Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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Version 013008



By: Neal Du Shane 3/25/08


For the past four years a determined effort has been under way researching, writing, with Microsoft PowerPoint presentations sprinkled in, to various historical groups, on the life and times of Jack and Trinidad Swilling.


My research took me from the Historical Department at SRP, Earl Zarbin, the New Catholic Church in Yuma, the current Yuma Cemetery, Yuma County Records, interviews with members of the Hodges and Swilling families and all points in between.


With most research you can only hope for bits and pieces to work from.


Sorting through rumors and misinformation took an inordinate amount of time. The more research APCRP does, the more obvious that what is written in history is not factual or accurate. It was written with facts they had at the time and there is too many agenda's, political slants and family stories that you have to sort through. Even when an eye witness observes an incident, two eye witness’s accounts can be 180 degrees different.

In the current day Yuma Cemetery, A.K.A. Desert Lawn Memorial Park, in the Catholic section, there are two lots that the Hodges family own, out of 8 graves in the east lot (one with the headstone) there is only five recorded graves and markers according to the cemetery records. There are three adult male graves unmarked or recorded by the cemetery.


It gets a little confusing with the cemetery records as to the exact lot lines. Then when the original cemetery was relocated in 1903 information was lost creating more confusion.

Jack Swillings grave is in the second lot (West) and there are no other graves in this lot. Between the two lots, combined there is room for 20 graves, 10 in each lot. Based on realignment between the two lots there is currently room for 12 in the East lot and 8 in the west lot. According to the limited records at the current Yuma City Cemetery there is room for up to 20 graves between the two lots which confirms our infield findings.

In our initial research into Jack’s finial resting place we interviewed several learned historians. Each and every one of them had not been able to find documentation as to Jack Swilling’s grave. Several theories existed but no conclusion was forth coming.


In November of 2007 Bob Nilles and I made a trip to Yuma and completed extensive research. Most of our field research that day was eliminating the incorrect history, rumors and dead end’s that has accumulated over the past 130 years regarding the final resting place of John William “Jack” Swilling. In this time frame my goal has been to locate and identify the final resting place of Jack Swilling. At least eliminate locations where he was not buried.


Interviews with the local Catholic Church records turned up no information, not even his name. Searching the cemetery records at the current Yuma City Cemetery yielded no information. The Yuma County Courthouse and local historical society all ended on the day of Jack’s death.


After Jack's death at 6:30 PM August 12, 1878 all documentation ceased, to this date no Death Certificate has been found, nor record of where he was initially interred. Speculation was that he was buried in the original Yuma Cemetery. But after that land was sold to the Rail Road plus flooding in the area clouded any known facts.


In 1903 we have researched that those that could afford the relocation of their loved ones, the re-interment had a cost of $10.00 and were exhumed and relocated. There is no information that the Rail Road did any relocation for the families. This may seem like pocket change today but in those days this sum could represent from two to four weeks salary.


No record is available that Jack was one of those that were relocated at the local Catholic Church to the new Yuma Cemetery in 1903, No records at the Yuma County Records or City of Yuma Records. Jack seemed to vanish without a trace.


Putting together all the information we had collected over the past four years, logic started to come forward, it is likely Jack was buried in one of three possible locations. 


Knowing one possible location was on a current Indian Reservation at the former Hodges family ranch; our hope was this wasn't one of the locations as I was sure his grave would be lost forever as we would never gain access to the land.


The second grave site in our search, was the current rail road yard, in that Jack was never exhumed at the original cemetery and his remains were in the Rail Road yards in the Potter’s section somewhere when the rail road bought the land in 1903 and relocation of some of the graves at the families expense. There is no certification available that all the graves were relocated, for that matter if anyone knew where all the graves were in the original Yuma Cemetery.


The third location is the most optimistic in that Jack was in fact interred in the original Yuma Cemetery on 3rd St. Behind the old Catholic Church. In the lots owned by the Hodges family and was exhumed and was re-interred in the present Yuma Cemetery, although no documentation exits to this happening.


Tuesday January 29, 2008, I traveled back to Yuma and retraced the facts that I had accumulated.


I am happy to report that within the research abilities I posses I'm 99.9% certain I've identified the final resting place of John William “Jack” Swilling. To prove conclusively the grave would need to be exhumed by archeologist and DNA tests completed on the remains to be absolutely certain this is Jack's grave. APCRP doesn’t posses the equipment and does not have the finances required to complete this portion of the documentation task. We will corporate with any legitimate group or agency that would like to complete this testing.


The four red ground flags at the bottom of this picture

 identify the grave of Jack Swilling. Photo courtesy: Neal Du Shane


Jack Swilling's grave is in the current Yuma Cemetery in the Catholic Section. It is an unmarked, lone grave in a lot that could house 8 graves but is devoid of other graves except his grave. Extensive research was conducted today and all indications were positive this is his grave.


I probed the complete grave site inch by inch and there is absolutely no type of marker. It's possible there was a wooden cross that has long since decayed or was never moved from the original Yuma Cemetery. Very likely there was never a marker at either location.


The historical events seem to point; that upon the death of Jack Swilling in the Yuma County Jail, at 6:30 PM on Monday August 12, 1878 no one was there his body to claim, the Hodges family, friends of the Swilling’s, took possession of Jack’s remains. Out of respect and friendship to the Swilling family, they placed Jack Swilling in one of their plots in the Hodges family lot in the original Yuma City Cemetery. Documentation has never been found if Jack had a headstone or marker at the old Yuma Cemetery behind the old Catholic Church.


There is written documentation from Jack Jr.’s wife, do to Jack’s declining health he was not in the Yuma County Jail, in fact was released to the Hodges family and being held at the Hodges family home when he died.


Regardless of which is accurate, it points to a strong family friendship between the Hodges and Swilling families and they would have placed Jack in one of their family plots.


In 1903 when the graves were relocated to the new Yuma Cemetery, Jack’s remains were exhumed and re-interred in the new Yuma Cemetery - Hodges family lots (there are two, side by side). Here in an unmarked grave in one of the Hodges family plots, Jack has rested in eternal peace for over 105 years after being exhumed and re-interred from his first resting place in the original cemetery.


I was told a group came to Yuma from Phoenix some time ago and wanted to exhume his remains and take him to Phoenix "where he belonged". To which I posed the question . . . “where were they going to dig, no one knew where he was buried prior to this?”


APCRP doesn’t agree with this unless it is family members that want to exhume and re-inter him and Jack would be placed next to Trinidad. We have never found documentation that Trinidad ever visited the grave of Jack at either cemetery here in Yuma before her passing.


APCRP would like to see some type of fitting marker placed at Jack’s grave to pay tribute to his historical importance to Arizona and especially Phoenix. If there is no movement to accomplish this, APCRP will complete a headstone and place it at his grave to identify his final resting place.


As a point of clarification . . . Jack named Phoenix not Duppa! . . . He was not killed by the Yuma Count Jail Guards . . . Jack’s death was a combination of substance abuse, decaying health and the sweltering conditions on that Monday, August 12 in 1878.


Two Swilling relatives have pledged $400 to install a marker at his grave. APCRP make's headstones and no matter the resolve, there will be a marker at Jack Swilling’s grave by next year (2009)!


If you would like to contribute to this headstone placement project please contact APCRP A.S.A.P.



NOVEMBER 19, 2008

Arguably the location of John William "Jack" Swilling's final resting place could continue to eternity. The controversy stems from the fact that no records of his interment have ever been documented, not even a Death Certificate has been found. It is as if all documentation on Jack Swilling ceased on August 13, 1887.  Many historians have researched over the years and turned up nothing to document his grave. To the best of APCRP research abilities we believe this to be his final resting place identified after almost five years extensive research.

Relatives of Jack Swilling support this research finding, having donated a fitting marker provided by APCRP at the head of Jack's grave. To this end, as mentioned earlier, the only way to prove conclusively, this is the remains of Jack Swilling is to exhume the grave and perform DNA tests on any remains.

This fitting tribute and respectful honor to an Arizona Pioneer and Frontiersman is on a lone grave in the Yuma Cemetery in Yuma, Arizona.


Photograph  by: Neal Du Shane 11/19/08

Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

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