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Nostalgia & History > That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca


Date: 06/12/11 00:58
That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: CimaScrambler

Last time I was in Kelso, I asked the rangers at the depot/museum/park HQ if anyone there knew much about the cemetery beside the tracks about a half-mile west of the grade crossing. They said that question gets asked occasionally, but no one there knows anything. I got the same answer at the Mojave River Valley Museum in Barstow. I've always assumed it was from some sort of accident where a number of people were killed, just because that seems like a strange place to put a cemetery, but that's just a poor guess at best. Another mystery of the desert.

These pictures are from 1982. The wood fence and crosses have been painted and then had the paint peal and blow away at least once since then.

Kit Courter
Torrance, CA
LunarLight Photography



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/12/11 00:59 by CimaScrambler.






Date: 06/12/11 01:23
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: lwilton

Hum. Good quality milled lumber in standard sizes, not too badly weathered. Probably significantly older than the fence around things. All of the crosses appear to be the same basic design, with the cross-boards mortised in to the poles. Not really that badly weathered. I'd place the original construction of the crosses between 1910 and perhaps 1945. The fence is probably from the 1950s or possibly much newer. Since all the crosses seem to be the same design, there seem to be three logical explanations:

1. A bunch of people died in a single incident, sometime between 1900 and 1945 or so;
2. A town existed in the area in the 1800s and this was the cemetery; all of the crosses were for some reason replaced in the first half of the last century;
3. It was set up as part of a tourist attraction some time between 1910 and 1950, and has no significance at all.

Cemeteries are often near churches. Are there any signs of a church in the area?



Date: 06/12/11 04:20
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: CimaScrambler

Your reasoning mirrors my own fairly closely. But regarding there being a church nearby, I've seen no evidence of that. In fact, this is at the bottom end of the yard, and the "town" of Kelso, as it once existed, is a fair distance away up near the depot. I've also considered it odd that just about any other railroad town cemetery I've seen has been located "up the hill above town" (take the one over the nearby mountains at Bagdad, for example), whereas the one in Kelso is literally just feet from the nearest rail of the yard (where that hopper car is seen in the 2nd photo).

I'm attaching another photo and a map with the cemetery general location marked in yellow (it is pretty small on the map).

And here is a link to a prior thread on the topic. http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?1,922710

Kit Courter
Torrance, CA
LunarLight Photography



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/12/11 05:14 by CimaScrambler.






Date: 06/12/11 11:14
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: rattenne

A true puzzlement. You haven't told us if anything is on the crosses. If these were real graves I would think there would at least be some names on the crosses. If not ....



Date: 06/12/11 12:48
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: CimaScrambler

I've looked at the crosses and there is no sign of names either painted on or chiseled into the wood. Of course, that has been my experience with many other desert cemeteries as well. The one at Archer on the Arizona & California has just a couple weathered, undecorated wood crosses. I'm attaching a photo from the cemetery at Bagdad, which shows a similar situation. I've seen carved names in head boards in some ghost town cemeteries (Bodie, for instance).

The cemetery at Kelso is shown on topo maps going back as far as I have been able to find (late 1940s or so). I've looked in history books for any indications of a big train wreck or other industrial accident out that way that might have resulted in a number of graves of the same age. It doesn't look like a "mass grave", but individual graves with head crosses and foot markers. Someone though enough of the folks buried there to install those as well as the fence. The fence is a wood stake affair with the stakes wired together in 4 places. It looks custom made, not something one would buy at a local lumber yard (my opinion).

Kit Courter
Torrance, CA
LunarLight Photography




Date: 06/12/11 16:11
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: RuleG

I don't have any answers to your questions, but those are some fine photos you posted.



Date: 06/12/11 18:25
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: wabash2800

Is there a county history somewhere?



Date: 06/12/11 19:05
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: lwilton

CimaScrambler Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The fence is a wood stake affair with the
> stakes wired together in 4 places. It looks
> custom made, not something one would buy at a
> local lumber yard (my opinion).

No, that is a standard form of fencing that used to be available in rural areas in the 1950s and 60s, and quite possibly still today. It comes in rolls of 50 or 100 feet or so. Ranchers that know how to install wire fencing and barb wire can install this using the same tools.

Looking at the condition of the wood in the fence and the grave markers (as best I can in your photos; I've never been to Kelso) I think the fence is newer that most of the markers by a few years, though it is possible they could be contemporary.

Wikipedia claims that Kelso was a mining boom town in the 1940s with about 2,000 residents, and then shrank back to an RR stop in "about a decade", or probably the 1950s. I don't know how many markers are in the cemetary, but perhaps 20 to 30? Assuming an average population of 2K over 10 years (especially doing mining in relatively unpleasent circumstances) that number of deaths seems not unreasonable.

Another possibility (I suppose) is that these are war dead from WW II. I think it was not too unusual to bury the recovered dead of the Pacific campaign in cemetaries in the pacific islands, and then repatriate the remains after the war. That could possibly explain 20 or so almost identical markers, as the remains would probably have arrived at the same time on the train. If this had happened I would expect UP or the war department would have had records, but the UP records are likely long lost, and others might be hard to find. I would have expected somewhat more permanent names on the markers in this case, but maybe not. If they had to be made locally there might not have been anyone with the tools and desire to carve names.

The "war dead" assumption might also explain the location of the cemetary. Perhaps the coffin train arrived in the 1950s after the mining boom collapsed, and the town was a near ghost town by the arrival. There would be few if any relatives around to take charge of the remains, and probably darn few miners left forwarding addresses; UP might have found itself with a baggage room full of coffins and nobody interested in them, gruesome as that may sound. In that case the railroad might have decided to bury them on its own land, hence the location at the foot of the yard. It could also explain the 1950s fencing material.

Now, if that happens to be true rather than complete fantasy, then there really should be another cemetary someplace, unless people just got buried here and there where they died. I'd expect it to have probably fewer graves, a wider variation in markers, and perhaps be on a small hill outside of town. Or near a church in town, if there was one.



Date: 06/12/11 22:57
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: Digger

There is a website I frequently use in my line of work, it is www.finagrave.com It is supported and populated by volunteers mainly interested in genealogy. It is a helpful tool, that often shows rather obscure cemeteries. Bagdad Cemetery has a page. While searching for Kelso, I found Kramer Cemetery which is also close to the tracks in San Bernardino County. On a side note, I found it interesting that the Kramer Cemetery fence is all railroad ties (see the link below). However, there is no page for the Kelso Cemetery.

I must agree with those that believe it is a false cemetery. After reviewing other photos from a google search, I saw that the rows are laid out without proper spacing for burials. The ground is too level. Some of the headstones are head to head, and as previously stated, they are all made at the same time. That small wood-slat fencing would not be standing after 50+ years in the desert. Most of those crosses wouldn't, either.

I am willing to bet that it is a movie prop, or was used in a photo shoot, music video, or something Hollywood. That is my professional opinion...


Kramer Cemetery: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=8096&CScn=k&CScntry=4&CSst=6&CScnty=218&

Bagdad Cemetery: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GScid=2267496&GRid=28094114&

I guarantee they are not dead soldiers from WWII.

Chris Donhost
Vacaville, CA



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 06/12/11 23:19 by Digger.



Date: 06/13/11 00:35
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: Newman

They are UP railroad MOW workers. Back in the old days, a LOT of the MOW workers for the UP were American Indians. Still are. Indian custom was to bury the body of the deceased where ever they died. Those small gravesites are all along the RR between Yermo and SLC...also some on the SP also...



Date: 06/13/11 06:07
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: rehunn

Whether Newman's answer is right or wrong I think it is or was the prevailing opinion. I remember
eating at the Beanery when the UP still owned it and asking about the crosses and was told that
it was a MOW cemetery for those without extended families or at least someone to claim the
body.



Date: 06/13/11 16:27
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: Newman

Told to me by an OLD OLD OLD head UP engineer when I asked the same question.....they are everywhere...if one takes a moment to look....



Date: 06/14/11 08:21
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: mojaveflyer

I saw this post and sent an inquiry to the San Bernadino historical society. Here's their response:

Many years ago I was in Amboy and saw a perfectly maintained cemetery situated beyond a picturesque church located about 100 yards off the highway. I asked the long-time owner of Amboy, Buster Burris, if he knew anything about it. He said, yes, that he maintained the cemetery, and that it was primarily for individuals on the railroad maintenance crews who died back during the steam era.

Railroad work was labor intensive during the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and very hazardous. There were telegraph stations every six or eight miles, and Buster told me just about every one had a cemetery. Now this was on the Santa Fe line, but I am sure the same held true for the Union Pacific.

Hope this helps. If you want more information you should contact the San Bernardino County Coroner's Office. They may have names of some of those deceased.

Richard Thompson, Librarian
San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society



Date: 06/14/11 21:04
Re: That cemetery beside the rails at Kelso, Ca
Author: CimaScrambler

Thanks for all the replies.

Stop by there if you are in the area. There is a dirt road that runs along the south side of the Salt Cedar windbreak beside the tracks that appears to be off the ROW. The cemetery appears to be on RR property, but I doubt anyone would bother you if you stopped to look at it.

Kit Courter
Torrance, CA
LunarLight Photography



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