Tales from the Tread: Cemetery stories
Steamboat Springs’ premier historian, Jim Stanko, has served on the local cemetery board for 23 years. He jokes, “there’s only one way off the cemetery board.”
On July 6, Stanko and the Tread of Pioneers Museum teamed up for his popular Steamboat Springs Cemetery Tour. Stanko shared the stories and pointed out the graves of the prominent residents, determined pioneers and brave veterans who played an important role in shaping Steamboat Springs’ history.
Burials at the cemetery began in 1882. Town founders James H. and Margaret Crawford are buried there along with many homesteaders, including William Harvey (1839-1914) whose headstone claims he reportedly killed 56 bears in Routt County.
When asked about his longtime commitment to the cemetery, he said, “My first motivation was to make sure that the graves of veterans were marked and taken care of. Then as I got more involved, my interest was to make sure that cemetery operation and maintenance remained at a high standard, so that the cemetery would be the attractive peaceful area that residents would expect for their loved ones’ final resting place. I also wanted to make sure the history was preserved along with adapting to more up to date visions of the cemetery.”
As a military veteran himself, one of Stanko’s main focuses is honoring our local veterans. War veterans buried in the cemetery span from the Civil War through Vietnam. These graves usually are denoted with additional “footstones” or other ornamentation to indicate a soldier’s service, distinctions or medals of honor.
“What I think makes this cemetery so interesting is the very different styles of headstones and the way the graves have been laid out,” Stanko said. “The headstones and some of the old rock walls in the original addition are so much different than the modern headstone art of the third addition. And the inscriptions on the various headstones can often tell the story of that family.”
For example, the headstones of Tuffy Wren and his son Gordon symbolize the intersection of the unique Western and skiing heritage of Steamboat Springs. Tuffy was a world-class bronc rider, and Gordon was a world-class skier and ski jumper. Their graves are engraved with a bronc rider and a ski jumper to reflect their passions.
One fascinating area of the cemetery, separated from the rest of the cemetery, is called Potter’s Field. This is an area where County burials — burial of unclaimed or indigent bodies at Routt County’s expense — took place, mostly during the flu epidemic of 1918 and the early Depression era. One of three Civil War Confederate graves is located in this area.
The earliest date in cemetery records for a burial in this section is 1917, and burials ran through 1941. The majority of the county burials took place in the 1930s, during the Depression era, when it would have been difficult for most families to be able to afford a proper burial or headstone. As a result, very few graves were marked by headstones in this area.
However, several years ago, the Cemetery Board cleaned up the weeds and overgrowth at Potter’s Field, measured out the grave plots and placed white wooden crosses on 20 county and purchased graves. They established this as area as a historic section, and marked it with a stone marker at the head of the trail that is maintained down to Potter’s Field.
Stanko, the Cemetery Board and the Tread of Pioneers Museum invite you to visit your local cemetery to discover the people, events and history that formed the foundation of this town. Informational guides on the cemetery can be found at treadofpioneers.org.
Stanko encourages the public to “take time to look at the different styles of headstones and look for the inscriptions or artwork on them, as this tells not only a glimpse into that family, but also the history of events that happened in Steamboat and Routt County.”
Candice Bannister is the executive director for the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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