By Cory Peterman
Along the former trail that leads to the High Commission Mine near Downieville, an iron cross stands alone, marking the final resting place of Henry Dalgas, a native of Denmark who died in Downieville on August 29, 1860. Unfortunately, I have never found any records on Henry Dalgas – how old was he when he passed away? What did he do in Downieville? Did he have any remaining family members? These questions remain unanswered.
However, it is likely Henry Dalgas isn’t the only person who remains buried at this location, as the ridge where his memorial is located was the location of an early Downieville cemetery, known as the “Methodist Cemetery” due to its close proximity to the Methodist Church. Another cemetery existed in and around the grounds of the current Downieville School, but most of the bodies from this gravesite were re-interred at the present-day cemetery.
I found that the Oakland Tribune of January 11, 1953 re-printed the following from the Mountain Messenger: “An iron cross is about the only monument left intact of the early-day cemetery on the hill between Pearl Street and the east-and-west Commercial Street. It is a cast about five feet high, weighing about 200 pounds, and despite the fact that it has faced the elements for 92 years, is not rusty. This was discovered last summer when Father Virgil Gabrielli became active in an attempt to recondition some of the old graves at former cemeteries, and to clean up the present necropolis. With the aid of Joseph J. Quinn, the iron cross, which had toppled over, was righted on the grave on the hill about back of the Elmer Fischer home and put on its concrete base.” This article doesn’t have any information on Henry Dalgas, stating “What part he may have played in early local history is not known, but with such a substantial monument, he must have been of some importance, 11 years after the town was founded.”
However, not everyone was buried in a cemetery when they passed away. The Mountain Messenger of November 14, 1931 reported “Woman Visits Grave of Baby Sister After 50 Years – Recently a woman came quietly to Downieville from one of the bay cities. Her visit was unheralded. She made her way across the bridge, past the county buildings and up to Piety Hill, historic spot where three houses still stand and only one occupied.
The stranger, after looking about hesitatingly in a ruminating mood, sought out a tiny grave in a thick cluster of lilac bushes which seem to guard and shield it from the staring gaze of strangers. All that now marks the little grave is a small slab of marble with a lamb in a reclining position. It probably was the headstone but now lies flat.
The woman had come to visit the grave of her baby sister who died 50 years ago at the age of 4 months.
Mable Harland’s father then owned Piety Hill, which was a select residential section occupied by professional people. He passed away last year, one of Sierra County’s pioneers. Her mother still lives at the ripe age of 74.” Today, only one historic home still stands at Piety Hill in Downieville.
The former Hardy Ranch, which is now part of the Lure Resort near Downieville, is also home to two lost burials. In 1856, two of the Hardy children (12-year-old Sarah and 4-year-old Joel) died after an outbreak of diphtheria and were buried in adjoining graves, with slate slabs marking them. A tree was planted to shade the spot and a fence was built to enclose the burial area. However, a later owner of the ranch cut down the tree, which according to Hardy descendent Belle Alexander, was “an act of vandalism not easily forgiven, as the fence was still there and the headstones.” This gravesite is yet to be rediscovered.
I have also heard from old-times that a young girl is buried near the former Kral residence on Old Toll Bridge Road near Goodyears Bar, but I have no other information on this burial.
At a spot between Camptonville and Mountain House is a site known as Lone Grave. Topographical maps show a cemetery at this site as well. Interestingly enough, the nearest geographical feature to this site is known as Cemetery Hill. However, I do not know any history about Lone Grave and who is buried there.
Lone Grave is in the vicinity of the former location of the Sierra-Nevada House, which was run by Madame Romargi (refer to my earlier series about her). One early pioneer, W.T. Ellis, wrote “the place had a very unsavory reputation; several miners, who had been known to be ‘headed’ for this place, rather well supplied with ‘dust’ or coin, had mysteriously ‘disappeared,’ but probably, having no relatives, nothing was ever done about it.”
I suppose that means there’s many more burial locations around Sierra County that nobody knows about!
I am always open to feedback and suggestions for my history articles. If you have a comment or a subject to propose, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, thanks!