Cemetery

Hidden in plain sight in American Fork: ‘Some Indians were buried here’

2013-10-21T09:45:00Z 2013-11-11T10:15:11Z Hidden in plain sight in American Fork: ‘Some Indians were buried here’Caleb Warnock - Daily Herald Daily Herald
October 21, 2013 9:45 am  • 
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  • Tens of thousands of cars drive by it daily -- a 161-year-old mystery buried just feet from 100 East in American Fork. Five words sum it up: “Some Indians were buried here.”

    After settlers first built log and sod homes in American Fork, land was set aside just outside the local fort for burials. This pioneer cemetery was used until 1868. 

    A century later, the site was in bad shape.

    “Few relatives were decorating or taking interest in their grandparents’ graves,” wrote Myrtle Robinson Seastrand in a Daughters of the Utah Pioneers history. “By the looks of sunken ground over each spot, and most of the headstones on a slant, we knew that Mother Earth was doing her part in decaying wooden boxes and coffins to let these mortal bits of flesh return to earth from whence they came. A decaying, unpainted fence or two marked a few graves. Here and there a tombstone was standing as it was placed years ago by loving relatives. A few posts and pickets still remained that had once kept livestock from tromping on the graves of men, women and children, most of whom had crossed two continents and an ocean to come to Zion.”

    But not everyone of the several dozen dead here had traversed oceans. 

    Titled “History of the Marker for the Pioneers Buried in the Old Cemetery in American Fork,” Seastrand’s seven pages of type-written history say not a single word about the Native Americans interred here. She recalls the difficult research to find the names of the pioneers. But the only mention of the area’s original inhabitants laid down here comes at the end of a bronze inscription on a memorial wall.

    “This spot served as a burial ground for the pioneers of American Fork from 1852 to 1868. When death came to the village, the bodies were prepared for burial and the graves dug by friends and relatives. Some Indians were buried here.”

    Dan Adams is a resident of American Fork; a handful of his forerunners rest here. He and his wife, Karen, have arguably done more than anyone else alive to protect and preserve this sacred ground. Last year, they organized work to rebuild the crumbling cemetery monument here, originally dedicated in 1949. They are the keepers of the Daughters of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum three blocks south, safeguarding the city’s relics. But they knew of no historical record explaining those five words: “Some Indians were buried here.” Nor could they find any information in the museum’s treasury of personal histories.

    Except this: While working to re-mortar the monument, a neighbor stopped by and casually mentioned that he had been told that the Native Americans were buried in the northwest corner of the park. This fragment of information -- a bit of oral history -- appears to be the whole of what is known about this Native American sacred ground.

  • In 1949, volunteers dedicated a large brick memorial at the cemetery park at 300 North 100 East in American Fork. A central plaque tells the story of the land.

  • A beehive-topped bronze plaque placed by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers marks the graves of Native Americans and pioneers. 

  • The words “Some Indians” gives the only identifying information about the native inhabitants mysteriously interred here.

  • The curved brick bench memorial, dedicated in 1949, is the only indication that this city park is actually a cemetery. The few original gravestones, long neglected, were cleared away during World War II so the land could be leveled. According to a written history, the clean-up began after then-Mayor DeVere Wootten and his wife were taking an evening stroll in 1943. “We mustn’t let this condition continue longer,” said the mayor, according a Daughters of the Utah Pioneers written history. “And at the next city council meeting, the members voted to clear the ground of all tombstones and fences, and landscape the same.”

  • A line of mature trees and a sidewalk lead to the northwest corner of the park, believed to be the location of the Native American burials.

  • Children play on one of two sets of playground equipment feet away from where the Native Americans are said to be buried. 

     

     

  • A bronze plaque at the site names the pioneers given final rest here, but there is no known record identifying the history of the Native Americans resting here.

  • A Utah Sesquicentennial marker next to a crack in the pioneer cemetery memorial.

  • Few people realize the open expanse of grass is sacred ground. “Most of the young people have no idea it’s a cemetery,” said Karen Adams, who heads up the local history museum. “They say, ‘ I’ve been playing on it.’ They have no idea how to relate to what’s around them. It’s a generation of people not knowing what their community roots are.”

     

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