An article published by the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2010 detailed a discovery that confirmed a local urban legend was in fact true. In Kingman, Arizona, there are bodies under the high school football field, and possibly at the site of two other cemeteries!
That was a discovery made during work on the narrated self guided historic district walking tour being developed by Kingman Main Street. And it was a story recently shared on Wake Up With Jim, the Jim Hinckley’s America audo podcast on Podbean.
Quote, “That bodies are buried under a high school football field and adjacent parking lot is more than folklore. Many long-term residents have known that part of the Kingman Unified School District campus was built over the top of the partially relocated Pioneer Cemetery. That was the primary burial ground from 1900 to 1917 for the city, which is about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
Earlier this week they were reminded that some of the bodies are still there. Human bones and suspected coffin fragments were unearthed Wednesday as construction crews dug a trench in an effort to install a new sewer to serve the campus and portions of the downtown area. Fifteen to 20 bones and bone fragments were found in a four-foot stretch of the trench near the football field where games have been played for decades.
The disturbed remains were no longer confined to wood caskets that apparently deteriorated into dust long ago according to Oz Enderby, director of construction for the school district. The Mohave County medical examiner was called to recover the remains and work was stopped as required by law. The coroner, school district representatives and county officials huddled Thursday to determine what should be done with more than 100 feet of trench left to dig across the former cemetery plot.”
This was not the first-time gruesome discoveries had been made on school grounds. During construction of the high school in 1959, human remains were unearthed. These were placed in containers beneath a monument built next to the student parking lot. Then in 1972 during expansion of the Kingman High School, more bones were unearthed.
The football field is the site of Pioneer Cemetery, Kingman’s third cemetery that was used from 1900 thru 1917. After the opening of Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill Road in 1917, most bodies were relocated from the old cemetery for a fee. Bodies not claimed by family or friends, and bodies in unmarked graves, were left behind in the Pioneer Cemetery that was officially abandoned in 1944.
The number of people that were left at the Pioneer Cemetery is unknown. Records were not kept for all burials, or they were inaccurate. Compounding problems associated with identifying graves were the pre 1909 death certificates that seldom noted a burial location or that had misspelled names. And there were also graves used for multiple unidentified bodies over a period of time.
On May 8, 1915, a published detailed a gruesome discovery near Burn’s Ranch in the Blue Ridge Range. Quote, “They found the remains in a deep canyon, and while the bones were somewhat scattered, they were nearly all recovered. Nearly all the equipment of a prospector were found, but the blankets and canvas had rotted. An axe handle and rotted tool bag had the initials W.H.F. It is believed that the remains are those of W.H. Bill Fitch that disappeared from Burns Ranch in August 1905. If so, he would have been about age 73 at his death. The remains will be brought to Kingman and buried in the paupers’ graves at the cemetery.”
The first Kingman cemetery was located at Fifth and Spring Streets. Indications are that this site was used briefly before a more formal cemetery was established along what is now Kier Street on the south side of the railroad tracks.
Work on Mountain View Cemetery commenced in early 1916. A legal notice published in the Arizona Republican dated May 29, 1915, noted that a claim had been filed with the Department of the Interior Untied States Land Office for property to be used as a cemetery. The notice listed Mrs. J. P. Gideon, wife of Sheriff J.P. Gideon, as president of the Mountain View Cemetery Association.
In 1948, the 7th and 8th grade classes were moved to the new Kingman Junior High School near the high school on First Street and adjacent to the former cemetery. The complex has evolved over the years and as a result the historic abandoned cemetery was buried which gave rise to the urban legend.
A persistent part of this legend, however, has not been verified. According to some sources, when the junior high school was being constructed on the cemetery land, headstones that could not be read clearly were bulldozed into a nearby wash or were used as fill. Others were removed and stored at the county barn.
A monument dedicated on May 20, 1963, with a bronze plaque below a representation of an open Bible in marble, encased in stonework, dedicated by the Daughters of the Pioneers Group illustrates the confused history of Kingman’s early cemeteries. The plaque reads:
“WE HUMBLY DEDICATE THIS GROUND THE SITE OF KINGMAN’S FIRST CEMETERY IN MEMORY OF THE FOUNDING PIONEERS WHO WERE INTERRED IN THESE HALLOWED GROUNDS 1861-1920, ERECTED May 20, 1963.”