An article published by the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2010 detailed a discovery that confirmed a local Kingman, Arizona urban legend was in fact true. 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.”
As it turned out, this was only part of the story. That could be said for most points of interest at historic sites included in phase one of the narrated self guided historic district walkinng tour developed by Kingman Main Street.
Aside from the opportunity to bring Kingman’s history to life, research for the walking tour has provided ample fodder for the tellinig of fascinating and occasionally inspiration stories. It has also provided another venue for the sharing of America’s story, a specialty at Jim Hinckley’s America.
Meet John Mulligan
Giving people like John Mulligan a bit of limelight was another rewarding aspect of the walking tour project. Mulligan, a stonemason by trade, made an array of contributions to the early development of Kingman.
According to his obituary published in the Mohave Miner in 1935, Mulligan built the first house in a rough and tumble Atlantic & Pacific railroad construction tent camp that would become known as Kingman. This was in 1881 or 1882. It was located on the southwest corner of what is now Beale and Fourth Street,
Mulligan was the primary contractor for the Hotel Beale and Hotel Brunswick. He was also a charter member of the Elks Lodge. And he was the contractor that built the lodge that stands on the corner of Fourth and Oak Street. The obituary says that he laid some of the stone “with his own hands.” And he was also the concrete contractor for the Mojave County Jail built between 1909 and 1910.
Chasing The Dead
Deciphering the story of the Kingman cemeteries proved to an intriguing adventure that was full of suprises. I was aware of the cemetery under the high school football field. And I knew that many of those bodies had been relocated to Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill Road.
But after telling stories with the publishing of 22 books as well as in countless interviews, podcasts, presentations made internationally and blog posts, I have learned a simple truth. The more I learn about history the more I realize how little I know.
The story in the Las Vegas Review Journal 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 in several locations. 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 primary site of Pioneer Cemetery. It 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 as well as bodies 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.
As an example, on May 8, 1915, a published story 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 near the Mehtodist and Episcopal church where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard married in the spring of 1939. Indications are that this site was used briefly in the 1880s. A formal cemetery was established along what is now Kier Street on the south side of the railroad tracks.
Work on Mountain View Cemetery, the current 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 Pioneer 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 based on truth.
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.
What Comes Next?
The walking tour project in Kingman was a team effort. It was also an endeavor that fostered development of a sense of community. And that is one of the primary reasons that I am hoping it is used as a template for other communities.
As to what comes next, well I am never short of ideas. Currently the walking tour has thrity eight points of interest. If funding were available, and the volunteers at Kingman Main Street that poured so much energy into this project were ready for round two, I would add another 150 points of interest.
Promotion is another aspect of the endeavor that needs to be addressed. To date, surprisingly, it hasn’t garnered the attention of the city’s tourism office or the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. Rectifying that might be a starting point for the tours marketing.
Meanwhile, the reasearch into Kingman’s history continues.