By Erika Flores and Patricia Sanders
It’s at once grand and forlorn: the sprawling cemetery bounded by Main Street, Golden Hill, 4th Avenue and N. Arbor Ave in Central Heights.
It’s a cemetery no one claims – and yet so many are buried here, from the infamous to the upstanding and the affluent to the indigent.
In the earliest days of its existence, Pinal Cemetery was owned and managed by a small local mortuary, but the county took it over sometime in 1918, when they discovered they needed more room to bury victims of the Spanish Flu flu,(1918). To what degree the county took responsibility for the cemetery and for how long is unclear.
What is clear is that the county subsequently abandoned their position in the Cemetery cemetery decades ago. The property is no longer listed on tax rolls, so taxpayer money can’t be used to cut down the weeds, water trees and repair fences. And, there have never been any maintenance funds set aside – as is mandated by state law when a cemetery is owned by a mortuary – because no mortuary owns it, and. the The law does not apply to fraternal/beneficial organizations.
Mike Pastor, a former Gila County supervisor, says the state of affairs at the Pinal Cemetery was a hot topic of concern for local citizens when he took office in 2009. But after looking into it, he says he discovered that for the most part, his hands were tied.
He said he and other supervisors have used discretionary contingency funds to bring in prisoners and school kids to cut down the weeds during the summer, but the problem goes well beyond that.
Although many families have buried generations of their family members here and still live in the area, there are so many other connections that have been lost to the winds of time. In many cases, there is no one to care for the graves – nor to contact about paying for a collective effort to repair and/or maintain the cemetery … so it’s left to volunteers like the Elks Lodge and Boy Scouts to do what they can.
As Shaya Rodriguez, a past Exalted Ruler of the Globe Elks Lodge, says, “Most of the people buried here no longer have any next of kin in the area. The dead have no voice. That is why some of us at the Lodge have decided to advocate for them. There is no one to speak for them, to care for their graves, or to remember who they are.”
A few times a year, Lodge members, along with the local Boy Scout Troop 101, meet at the cemetery for a clean-up. They do what they can with the manpower they have, cleaning not only their section, but neighboring graves as well. But even the hardiest of best intentions and dedicated effort on individual graves cannot begin to touch the decay that has come with stacked decades of neglect.
Yet, strolling among the graves here, even the casual observer gets a sense of the importance of this hallowed ground and those who have a final resting place here.
Most notable for out-of-town visitors are the graves of famous historic figures like Chief Talkalai (1817-1930), who served as Chief chief of Scouts scouts for three U.S. Army generals, and Pearl Hart (1876-1955), the outlaw famous for her robbery of the Globe to Florence stagecoach.
But more than the names like these that history records are the names which that are integral to heart of this community; both its past and its current population.
Men like John Davis are buried here. Davis , who at one time owned most of the land that now constitutes Miami and Central Heights and, he is the one who introduced Cleve Van Dyke, mining entrepreneur and town developer, to Miami, is buried here.
As is Van Dyke himself, who was living in Long Beach, California, when he died in 1945. but He had asked to be buried in Pinal Cemetery.
And lLike many in this cemetery who came here before the turn of the century and made their mark, Louis William Bohme, arrived in Globe in1889, where he began by running a freight line to haul ore and supplies from the Black Warrior Mine. He also got into ranching, which he passed on to his sons, William and Fay Bohme. A name closely allied with Gila County ranching. His obituary in the Arizona Republic said Mr. Bohme was one of the notably few early cattlemen to have successfully combined ranching with mining. Today there are seven gravestones with the Bohme family name in the Pinal Cemetery.
Other stories of sites among those buried here are less glorious.
Legend tells stories of bar brawls gone bad that ended at the Pinal Cemetery without so much as a headstone left as evidence., and i In some cases several single graves were used to contain more than one individual.
“Stacked graves were a common practice at this cemetery for some time,” local historian LeeAnn Powers explains. And families, she says, have sometimes been surprised to find that their plot they thought was vacant has had been occupied for some time.
Back in 1920, a Mr. Hoar of the Elks wrote a lengthy op-ed in the Arizona Silver Belt about the state of affairs of at this cemetery, which even back then had begun agitating attracting the attention of people who called for more action.
Of it, Hoar points pointed out that neither the Board of Supervisors nor any city or county had the authority to spend any of the public tax money they were entrusted with, leaving the duty of care to “nobody” to look after the cemetery.
And nobody it has remained.