Tales from the Tread: Tour Steamboat Springs Cemetery
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Historic cemeteries and graveyards hold the history of the people and community in which they were built. The inscriptions, iconography and epitaphs on gravemarkers provide insight into the family, religion, social status and culture of those interred within a specific cemetery or graveyard. They are also primary resources for historical research, as some of the information on a gravemarker may not be found anywhere else.
The Steamboat Springs Cemetery is located just west of the city center and sits above town with beautiful views of the river valley below. A visit to the cemetery is not to be missed, and touring with local Steamboat Springs historian and long-time cemetery board member Jim Stanko offers a unique perspective on the people and events that shaped the town of Steamboat Springs.
Stanko and the Tread of Pioneers Museum will once again partner to present Stanko’s popular Steamboat Springs Cemetery Tour on Sept. 23. Group tours at other times can also be arranged with a fee by calling the museum at 970-879-2214.
On the tour, Stanko shares stories and points out the graves of the prominent citizens, determined pioneers and brave veterans that played an important role in shaping Steamboat Springs’ history.
What: Steamboat Springs Cemetery Tour
When: 9 a.m. Sept. 23
How much: Free; no reservation required
More info: TreadOfPioneers.org
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.
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When asked about his long-time commitment to the cemetery, he replied: “My first motivation was to make sure that the graves of veterans were marked and taken care of. … 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 Desert Storm. These graves are usually 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. Wren was a world-class bronc rider, and Gordon was a world-class skier and ski jumper. Their headstones are engraved with a bronc rider and a ski jumper to reflect their passions.
One fascinating area of the cemetery is called Potter’s Field. This is a section where county burials — burial of unclaimed or indigent bodies at the 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 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 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 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. If you cannot make the tour, you can tour on your own using the pamphlets downloaded from the museum’s website.
Candice Bannister is executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs.
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