The Cemetery Is a History Bookl
Some Grand Canyon visitors find that their greatest exhilaration comes at Grandview Point. Others go into the Canyon’s hidden depths for solace and satisfaction. Among those who love the Canyon best, Point Sublime is often the chosen spot for seeking uplift. All of these places electrify the spirit.
One other Grand Canyon location can do this also. In one sense, if the visitor carries his imagination and his empathies with him, it is the place which inspires most. It is Grand Canyon’s Pioneer Cemetery, just west of the Shrine of the Ages, not far from the visitor center on South Rim.
Until the 1980s we had never known that this place existed. Then, just before leaving the park on one of our annual anniversary trips, we paid a quick visit, and were stirred. We did some research and some reading, and made a trip back from California to become thoroughly acquainted with this tiny spot, just a few acres in a colossal national park and Canyon which embraces nearly two thousand square miles. This is one of three places at Grand Canyon which lift the curtain to help reveal its total human story.
The first is usayan Ruin; there one feels the presence of those original inh bitants — the native Americans — who came here, lived here, 1 ughed and loved here, then disappeared. The Anazasis were the first humans who left a record at the Canyon.
At Moran Pdint, one looks into the mists and remembers that near here was the first place where non-Indians discovered Grand Canyon. T Spanish explorers saw it, tried to conquer it, and — failing to ffect a crossing — left and went their ways.
The native mericans dwelt here in the 1100s and 1200s A.D. The Spani ds first came in 1540. Then within the last century other men nd women, courageous trailblazers, pioneers, and ordinary citiz ns, have left their marks and added pages to the Canyon’s hu n history. Their stories, their imprints, the legacies and legen s of many of these are revealed — for those whose imaginations are graphic — in the small plots of earth and simple wood or stone markers, in Grand Canyon’s Pioneer Cemetery.
John Hance’s grave comes first, and well it should. Just 150 feet inside the cemetery gate, a slender, rough, irregularly shaped four-foot-high slab of sandstone announces: “Captain John Hance, first locator in Grand Canyon. Arizona pioneer. Trail builder and guide. 1Died January 8, 1919. Aged 80 years.”
Hance was a loveable person, a true “character” of the early day West, who came to Grand Canyon on a prospecting reconnoiter in 1883. He loved the place, built a cabin near Grandview Point, and became the Canyon’s first white settler. His name was given to the old and the new Hance Trails. He accommodated guests at his cabin and became a guide for trips into the Canyon.
Hance was a Storyteller in the most exalted sense — a yarn-spinning prevaricator. Our friend, the late travel-lecturer Burton Holmes, related many tall tales about the Canyon that John Hance spun, in which it was impossible to separate fact from fancy.
Hance sold his Grandview ranch holdings but the subsequent hotel there was put out of business when the Sante Fe put its rail spur through to the spot where El Tovar was built. Hance’s location excelled, in sweep and view, the vista obtained from present El Tovar.
When a Grand Canyon post office was established, at the old Hance ranch, John Hance became the first postmaster. He was “first” in many respects.
William Bass, a Canyon pioneer who arrived not long after Hance, and who left even more lasting marks than the latter, is not buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. When he died, in 1933, his ashes, as he requested, were scattered by airplane over the Canyon’s Holy Grail Temple, known as “Bass Tomb.” A large monument to him has been erected in the cemetery, by Arizona’s governor, Bruce Babbitt.
But Mrs. Bass, whose grave is in the cemetery, was a pioneer with credentials all her own. William Bass, in 1892, was guiding occasional visitors on horseback forays into Havasu Canyon, land of the Havasupais. One such visitor was Ada Diefendorf, a music teacher from New York state, who had graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music. William played the violin; there was a common ground of interest. Two years later they were married, Mrs. Bass moved to Bass Camp near Havasupai Point, and made history. The plaque on her gravestone sums it up briefly: “Ada Lenore Diefendorf Bass, Aug. 29, 1869. May 5, 1951. Grand Canyon Pioneer, 1890. 1st white woman to raise a family on rim of Grand Canyon.”
The Bass’s had four children. When Mrs. Bass went “shopping,” it meant an overnight 73 mile journey to Ashfork. She has said that she has prepared a meal, or slept, under every tree on the route.
A permanent water supply did not exist at Bass Camp. Nor even at Ashfork. That was one of the two places where Francis and his brother, in 1923, had to buy water; it was hauled in by the Santa Fe. When Mrs. Bass did her laundry, she sometimes had to make the three day hike down into the Canyon’s depths to the Colorado River. A woman like that deserves a resting place in Grand Canyon’s pioneer burial ground.
So, too, do Emery and Ellsworth Kolb. When Emery died, in 1976, at the age of 95, it marked the end of an era in Grand Canyon’s human history. The Kolb studio and home, where he had lived for much of his life, still stands, clinging to the very edge of the Rim just at the head of Bright Angel Trail. There, in 1923, Francis had heard him narrate the filmed story of the Kolb brothers’ running of the Colorado River in 1911. Helen and Francis had heard the same lecture several times in later years.
His marker, to the left as one enters the cemetery, reads: “Photographer, Artist, Explorer, Lecturer, A hard worker and doer of many things.”
Beside him is the grave and marker of his wife: “Blanche M. Kolb, Canyon resident for 55 years. Illustrious beloved wife and mother.”
Less than a hundred feet from the grave of his brother, is the grave and marker reading: “Ellsworth L. Kolb, Jan. 4, 1872, Jan. 9, 1960. Photographer, Explorer, Author.”
It is a bit less easy to say that the Hon. Ralph H. Cameron deserves a burial spot at Grand Canyon, but perhaps, with death, there should be forgiveness for aberrations. Ralph Cameron, who died in Washington, D.C. in 1955, was a delegate there from the Arizona territory, from 1909 to 1912; he obtained statehood for Arizona in 1912, and he was Arizona’s United States Senator from 1921 to 1927. His marker reads: “Arizona can never forget him.”
That is the point. Around Grand Canyon he is remembered, not so much for his beneficent achievements, as for the fact that he took mining claims on many of the South Rims’s vital areas, including the Bright Angel Trail, for the purpose of controlling them; he put money ahead of vision, and stood in the way of the park’s development. But he is remembered.
So too are the victims of what was, at the time of its occurrence, one of the nation’s worst aviation disasters. Both flying eastward, with nearly perfect visibility, two great passenger planes collided over Grand Canyon, in 1956, and fell to earth out beyond Desert View, killing all 128 passengers aboard the two planes. A large granite marker stands in Pioneer Cemetery to their memory.
There are war memorials, too, including the Spanish-American conflict. A single large marker memorializes three Grand Canyon boys who gave their lives in World War I, and five in World War II. One of these latter was a Hopi Indian.
Half a dozen gravestones will cling permanently in our memories because of the poetic visionary idealism of the inscriptions. One of these was the marker for Gunnar Widforss. On the North Rim we had done some hiking on the Widforss Trail, named after this Swedish artist who came to the United States in 1905 and 1921 and who, after seeing the American West on the latter trip, never returned to Europe. He became an American citizen. He started painting in the national parks. He met the director of all the parks, Stephen Mather. (Francis also had the great privilege of meeting Mather in Yellowstone Park in 1925). Mather became Widforss’ patron and this artist — who loved Grand Canyon best of all the parks — transferred much of its beauty to canvas.
The Widforss marker is small — a dark bronze plaque set in a rough lichen-covered Canyon rock. The sentiment on the marker is large.
“Bury this man there? Here, here’s his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form Lofty designs must close in like effects Loftily lying Leave him still loftier than the world suspects Living and dying.”
John H. Maxson, 1906-1966, a scientist who once worked at the Canyon, is one of the few persons buried in the Pioneer Cemetery who did not fulfill the residential requirement of having lived here long enough. His simple marker reads: “Full enjoyment of this unique natural heritage is derived not only from its appeal to the human senses but also from its understanding by the human mind.”
We saw the graves of two former superintendents of Grand Canyon National Park, M. R. Tillotson and John S. McLaughlin, and the still unmarked plot of Merle Stitt, who passed away just after retiring in 1980.
Of deepest human interest, perhaps, were the resting places of simple, unheralded men and women who had loved the Canyon, and served it well. We spent half a day hunting up isolated or inconspicuous graves, and recording the illuminating (and occasionally difficult to read) markers. Each of these revealed a life that had come in loving contact with this Canyon.
Charles E. Dunn, 1885-1957. Range Rider, Grand Canyon Trails Guide. Driver of the Grand Canyon-Williams Stage. “He left something of himself with everyone he met.”
John T. Smith. 1928-1978 . . . “He loved animals and the outdoors, so when he came to Grand Canyon June 1950, he found home. John started as a trailguide, then a packer, and the last thirteen years as a trail foreman.
“John was a wonderful and loving husband and father. With his kind words and a pat on our heads, we knew everything was going to be alright.”
One of the longest epitaphs was for Kenneth Carmel Patrick, 1933-1973.
An inscription in bronze, of over two hundred words, details a dozen episodes in the varied life of this park ranger, relating that he always returned to the country he loved, and concluding: “then on that summer dawn in silent fog, not far away, he disturbed a deer poacher’s team and they just shot him. May the memory of his devotion to all people and to that fine country of our national parks and of the splendor of his soul inspire and remain with us.”
The poaching episode occurred, not at Grand Canyon, but at another national park where he served — Point Reyes National Seashore, California.
And, finally, the simplest inscription of all, which in eleven letters conveys a vivid picture of a romantic period in the human story of Grand Canyon. On the weathered bronze foot-square marker to Elsie Worden, with the dates April 19, 1908-May 9, 1945, we read the three words which gave her claim to a place in the human history of Grand Canyon and the West.
“A HARVEY GIRL”