Monday, March 14, 2011

Spanish Fork (aka Gopherville) Pioneer Cemetary

I wanted to spend one last day on Spanish Fork so that I could focus on a cool place found in the city.  I found the following photo from 1968 of a couple at the Pioneer Cemetery in Spanish Fork.

Photo courtesy of the library at Southern Utah University

The cemetery is located at about 1400 E 1820 S.  When pioneers first arrived in Spanish Fork, they lived in dugouts, which were houses dug into the ground; I assume they are pretty similar to the foxholes used by soldiers.  So many people were living in dugouts that the city was nicknamed "Gopherville."  People used this original cemetery to bury the people that died during the 1850s and 1860s.  After the 1860s, the main city cemetery was moved and the pioneer cemetery fell into disrepair.  I found an entry on the internet from the 60's that said that the area wasn't being cared for and that it was a sad sight.  Slowly the cemetery was forgotten about and became a big cattle field full of weeds.

Recently, a development agency decided to build houses around the cemetery.  As part of the project they restored the cemetery, built a fence around it, and added a really nice statue.  Articles about it can be found in the Deseret News here and here.  Here is a picture from 1400 E just about the riverbottoms:

The cemetery is located within the gray stone fence just to the right of the sign.

The cemetery is located on a beautiful bluff above the river bottoms and has a great view of the valley.  The huge stone memorial that was in the original picture has been removed and the plaque that was part of it was placed on the left brick support column of the entrance arch.  It was originally placed in the cemetery in 1941 and it reads: "Pioneers were buried here between 1851 and 1866 when this cemetery was abandoned."  It then lists about 15 pioneers who were buried in the cemetery.  On right brick column of the arch is a plaque commemorating the cemetery.  It says:"Utah South Center Company Daughters of Utah Pioneers, in conjunction with the City of Spanish Fork, community donors, and volunteers have reclaimed and resorted this hallowed ground in remembrance of the pioneers who persevered through uncommon hardships because they had faith in their God and in their cause.

"... The first settlers arrived in 1850.  Their life and death struggles while facing hunger, hostile natives, disease, grasshoppers, and crop failure are heroic and heartrending....  Their valiant examples of strength and courage have left a legacy to be treasured.  May this sacred and hallowed ground be a place of rest, reflection, and reverence."

It really is a great place to reflect on the people who came to and settled Utah.  I have been thinking a lot about this lately because of my grandma who passed away a couple of weeks ago at the age of 98.  She is the relative of a person who was in the famous Mormon handcart company who became trapped in what is now Martin's Cove in Wyoming.  Around 1/4 of the pioneers in this group, known as the Martin handcart company, died from starvation and hypothermia while awaiting rescue on the plains in Wyoming.  One of the people in the company was my relative (sorry I don't know his name).  If I remember the story right, he, his mother, and I believe 5 of his siblings survived while his father and a newborn baby both died.  My relative ended living quite a while and actually told my grandmother stories of when he was starving out in Martin's Cove in Wyoming. 

I know that Utah has changed dramatically from the pioneer days of the past, but sometimes it is amazing how close the past is, such as a grandma who actually talked and heard stories from a member of Martin's Handcart Company.  While I was looking through the pictures of Spanish Fork, I found hundreds of pictures of old pioneers.  While it is cool to look at buildings and old historic places, I think it is also important to remember the people that built the buildings or participated in the events which made a place historic.  Whether you have pioneer ancestors or you are a transplant to Utah, it is important to remember the people who struggled across the plains to settled this great place where we now live.


  1. Great post! This is such a neat cemetery!
    Very worth the visit. The pioneers chose such a beautiful place to bury their dead. I am so happy to have visited this place.

  2. Thank you for this. I'm taking some Cub Scouts to this cemetery tomorrow, and your post will help me tell the story. What a view from the top of the ridge!