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Tincup: the cemetery of four knolls

Article by Eleanor P. Harrington

Local History – October 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

IT’S THE CEMETERY of four knolls. Four distinct knolls, one each for the Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic religions, and a fourth knoll, Boot Hill, for nondenominational burials and violent deaths. It is the Tin Cup, Colorado, Cemetery, and well over a thousand people visit it each year from early June through late fall.

Tin Cup lies three miles due west of the continental divide in a high mountain valley called Taylor Park. As legend has it, the town’s name was born in 1859, when Ben Gray dipped his tin cup into a stream and caught a drink of water — full of gravel tinged with gold. One of Gray’s prospecting partners on that early-day foray was Jim Taylor, whose name lives on.

Tin Cup’s name, however, had a brief respite. By 1879, the town was unofficially known as Tin Cup Camp, but it was incorporated as Virginia City in 1880. Then the U.S. Post Office protested that designation — since there was too much confusion with the mails going to Virginia City, Nevada, Virginia City, Montana and Virginia City, Colorado. After two years of bitter quarreling and indecision, a meeting was called in 1882, and the town was reincorporated under the name “Tin Cup.”

By then, however, a lonely cluster of hills south of town had already been converted into burial knolls, and the cemetery was well established.

Why four knolls? One can only speculate, but in the large eastern cities, the Catholics, the Jews, and the Protestants each had their own cemeteries. In the small community of Tin Cup, the separation of denominations by knolls may have stemmed from this concept.

But that accounts for only three religions, and there is a fourth knoll. The fourth knoll, Boot Hill, was the answer for those who died professing no religion, and those who died violently.

Men wandered into Tin Cup seeking work but giving little information about themselves other than their names. Sometimes they died in Tin Cup. Town marshals were killed. Other killings took place over card games, the sale of a horse, wages, or a love triangle. A dance hall girl, “Pass Out,” is buried on Boot Hill.

Today, however, Boot Hill has become a desirable location for memorials and burials because of its gently sloping banks and panoramic views.

T.L. Stormes of New York died on April 30, 1879, in Tin Cup Camp and has the distinction of being the first person buried in the Tin Cup Cemetery. At that time, the gold rush had just started with the discovery of the mother lode on Gold Hill. It was a violent era with short tempers, free flowing whiskey, and ready guns.

Seven months after the death of Stormes, Frank Emerson shot and killed Bud Christopher over a horse trade that curdled. Christopher is buried on Boot Hill, which indicates that the town fathers designated the four knolls, as we know them today, in 1879.

But when five-year-old Maudie Roof died one year after Christopher, her parents placed her remains on the Protestant Knoll.

The Protestant Knoll

The tree-covered Protestant Knoll is the largest, flattest and northernmost knoll in Tin Cup Cemetery, with approximately 39 pioneer burials, and fourteen additional memorials for former Tin Cup summer residents.

Shortly after the Masonic Lodge was established in Tin Cup in 1882, one of its founders, George White, died. A committee was quickly appointed to select an area for the burial of Masons and their families. On January 3, 1883, White was buried in the southeast corner of the Protestant Knoll. Masonic burials continued in that section until the Tin Cup Masonic Lodge became inactive in 1895.

Oscar Wolfe

Oscar Wolfe’s grave had no marker as of 1995, but it had an ironic origin. Wolfe volunteered to dig a grave for Billy Pryor, a young man who was accidentally killed while unloading his rifle from a wagon in the summer of 1915.

Marie Korn packed lunches for her two grandsons, eight-year-old Johnny and six-year-old Danny Harrington, and told them, “Now you boys help Oscar prepare the grave for our friend Billy.”

The boys agreed, and with lunch sacks bouncing, they ran up the hill to the grave site on the Protestant Knoll. As Oscar dug the grave deeper and tossed up rocks, the boys cleared them away from the edge of the hole. By late afternoon the grave was ready.

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, Missouri, word reached the Pryor family of the death of their son Billy, and they sent a wire to Tin Cup via St. Elmo to ship the body home. The grave remained empty awaiting the next death. In April, 1916, Oscar Wolfe was found dead in his cabin. Yes, Oscar Wolfe had dug his own grave!

George Duncan

George Duncan is buried on the Protestant Knoll under a marker placed by his son, Dr. Ray Duncan, in the 1950s. George died and was buried in 1907, leaving Mrs. Duncan with five children, and a family of three more, including her brother, an invalid, and his two children. Duncan Flats, near Cumberland Pass, was named for George Duncan.

Kate Fisher

Kate Fisher is buried where the bearberries grow, in the sixth grave south (or left) of George Duncan’s grave on the Protestant Knoll. Better known as “Aunt Kate,” she came to Tin Cup in about 1879 and successfully ran a rooming house and restaurant. There a bed cost $1, and meals were fifty cents — hyperexpensive in times when most miners earned barely $3 a day.

Geraniums bloomed red all winter at Kate’s windows and were a welcome site to miners who spent their days underground digging for gold. Tin Cup’s children played in Kate’s backyard nearly every summer morning because they knew Aunt Kate would give them a baked treat.

And “society” ladies in fur or lace bonnets (depending on the weather), presented calling cards when they visited Kate.

Aunt Kate was dearly loved and respected by all who knew her. Upon her death at 70 years of age, Kate Fisher, a black woman and former slave, was buried in the Tin Cup Cemetery near the people who knew and loved her.

Lowry Englebright

Lowry Englebright was a shy and very private person. However, through his years in Tin Cup and Taylor Park, he established a host of friends, many of whom he outlived. Englebright came to Tin Cup in 1893 and spent the winters of ’93, ’94 and ’95 in Sol Bloom’s tiny one-room log cabin, built in 1877. Lowry’s summers were spent prospecting or working in the various mines of the Tin Cup Mining District.

When I moved to Tin Cup in 1951, the one door and one window in Bloom’s cabin were gone, and cattle had used the cabin to bed down. Just inside the door to the left was a heavy cardboard plaque on which Lowry had written that, during the winter of 1895, he registered a temperature of -52 degrees.

Lowry Englebright died in 1965, just four months short of his 100th birthday. A marble marker, donated by friends, marks his grave, just to the left of George Duncan’s grave on the Protestant Knoll.

Maudie Roof

Something is bothering little Maudie Roof who died and was buried on the Protestant Knoll in 1880. Dorothy Brooks and her parents have been spooked on three different occasions while at Maudie’s grave. If you should be alone on the southeast corner of the Protestant Knoll and “feel a presence,” or hear unusual noises near you, don’t be alarmed; it’s just little five-year-old Maudie letting you know she is lonesome and wants to play.

The Jewish Knoll

Childhood diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough, smallpox, etc. claimed the lives of many children in the early Tin Cup days, but perhaps the saddest story is told on the Jewish Knoll.

There are only six graves on that treeless knoll and they consist of the four children of Isaac and Leah Harris and two children of Mr. and Mrs. Klauber.

The first Harris son died on November 10, 1882 at one month of age.

The next son was born on September 23, 1883 and died on October 4, 1883 when he was twelve days old.

A year later, twin sons were born to Isaac and Leah on October 5, 1884. They died on November 23, 1884 at seven weeks of age.

The Klaubers lost two sons.

Sidney Klauber was five years and one month old at the time of his death on October 1, 1886.

His brother J.J. was two years old when he died in 1888.

The Catholic Knoll

The Catholic Knoll has eight burial sites and one lone tree stump. Over the years, the stump has repeatedly been ravaged by lightning. At the base of this stump is the grave of Robert Harrington, twin of John. Robert died at birth on May 17, 1907.

In 1951, there were two well-built wooden fences surrounding graves on the Catholic Knoll; only one stands today. In the early ’50s I could read, “In Loving Memory of Our Son” on the wooden marker inside that fence, but even in the ’50s the name and the dates were no longer legible.

Boot Hill

Tree-covered Boot Hill lies east of the Catholic Knoll. There are approximately forty pioneer graves on the hill, and the site also observed two burials in 1995, and two memorials to former Tin Cup summer residents.

James Sherman Cranor was laid to rest on the south slope of Boot Hill on September 25, 1995. Sherm (to all who knew him) started The Taylor Park Trading Post in 1944 and developed it into a thriving complex. His granddaughter, Anita Cranor, was killed in an auto accident a month after Sherm’s funeral, and was laid to rest next to her grandfather on November 1, 1995.

In the far southeast corner of Boot Hill is a grave surrounded by a deteriorating fence. Legend has it that the missing wooden marker once read: “Here Lies/Black Jack Cameron/He Held Five Aces.”

Harry Rivers

Harry Rivers, one of Taylor Park’s most notorious characters, is buried on Boot Hill. Rivers was town marshal at the time of his death on March 7, 1882. He hailed from the Black Hills of South Dakota, and was eagerly greeted by the rough Black Hills outlaws already in control of Virginia City during those boisterous days.

Rivers was aggressive, wielded his gun freely, and gladly did “favors” for his friends. To make matters worse, he drank while patrolling the town.

Charles Koertenius LaTourette and his wife arrived in Virginia City in 1879, and Charley opened the Bullion Exchange Saloon. Established saloon keepers resented LaTourette’s intrusion, and therefore he was in constant trouble with the Black Hills’ law.

Matters came to a head one night, according to a letter from LaTourette’s great-niece, the late Susan Gollagher Toner:

“One evening when Charley was alone in his saloon, Mr. Rivers, the town marshal, came in and started berating my uncle and calling him vile names. Charley saw at once that Rivers was drunk, and having no quarrel with the chap, he made Rivers leave and Charley decided to go home until Rivers sobered up. However, Rivers followed him and started shooting wildly. As Charley neared his home, a block away, it suddenly occurred to him that when his wife heard the gate squeak, she would unlock the house door and open it as she always did when her husband came home. He also knew this would make her a perfect target for Rivers’ bullets. At that instant, he drew his gun, whirled around, fired and Rivers dropped dead…”

“A kangaroo court was held in Tin Cup and Charley was exonerated…”

In those days, there were no funeral homes, and no metal caskets. All night wakes to protect the body were held at the home of the deceased where the body was laid out in the parlor, or in the Tin Cup Town Hall. Wooden coffins and grave markers were made in a leanto attached to the back wall of the Bank of Tin Cup. When the deceased left no family nearby, the town furnished the coffin and the wooden grave marker.

Down through the years, Frank Korn, Lowry Englebright and John Curtis, all miners and long-time residents, repainted the information on the grave markers in black. The result created an embossed effect when the wood around the letters and dates weathered away. But after Curtis died in the late 1940s no one continued the practice of repainting and repairing markers.

The Tin Cup Cemetery fell into disrepair.

Fortunately, however, Vivian Osborne and her niece, Becky Williamson, once walked along with Curtis, recording his memories and noting the location of the graves.

In the early 50s, Lela McQueary visited Tin Cup and copied information from the worn wooden markers which she later passed on to the Colorado Genealogical Society.

And when I was working on my books, people too numerous to mention shared newspaper clippings, pictures, obituaries, and their recollections of schools, dances, their families, their friends, their everyday lives, two devastating fires, and a host of colorful characters. The personal stories that I’ve included here are just a sampling of the many tales that people have shared with me for my books.

Today, many of the Tin Cup cemetery markers are lost. But thanks to those people who cared about the cemetery in years past, much of the information has been saved.

In 1988, I met with June Shaputis, a local cemetery historian and author of Where The Bodies Are. June and I combined our lists of known burials in Tin Cup. We came up with approximately 90 burials on the Tin Cup Cemetery Knolls.

By piecing together the information available from notes, records, intact markers, and the personal memories of long-time Tin Cup residents, concerned citizens have identified and located most of those ninety grave sites. Now, the residents of Tin Cup and Taylor Park are working hard to resurrect their burial grounds.

In 1988, at the urging of Frank White, and with the help of his mighty Jeep, several Tin Cup residents gathered with chain saws and pure person power to clean up the Protestant Knoll. With his Jeep, Frank dragged huge dead pines over small hills and through streams while other men cut them up for easier handling. Shrubbery and branches were carted to far edges of the knoll. It was hard work, but the results were impressive.

Unfortunately, Frank White didn’t live to see the many improvements in the Tin Cup Cemetery. He was killed in an auto accident October 21, 1991, and his remains now rest on the Protestant Knoll.

But Frank’s initiative inspired further efforts.

As an engineering class project, Gene Dodds, a Tin Cup resident, built a substantial bridge, making it easier to cross from the Catholic Knoll to the Protestant Knoll. In 1992, Twila, Danny and Lance Hall cleaned up Boot Hill, marking pathways with tree limbs and graves with rocks.

To maintain order, a cemetery committee was formed in 1994. A year later, Terri Weber of North Star Surveying, Inc. surveyed the Protestant Knoll free of charge, and members of the cemetery committee immediately marked off blocks, plots and lots on that knoll.

The U.S. Forest Service helped by erecting pole fences around each knoll — to keep the cattle out. The Gunnison County Roads and Bridges Department helped by improving the road into the cemetery.

In the future, the community plans to repair deteriorating fences, and replace missing markers. Already some new wooden markers are in place, and although there is much work to be done — it will be done.

Eleanor Perry Harrington is the author of I Remember Tin Cup, and Taylor Park, Colorado’s Shangri-la. She divides her time between there and Buena Vista. For more about her, see the next page.