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Taking You Back in History: Memorial Day Part 2

By Karen Davis, Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum/Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society

The oldest burial place in our locale is Big Oak Flat’s Citizens’ Cemetery. Located on Henderson Road it had many wooden markers before fires gradually wiped them out. A marble monument still exists that marks the resting place of Henrietta Johannah Voight, who was only 26 when she died in 1856. A monument for her daughter Josephine Van Offen stands there as well. Some who were buried here were disinterred and relocated to the Divide Cemetery.

The Chinese Cemetery is adjacent to Citizens’ Cemetery though little evidence remains to mark the area. Per tradition the men’s bones were exhumed, reverently cleaned, packaged, and shipped back to their home village to be buried with their ancestors.

The Colored Cemetery was situated immediately West of the old schoolhouse (now Yosemite Bank) in Groveland. When writing his memoirs, Carlo DeFerrari recalled that there was only one body interred in the Colored Cemetery and it was his belief that it was that of Ben Moore, a half-black miner, who was murdered in 1856 by an Indian. Others have referred to the burial there of Jeremiah Moore who was born in this area in 1860 and died here in 1931. He is believed to be the son of Col. William Moore, a black man from North Carolina. His mother may have been a Me-Wuk from the Big Creek Rancheria. Jeremiah was one among three (he and his parents?) originally buried in the Colored Cemetery and then reinterred at the Divide Cemetery in the mid-1970s.

It is known that native Me-Wuk1 Indians were living in a number of small camps “South of the River” in 1849. One camp was located in the immediate area of Big Oak Flat. Within a short time “Pigliku” or “Big Creek Rancheria” became one of their most important permanent sites. Micajah McGehee, who lived in Big Oak Flat from the 1850s through the mid-1870s, wrote an eyewitness account of the tribal ceremony held at the burial of a Native American chief’s child circa 1853. He may have been referring to a child of “Captain Louie”, the principle chief of the Me-Wuk from 1850 to 1893.

There are undoubtedly numerous unknown Native American burial sites in the immediate vicinity. Long ago, Indian remains were discovered along Priest Coulterville Road and an ancient burial ground lies along the South bank of Moccasin Creek about one mile from its confluence with the Tuolumne River. An old Indian cemetery was exposed near Deer Flat Road while excavating the railroad bed nearby. Local lore tells us that several Indians were killed in a fight and buried “across the road from the “Big Oak”.

One might speculate that other burials will be uncovered during future ground-disturbing activities. In the nineteenth century most rural families had family burial sites and finding those as well as individual graves scattered among our hills seems a possibility.

1(also spelled Miwok, Miwuk, Mi-Wuk)

The Oak Grove Cemetery District will be holding a brief Memorial Day Ceremony at the Divide Cemetery on Monday May 29th at 10 a.m.

Taking You Back in History is provided by the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society (STCHS) and the Groveland Gateway Museum. The Museum is open Friday - Sunday 10 am – 2 pm


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