Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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DOME CEMETERY

AND GILA CITY - DOME

 

Yuma County, Arizona

 

By Kathy and Ed Block

APCRP Historians

To View the Roster of names interred in the Dome Cemetery

                                                                                                                       

Sometimes discoveries of old cemeteries are accidental. I (Kathy) had been scrolling thru TerraServer maps of the Gila Mountains north of Yuma looking for possible gold prospecting areas.

 

 

Suddenly at the site of Dome, the word "cemetery" leaped out, calling for further research. The Internet yielded nothing, nor did various reference books on mining placer areas in Arizona. Ed and I were drawn to the area not only to explore, but find that cemetery!

 

During our trek at the end of January, 2009, Dome and Dome Cemetery proved to be very difficult to locate. We drove east along the south side of the Wellton-Mohawk canal on the track of the old Butterfield Stage Overland Mail Route, from Highway 95.  Turn east just south of mile marker post #38 with a gravel pit to your left (north), a row of mailboxes and the railroad to your right (south) and "Martha's" on west side of Hwy. 95, slightly to the south.

 

 

Drive east on the slow and rough dirt road that meanders along with the canal on your left and the railroad on your right, over steep hills, sometimes muddy areas, branching routes, for about 5 miles to the site of Dome. We were able to locate the ruins using a photo from a ghost town web site and DeLorme maps supplied by Neal Du Shane. These maps proved invaluable later for finding our way back to Highway 95 from the east end of the road!

 

En route to Dome we looked for famous Monitor Gulch and the possible Gila City site where the gold rush in this area began. An enclave of old trailers, rusting cars, barking dogs, and junkyard appearance seemed to be in the correct area, but the general scene discouraged further investigation.

 

About one to two miles further east we located the adobe ruins of Dome. There's no visible sign on the site that says "Dome".

 

 

with NO TRESPASSING sign next to them, on the left (north) side of the road. Ed and I walked south across the railroad tracks towards the Gila Mountains.

 

Ed spotted a fenced enclosure by a white post to the south/southeast by a white post. He went there and photographed what is almost certainly the Dome Cemetery. The BLM posted a sign and may have built the enclosing barbed wire fence and turnstile. Only one possible grave site was visible. This may not be a feasible site for restoration work. It is not particularly worth the effort to reach, in our opinion. Just past Dome, continuing east, there is a railroad underpass that gives access to a network of 4x4 roads, including one that goes to the cemetery site. Ed walked the 1/4 mile each way from the ruins.

 

Figure 1864

 

Figure 2 - 1865

 

Figure 3 – 1866

Figure 4 - 1867

 

 

Figure #1864 one possible grave; Figure # 2 - 1865 BLM sign and turnstile; Figure # 3 - 1866, looking inside fence towards the Gila Mountains to the south. Figure # 4 - 1867, road to cemetery, going towards ruins.

 

Figure # 1869

 

Figure # 1869 is a long shot of white post, looking towards mountains, looking at the terrain towards the cemetery.

 

There are various ruins on both sides of the railroad track that are all that remains of historic Dome. Cracked concrete pads, crumbling foundations, and rusting cans in washes, broken glass, bits of metal give clues that people and buildings were once here.

 

Figure 5 – 1858

Figure 6 - 1860

 

From a plateau SW of Dome we spotted a large gulch running north from the Gila Mountains. An old trailer was parked in it near the mouth. We haven't been able to find the name, could it be Monitor Gulch?

 

Figure 7 – 1862

Figure 8 - 1863

 

Continuing east, we eventually found a rickety wooden bridge over the canal. This let us work our way west towards Highway 95 on a series of minimal dirt tracks along the north side of the canal, past the swampy Gila River and marginal truck farms, until we reached pavement and streets shown on the DeLorme map. We recognized one street from a route taken previously to hike in the Muggins Mountains, and then were able to reach Highway 95. We DO NOT recommend reaching Dome from the west going east. It's much easier to locate Dome traveling east from Highway 95. We were pleased we were able to locate Dome and its cemetery. We were pulling a small travel trailer with our Toyota 4x4 on these bad roads, which was an additional travel challenge!

 

BRIEF HISTORY OF GILA CITY AND DOME

 

The history of this area reflects the discovery of rich gold placers in and around Monitor Gulch, which emerges from the Gila Mountains to the south. There are two different stories of their discovery involving a colorful Texan named Colonel Jacob Snively. He led a party of prospectors to this area, which is about 20 miles east of Yuma and the junction of the Gila River with the Colorado River, in 1858. One account claims Henry Birch, a member of the group, discovered a nugget there near the Gila River. The other account says that Colonel Snively was given credit as the leader, and supposedly, "swished the water from the Gila River in his pan and saw gold nuggets glittering in the sun!"

 

A note about Colonel Snively: He was a veteran of the Texas War of Independence and had been Personal Secretary of General Sam Houston. After further adventures, he met a sad end. In 1871 he was shot off his horse during an Apache attack at White Picacho Mountain. Wounded and abandoned by his companions, he was captured and tortured to death. A few days later his old friend Jack Swilling, part of his original party, returned to the site to bury the remains. Seven years later Jack Swilling felt haunted by thoughts of the hasty burial. Jack traveled to White Picacho Mountain to claim the remains for reburial in the backyard of Swilling’s Stone House in Black Canyon City. While in this process, a stage was robbed and Swilling was blamed.  After Jack Swilling died in the Yuma County jail awaiting trial, the actual hold-up men were identified and Swilling's innocence was established too late.

 

A good write-up on an APCRP project to erect a monument at the graves of Jacob Snively and Jack Swilling can be found on: http://www.apcrp.org.

 

Back to Gila City!  Gila City emerged overnight as eager prospectors rushed to the site. These placers were worked for eight years by thousands of miners. They worked the plateaus and canyons using everything from skillets to wash pans. They were panning out $20 to $125 a day in gold dust, and nuggets weighing up to 22 ounces each were deposited at the Wells Fargo office in Los Angeles. Lieutenant Sylvester Mowry, an early adventurer, found about 100 men and several families working the gravels at Gila City and saw more than $20 washed from 8 shovelfuls of dirt - a lot of money in 1859.  Some miners were paid $3 a day plus board to work lower grade deposits.

 

In 1864 J. Ross Browne wrote: "There was everything in Gila City except a church and a jail which were accounted barbarisms by the mass of the population. When the city was built, bar rooms and billiard-saloons opened, monte tables were established and all accommodations for civilized society placed upon a firm basis. The gold placers gave out and the remains were washed away by a flood in 1862. All that remained of the metropolis of Arizona consisted of 3 chimneys and a coyote."

 

The post office was established Dec.24, 1859 and discontinued July 14, 1863, one year after the flood.

 

Another development bringing growth to this area was the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, shown on the map between the present canal and the railroad. This is the route we drove to reach Dome. In October 1858 the route was officially opened in St. Louis, Missouri, to wind 2,800 miles through parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Southern New Mexico, Arizona, present day Yuma, and on into California, ending in San Francisco. John Butterfield and associates were awarded the mail contract in 1857 as a link between the east and the west. Some of the stagecoaches were pulled by mules instead of horses here.

 

Historic stops in Arizona starting at Yuma, going east to Apache Pass (Fort Bowie) are listed near Gila City. (The old Overland route doesn't always follow modern roads.) Distances between stops going east were: Yuma (start); Desconso Station 14 miles east; Gila City, 8 miles east; Rattlesnake Station, 7 miles east; Mission Camp, 3 miles east, ending at Apache Pass (Fort Bowie) with 23 more stops in- between, including Tucson. The total distance from Yuma to Apache Pass was roughly an amazing 426 miles.

 

A fascinating account by E. Conklin, written in 1877, called Picturesque Arizona: Being the results of travels and observations in Arizona during the fall and winter of 1877."

 

One chapter tells about "Gila City: A Frontier Hotel." (Remember the city was flooded out in 1862, some 15 years earlier.) The writer, who was a member of an ambulance corps and commissary depot traveling east from Yuma towards the Santa Rita Mountains, described what remained of Gila City in eloquent prose: "The remnants of an ambition often revived, and as often overthrown, a living skeleton of a miner's hope and fancy, and the scene evidently, in days gone by, of all the vicissitudes of a miner's and prospector's life on the borders of our country. In 1861 the population of this city numbered about twelve hundred persons. Today it is composed of a stable for the stage company's vehicles and animals, a corral for sheep or stock, a square box-like building built of mud, one story high, and called the "Gila Hotel" and a kennel for the big ferocious dog who kept suspicious-looking stragglers and Indians away. The census of this city, taken while there was just - let me see-the hotel keeper and his son - two; a man to attend to the stage horses-one; and Indian Squaw, boy and papoose-three; three dogs-three; making in all 9 living beings."

 

Then, later, "Nothing exciting disturbed the quiet of the place at the time of our visit. Only one man had been shot the day before one arrived, and the perpetrator was then off in the mountains, looking for more gold heaps."

 

Accomodations were very primitive. It cost the travelers $3 each for supper, lodging and breakfasts. "This is the first intimation I have made of the costs of traveling in Arizona . . . don't go to Arizona without first reckoning up the costs." The food was spread on the ground and travelers sat and slept on the ground on hay they gathered from the corral. "Each grabbed an armful of hay and proceeded back to the scene of dirty frying pans, mutilated biscuit and broken cups of custard. We spread our beds of straw and retired." They had a "goodly supply of blankets."

 

The remains of Gila City died out in the early 1870s, but the area came back to life again as a rail siding named Dome, a mile or two east of Gila City. The Dome post office was established in 1892, and the town's residents enjoyed mail service under the city names of Dome, Gila, and Monitor during the periods that the town had mail service.

 

Dome became a stop on the Butterfield Stage line, replacing Gila City and supposedly drew shipping business away from Castle Dome Landing, so much so that the establishment of the Dome RR siding was probably what caused the town of Castle Dome Landing to be abandoned. Dome slowly died the "slow death of other boom towns" as the placer gold deposits were depleted.  The post office closed in 1904.

 

Today, all that remains of Dome is a group of trailers, machines, trash, buildings, behind the ruins of the adobe building, on the north side of the road. Looking south toward the Gila Mountains you see a few mining claim stakes, various 4x4 tracks going to the mountains up various washes and gulches, and the object of our quest, the forlorn little cemetery, with an unknown number of burials, perched on a slight hill amid grey gravel with a few scraggly plants to relieve the starkness of the terrain.

 

 

Ed raised a question. What happened to what would logically have been a cemetery to serve Gila City and its large population of miners and their families? Did it vanish in the flood that destroyed the city? Were graves moved somewhere else? And why is only one burial apparent at the cemetery at Dome? No answers have been suggested in my research on Gila City and Dome.

 

GPS Coordinate: N32* 45’ 18.48", W114* 21' 43.54"

Map by: Neal Du Shane

To View the Roster of names interred in the Dome Cemetery

 

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Internet Presentation

Version 050710

 

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