evans (1826-1901) was born in Indiana in 1826. He came to the Sacramento Valley and mined on the Feather River. After moving to San Bernardino, he lived on Arrowhead Avenue, where he worked as a farmer and ran a grocery store.


Sarah Jane Rousseau (1816-1872)

Sarah Jane Rousseau (1816-1872) kept a diary of the day-to-day events on her seven-month journey by covered wagon, in a caravan that included the Earp, Curtis and Hamilton clans from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino in 1864.

August Starke (1824-1900) bought San Bernardino's first hotel from the owners, the Pine family, in 1868. In 1870, the hotel name was changed from Pine's to Starke's, and the establishment, located on Third and Arrowhead, was a major institution for several decades.

William F. Holcomb (1831-1912). This gold miner and big-game hunter left Iowa and arrived at Hangtown (now Placerville) in 1850. Ten years later, Holcomb was credited for discovering gold in our mountains, an area known today as Holcomb Valley.

John Brown Jr. (1847-1932) was just a child when he arrived in San Bernardino in 1852. He taught school, served as San Bernardino County superintendent of schools and had a law practice.

John G. Shaw (1857-1901). A contractor and builder on the East Coast, Shaw moved to California with his family in 1886 and settled in Highland, where he bought 80 acres of land and continued working at his trade for many years.

John Brown Sr. (1817-1899). Grizzly hunter-turned-businessman crossed the plains with an ox and mule team, arriving in Sacramento in 1849. He later established the first engineered and maintained road through the Cajon Pass.

Bert Heap (1888-1918) was to be the first San Bernardino casualty of the First World War. He sacrificed his life with 12 other crewmates attempting to save the USS Mount Vernon from sinking.

Unfortunately, over the past decade or so, vandals have made their unwanted presence all too well known at this historic cemetery. Gravestones have been knocked over, and trash and graffiti have made more than an occasional appearance.

Kevin Hawkins and his staff with San Bernardino's parks department have done a commendable job in their efforts to combat these villains and clean up the place. However, they can't do it alone. Everyone needs to pitch in and preserve the integrity of Pioneer Memorial Cemetery - a truly historic gem of San Bernardino County.