Mattie Earp Gravesite, Vandals Spark Preservation of Historic Pinal Cemetery
The historic Pinal Cemetery, ca. 1880 to approximately 1920, served the residents of Pinal and the mill workers from Silver King Mine. Following the mine closure in 1888, Pinal was depopulated but the cemetery was still used by the residents of the new copper camp, Superior. With the establishment of Superior’s own cemetery in 1916, use of the Pinal Cemetery was discontinued.
However, in the 1990s, the Pinal Cemetery attracted new interest when the Wyatt Earp movies hit the big screen, as Mattie Earp, Wyatt Earp’s second “wife,” was known to be interred there. Between 1995 and 2009 the relatively small cemetery – home to a few dozen gravesites – went from near obscurity to a sought-after destination, and increased visitation greatly impacted the cemetery. From 2009 to the present, the Tonto National Forest, partnering with concerned citizens and preservation organizations, halted the impacts to the Pinal Cemetery, implementing a program of preservation and interpretation.
Steve Germick, an archaeologist with the Tonto National Forest, shared the cemetery preservation efforts at the Arizona Historic Preservation Conference, held in Mesa in June 2013. Here’s an overview of his talk:
How did this new wave of visitors impact the cemetery?
Increased visitation led to trash and vandalism. Vandalism was largely in the form of “cleaning up” the cemetery by moving rocks and creating graves and marking such “graves,” leaving offerings, particularly artificial flowers, and burial of pets within and adjacent to the cemetery. I’ve also noted several small areas of burning within the cemetery that looked like warming fires, but what they really represented was anyone’s guess.
What efforts have been taken to preserve the cemetery?
New fencing and signage have been posted. Our goal was to develop and manage the cemetery as an interpretive site while preserving its historic context and integrity as an archaeological resource. To reach this goal, we removed all illegal, unauthorized markers. The public is welcome to visit the cemetery but visitors should be respectful and not disturb the graves of the pioneers who rest there.
What were some of the challenges of preserving this gravesite?
When an historic site is associated with a particular historic event or personage, the problem of preserving the site as an archaeological resource is more difficult, and that’s what occurred at the Pinal Cemetery.
I don’t believe we would have had half the headaches at the Pinal Cemetery if Mattie Earp hadn’t been buried there. If only regular folks who had led everyday lives for the time were buried there, it would have been known just as the cemetery associated with the historic silver milling town of Pinal. But with an individual associated with such a prominent name as Earp, the cemetery became a destination.
Management and preservation of the cemetery was made even more difficult by the individuals who took it upon themselves to erect a memorial to Mattie Earp without Forest Service knowledge or consent. While Mattie Earp was put on a pedestal, others buried at the cemetery were ignored. Apparently they didn’t matter. I found this to be very disrespectful to the memory of the pioneers buried at the cemetery.
As an archaeologist with the Tonto National Forest, I was able to see first-hand the impacts to the Pinal Cemetery beginning in July 1995 when I discovered that an illegal monument dedicated to Mattie Earp had been constructed. Over the years I watched how this monument grew ever more pretentious until, to the uninformed, it had evolved into her de-facto gravesite. The cemetery itself suffered due to the adulation of a single individual. Finally, in 2009, a man with a portable welder was caught at the cemetery building a rail fence around the monument. Although he removed his metal work, he left behind a number of large river cobbles that had been brought in. One only knows what he had planned for them. The monument was removed in September 2012.
Once the Mattie Earp shrine was removed, the Tonto National Forest was falsely accused of removing her grave marker and all traces of her grave. Fortunately we were able to partner with the True West Preservation Society and the Pioneer Cemetery Association, Inc. to fence and provide signage at the Pinal Cemetery. Vince Murray of Arizona Historical Research coordinated the efforts with the concerned parties and purchased the necessary materials for the project. Vince and I staked a line for the proposed fence in May 2010, and after overcoming glitches with the funding and permitting, the fence line was built in August 2012. Many hands contributed to the successful conclusion of this project including personnel from the Globe Ranger District, Tonto National Forest and a cowboy crew employed by the local Range permitees. Construction of the formal entry, placement of the interpretative sign and the memorial to the memory of Mattie Earp were completed in December of that year. Formal dedication of the Pinal Cemetery took place on February 13, 2013.
If You Go:
- First and foremost – be careful and respectful! Only take pictures and only leave footprints.
- For more information: Call the Tonto National Forest Supervisors Office, (602) 225-5200 (Steve notes that much of the information about the cemetery on unofficial websites should be taken with a grain of salt.)
- How to get there: The Pinal Cemetery is located on lands administered by the Tonto National Forest, north of U.S. 60 between the Boyce-Thompson Arboretum and the Superior municipal airstrip. From U.S. 60, and nearly opposite the road that accesses the airstrip and the municipal water treatment plant on your right (south), turn left (north) onto an unmarked road (FR229). You should be able to see a perlite mill site from the turnoff (watch out for truck traffic and front end loaders). The road skirts this mill site on the right (east) and winds around to a fork in the road. At the fork, stay to the left and head in a westerly direction (if you pass an SRP substation you are on the wrong road). You are now on Forest Road 8.Proceed about half mile on FR 8, climbing the ridge until you come to the first of two dirt roads on your left (south), either of which you can take to access. By bearing to the right, the main, well-traveled yet unimproved road will take you down (southerly) to the cemetery. Several less traveled roads spur off of this road so maintain the southerly direction toward U.S. 60. Proceed down this road approximately a half mile on the mesa toward a power line. From the power line you can see the formal entrance to the Pinal Cemetery directly in front of you.There aren’t any signs directing visitors to the cemetery. You will need a high-clearance vehicle to reach it. Don’t try to access the area if the roads are wet.
About the Arizona Historic Preservation Conference
The 11th Annual Arizona Historic Preservation Conference will take place in Mesa, June 12-14, 2013, emphasizing the theme “Making Preservation Relevant: The Past in Future Tense.” This annual conference, taking place at the Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa, will draw hundreds from around the country and abroad to explore various aspects of historic preservation including archaeology, architecture, city planning, rural economic development, sustainability, sense of place, cultural resource management, commercial and residential structure preservation and rehabilitation, archival research, historic photography, cultural tourism, project management, funding sources and legislation updates. For more information, visit Arizona Historic Preservation Conference.