TUCSON AND HER CEMETERIES, PART 1
Unless Halloween or the parallel Día de los Muertos [a popular Hispanic holiday] is approaching—or death occurs in one’s inner circle—contemplation of cemeteries is seldom foremost in our thoughts. Media reports address the topic with varying degrees of seriousness and humor. But regardless of tone, one topic persistently emerges in Tucson’s coverage: The relationship between the expansion of the city and the shrinkage of available burial grounds.
The growth of any city necessitates periodic review of accommodations for the dearly departed. In those few instances when a city is strategically designed and built, its founders may have the chance to plan the location of its cemeteries. Unfortunately, such exacting opportunities seldom present themselves and initial burials are quick and casual, often without formal religious ceremonies. This was especially true in Arizona, where the climate exacerbated the rapid decomposition of bodies.
Having been under the sovereignty of several nations, the history of Tucson, Arizona, is complex. Like most cities, the community has grown from villages of indigenous peoples who settled along the banks of area rivers, streams, and water holes. Like the changing course of a river through time, there have been shifts in the names and locations of many of its components: Multiple transliterations and explanations for the origins of the name “Tucson” have been offered; area military encampments have changed title and locale; and, with urban growth, cemeteries have come and gone with varying degrees of official status and location.
S-CUK SON TO CHUK SON TO TUCSON: The Early Years
From ancient Native Americans, to those of us who have sojourned here more recently, people have lived in the rich Santa Cruz River Valley(1) for over 10,000 years. Burial sites in the Sonoran high desert indicate the Huhugam(2) [probable ancestors of the Akimel O`odham andTohono O’odham tribes] resided in the area from about 300 to 1500 Common Era.
From the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadors and missionaries journeyed throughout the Pimería Alta region of Sonora, Mexico, and Southern Arizona. Their positive reports of the fertile river valley and the productive O`odham farmers who employed extensive irrigation ditches for cultivating maize, cotton, beans and other staples, encouraged further exploration and colonization by the Viceroyalty of New Spain. In 1692, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, visited the area to map the territory and determine sites for establishing missions. Shortly, a small one was established at Bac south of Tucson(3) on a settlement of the Sobaipuri O'odham people. Eventually, this would become the famous la Misíón de San Xavier del Bac, named for the co-founder of the Roman Catholic Jesuit Order [the Society of Jesus].
MISIÓN DE SAN AGUSTĺN DEL TUCSÓN (1692-1828)
In his drawings and maps of 1695, Father Kino noted two rancherías de visita (“daughter” or satellite missions) north of Bac along the Santa Cruz River. San Agustín de Oyaur(4) was on the east side of the river. And, to the west of the river and a bit south, he refers to the second as San Cosmé y Damián del Tucsón, consisting of four villages of the O’odham.
The foundation of this second satellite mission was laid near the Sobaipuri village of Chuk Shon(5). Translated as “at the foot of the black mountain,” the village is believed to be the origin for the naming of the city of Tucson. Located below Sentinel Peak [now “A” Mountain], the small mission provided the first European cemetery in the Tucson area.
Following the 1767 expulsion of Jesuit priests(6), Father Francisco Garcés and his fellow Franciscan priests were charged with overseeing the mission at Bac and its northern satellites. Until missionaries were permanently assigned, these communities received the part-time attention of visiting priests. Their work focused on periodically performing church rituals and introducing new crops and livestock to the local farming culture.
In 1768, expansion of the Tucson mission was begun. Through the labor of the O`odham, a mission residence with lookout towers was completed in 1771, with a chapel being added the following year. By 1793 they had completed construction of an adobe brick church and two cemeteries for the mission they renamed la Misión de San Agustín de Tucsón. The mission was abandoned in 1828. A sojourner en route to California’s gold fields in 1849 recorded seeing only the remains of an old mission and orchard. In the 1950s, the land was turned into a city garbage dump. Today there is a walled mission garden that is open to the public.
(1) The Spanish initially named the river, el Rio de Santa Maria.
(2) A new transliteration of Hohokam.
(3) This mission remained active until it was replaced by the famous Misión del San Xavier del Bac which was begun in 1756.
(4) Alternatively spelled “Oiaut” and “Oyaut,” the location of this early satellite mission is only described as being a few miles north of that of la Misión San Cosmé y Damián de Tucsón. It may have been wholly abandoned during the numerous attacks of the Apache.
(5) In addition to S-cuk Son, oral traditions and early historical records have noted numerous possible spellings for the original the name of Tucson, including: Chuk son, Chukson, or Chukeson; Stjukshon, Shook-Shon; Cuk Son; Slyuk-Son; Styuk-Zone; Toixon; Tucsiom, Tugson; Teuson; Tupson; and the diminutive Tucsonito. By 1847, the town had become generally recognized as Tucson.
(6) In June of 1767, King Charles III of Spain (followed by most of Europe's other royal houses) ordered the expulsion of all Jesuits from his kingdom (including Spain's colonies and the confiscation of their land holdings. Subsequently, Jesuit monks and priests were arrested throughout the world and shipped to Rome. Their lands were sold or given to missionaries of the Franciscan Order.
TUCSON AND HER CEMETERIES, PART 2: Continuing Growth
Court Street Cemetery
In 1873, the commander of the U.S. Army post decided to separate his troops from the temptations of urban Tucson. Attracted by the quality and quantity of grazing land and river water, Lt. Col. Eugene Asa Carr moved his young soldiers northeast of the city of Tucson. At its peak, Ft. Lowell served as the home base for as many as 200 men stationed in Southern Arizona. At the end of May 1875, further interment in the National Cemetery was prohibited when the village of Tucson’s Committee on Cemeteries established a new Court Street Cemetery. This cemetery was bounded by Main and Stone on the west and east, and Speedway and Second Street on the north and south. When the National Cemetery shut down, recognizable graves of military personnel were moved to a graveyard in the southwest section of the Fort. Newspapers then issued calls for identification of persons in graves without documentation.
Initially the “new” cemetery equally accommodated Roman Catholics and other Christian denominations. Later, Civil War veterans and fraternal organizations such as the Tucson Volunteer Fire Department, Grand Army of the Republic, Knights of Pythias, and B’nai B’rith were given plots. In 1880, railroad tracks sliced through the graveyard and commercial buildings like that housing the Star and Citizen newspapers, which further encroached on the old burial plots. This “New” cemetery continued as the sole resting place of the dead within the city limits until 1907, when the private Holy Hope and Evergreen Cemeteries opened.
Deactivation of Ft. Lowell
Ft. Lowell was deactivated in 1891. During the following year, 80 of 91 graves were disinterred and the remains were sent to the San Francisco National Cemetery for reburial. What happened to the rest—who may have been civilian muleskinners of the Quartermaster Corps—is still unknown. In the first decade after the Army's departure, El Fuerte, a small agricultural settlement of Mexican Americans was established among the Fort’s abandoned buildings. Today a townhouse complex covers the former graveyard. Rising Real Estate Values In the early 20th Century, the value of real estate in Tucson increased significantly. In July 1907, Herbert B. Tenney, J. Knox Corbett, John M. Ormsby and Frank L. Culin—all officers of the newly formed Tucson Cemetery Association—announced the purchase of 240 acres of farmland north of the city, on Oracle Road. This land would become Evergreen Cemetery, offering permanent records of each lot, with the 80 acres fronting Oracle Road boasting heretofore unheard of "perpetual care," with "a lawn maintained equal to any private lawn in the city." Just to the north was the new 120-acre Holy Hope Cemetery, owned and operated by the Tucson Roman Catholic Diocese.
The Growth of Private Cemeteries
Despite innovations in marketing and comprehensive service, and the City Council’s prohibition of further burials in the Court Street Cemetery in 1908, there was no rush to remove bodies—or to sign up for graves in the new cemeteries. For years, local undertaker John Reilly oversaw exhumations from the old Court Street cemetery. His rule for relocation was to assume the dead to have been Roman Catholic if they appeared Spanish; if not, re-interment was in the ecumenical and multi-cultural Evergreen, which accepted the bodies of Chinese and Jewish persons, as well as the non-religious. The land of the “old” Court Street Cemetery was not deemed abandoned until March 1916, when advertised bids on 88 lots netted the government $10,000.
With private cemeteries then firmly established, civic leaders could retire the flourishing township from the funereal business. With increasing wealth among the citizenry, funeral parlors rather than the front parlors of next of kin became the venue for last rites honoring Tucson’s dead. Desecration of Burial Sites Unbridled civic expansion, garbage removal, and covert plundering once accounted for the majority of everyday desecration of Tucson’s burial sites. Today, road excavation, building construction, and laying utility lines routinely unearth the remains of deceased residents and passersby, especially beneath the city’s central buildings and connecting streets, old garbage dumps, gardens, and parks.
Disturbing old burials is limited, and removal of bodies is generally limited to those specifically disturbed by a project. Archeologists carefully extract bones and other artifacts, and after completing their studies, coordinate with organizations like Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson [direct descendants of original Presidio soldiers], the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, representatives of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and other authorities to safeguard appropriate reburial of unearthed remains. Latter day discoveries during roadwork and multiple renovations and reconstruction of the Pima County Courthouse have helped to pinpoint the probable site of the old Presidio chapel and cemeteries which may help predict other potential archeological sites.
Selecting a Final Resting Place Modern society carefully records matters of birth and death and many factors must be considered in selecting one’s final resting place. While Pima County’s Department of Vital Statistics says there are no laws governing or prohibiting burial of neither human nor pet on private property, key legal questions revolve around land-use zoning and property deed covenants, conditions and restrictions. Even if you do not live in a restrictive development, zoning of property for single-family homes would preclude establishing a family cemetery. Beyond this, there remains the issue of appropriate interment that will not interfere with water, gas, electric, or television cable lines. Additionally, death certificates require specification of final disposition of the deceased’s remains. Any burial on land in Arizona must be recorded on property deeds. From small consumer advocate groups like the Tucson Memorial Society, to the nation’s larger operators of cemeteries and memorial homes, one can find assistance in circumspect funeral planning, or simply arranging to purchase a burial plot as a real estate investment.
While the State of Arizona has no laws precluding the burial of human remains or cremains on private property, you should verify city and county rules. Depending on where you are, you could opt for a “bio urn” which is a biodegradable urn into which both ashes and a tree or other plant can be buried on private land. Perhaps the safest and least expensive way to approach honoring deceased loved ones is by tapping into the emerging market of the virtual cemetery where you can locate a “Garden of Remembrance” to honor family, friends, and pets.
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