Courtland Cemetery 1909 - 1930

 

 

Pioneer, explorer, stranger, friend, miner, young or old, rich or poor, White, Mexican, Native or Black; Catholic or Protestant, robber or lawman… We are all buried here on this hill as equals.  Our friends and families may have forgotten us, but we still have stories to tell. And as long as those stories are told, we will remain alive in the hearts of future generations.

Although the Courtland area was inhabited since the 1880s, the Courtland Cemetery was not established until 1909. Previously, the Courtland area was known as Leadville, as most of the copper mining was done in Leadville Canyon. When anyone died prior to the Courtland Cemetery being established, they were usually buried over in Gleeson, or up in Pearce.

 

With the donation of land from Courtland Young and his brothers of the Great Western Mining Company, the area was renamed Courtland in his honor. The land was dedicated in 1907 so that a proper town could be established. The year 1908 was spent surveying, making roads and streets, and marking out lots that folks could purchase. In February 1909, the lots were offered for sale, and Courtland quickly became a town with a population of 2,000 citizens.

 

The life of Courtland was short. By 1920, most of the mines had played out and folks had moved on. Courtland remained as a supply hub for the homesteaders of Sulphur Springs Valley until the railroad pulled up the tracks in 1938. Courtland officially became a ghost town when the post office closed in 1942.

 

Finding any kind of records about Courtland is the proverbial needle in a haystack. Courtland never incorporated, so there was no city hall. Church services were held at the school house. When folks pulled out, records were either thrown into the trash, the burn barrel, left in drawers of left behind furniture, or now possibly reside in the dark corner of a deep closet in a box labeled “Grandpa’s stuff.”

 

Such as it is with the records of the Courtland Cemetery. A plot map of who is buried where has yet to surface. The county archives could only say there are 85 graves there. Findagrave only lists about 44 names—11 of those were added from newspaper obituaries…and not all had death certificates to go with them.

 

And here, I must credit Joe Bono, who owns the Gleeson Jail. A few years ago, he gave me some CDs that had every issue of the “Courtland Arizonan” newspaper on them, from February 1909 though February 1920. The newspaper came out every Saturday, and except for the last few years, was one of those, “your business was everyone’s business” type papers. News articles and obituaries from that newspaper help to add to the list of names.

 

And painstakingly, the Cochise County death records were perused from 1908-1945.  Some 28,123 death records were viewed, with 100 records found. Is the list complete? Maybe—maybe not. Are all 100 people buried in the Courtland Cemetery? Probably not. Some, in particular infants, may have been buried in the family’s backyard, because the family could not afford the cost of a funeral. Some may have been buried on top of others. Some of the bodies may have been dug up and moved to Gleeson, or Pearce—or elsewhere. Some might be buried on their ranch within the Courtland district. As I went through the Cochise County records, I also discovered quite a few from Yavapai, Coconino and Gila counties. I just wonder how many Cochise County records ended up in other counties. Not only that, but names were often misspelled, not only in the newspaper articles, but on the death certificates as well.

 

The first recorded burial in the Courtland Cemetery was Josephine Olivias, who passed away at the age of 11 years from eating unprepared food. She passed away on July 27, 1909 and was buried on July 28, 1909. The last person that I could find a record of was Rosa Gutierrez, who passed on January 8, 1930, at the age of 95 from pneumonia.

 

I did not find any records of anyone being buried in Courtland after 1930. There were still a few folks around then, but when they died, they were buried in Gleeson, Pearce, Whitewater, McNeal or Douglas cemeteries. There were no deaths recorded for the years 1922, 1923, or 1929.

 

(In going through all these records, I was glad that I can read cursive. I was even happier when some of those who filled out the death certificates started using a typewriter!)

 

There were one or two doctors in Courtland in the early years, but no hospital, although the Great Western Hotel on Main Street and “E” Avenue often served as a recuperation ward for various illnesses. The nearest hospital was five miles south in Gleeson, and it was state of the art for the day, with running water and electricity. The other options were Douglas and Bisbee. Some operations were performed on kitchen tables.

 

Basically, if you needed a doctor, you had to phone Gleeson or Pearce and have one sent over to Courtland.

 

The leading cause of death was from pneumonia, most likely caused from lung irritation. Take into consideration that back then, the roads were dirt and dusty. The power plant in Courtland was coal fired, as were most of the equipment used in mining. The trains ran on coal, and everyone used either coal or wood to heat their homes and cook their meals. There was dust in the mines. Add to that, the smoke from the two smelters in Douglas making its way up the valley. There was no such thing as a clear day where you could see across Sulphur Springs Valley back then. There was also the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-1919 that took many lives.

 

And, for a brief while, Courtland had an undertaker’s facility, but very little was done there, other than perhaps dressing the body for the funeral. Bodies were usually not embalmed unless they were being shipped out of state. When you died in Courtland in the morning, you were usually in the ground by sunset, or at the very latest, the next morning. No one was cremated, either. At that time, the nearest place to be cremated was in Los Angeles, California.

 

The tract of land chosen for the Courtland Cemetery was southeast of town, on fairly flat spot that afforded a nice view of Sulphur Springs Valley. It was far enough away from the mining and building of the town, not too far from the EP&SW depot, and close to the railroad tracks. It was also within easy walking distance from Courtland.

 

We have to remember that the roads we travel today, are not the original roads. At the time, Third Street (today known as Ghost Town Trail) only ran from the depot to the far end of North Courtland, and was barely a cattle trail.

 

Over the years, the cemetery has fallen into disrepair. Weeds, mesquite and other brush covered the graves. Cattle, taking advantage of the open range grazing, stepped on the graves, knocking over the markers and crosses and scattering the stacked stones on the graves, and it was hard to find more than a small handful of them at any given time.

 

Two of the slab graves, one belonging to Thomas Allen and the other to Jose Garcia, have been broken through and their headstones cracked. The marker belonging to Simon Franklin, a black Civil War Veteran, was vandalized.

 

In December, 2017, a Facebook group called Ghost Town Trails Tour, organized a cleanup of the Courtland Cemetery. This group of folks worked hard to pull weeds, cut back brush and mesquite, re stack the rocks and reset the crosses on the graves. All but 15 of the graves were tended to, because everyone just flat ran out of energy. A physical count of the graves was also done on that day, verifying that indeed, there are 85 graves there.

 

You can read more about the cleanup of Courtland Cemetery project here.

 

 

You can also purchase a book about the cemetery, with the names and documentation of our projects by clicking/tapping the link below.

 

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