Pioneer Cemetery at the South Rim

This pioneer cemetery is one of a select few in the United States that resides in a national park. Managed by the 128 American Legion, there are 400 souls buried here.

Pioneer Cemetery Entrance

Many of the people laid to rest were pioneers in the development of Grand Canyon National Park and have many trails named after them. What’s interesting about this cemetery is the headstones. Most of them are made of the local rock with placards mounted to them.

Headstone of Mark A Tral

Many of the headstones also have an inscription as to who the person was and their role in the development of the park. I find this odd since other cemeteries do not have these types of inscriptions. I wonder if at some point, the cemetery was abandoned with broken or missing headstones?

Grave of Otto J Tak covered in ponderosa pine cones

From what I’ve found on the American Legion website, in the 1950s there were very few headstone markers and more mounds of ponderosa pinecones and needles that made up the grave sites.

Renovations to the grounds also resulted in new markers on some of the headstones.

Headstones and Footstones

Another uniqueness to these graves is that there is a headstone and a footstone.

The cemetery also had a few wooden headstones, which handle the dry/hot weather compared to other sites in the pacific northwest where they decompose quicker.

Shrine of the Ages

The Pioneer Cemetery is located near the Shrine of the Ages Church. As of July 2017, this pioneer cemetery is closed to new burials due to lack of space.

Before this closure, you would have had to lived at the canyon for at least three years, be a family member of someone already interred or have made a “significant contribution” to the Canyon in some way to be buried in this cemetery.

Notable Facts:

Captain James Hance

John Hance – Was the first non-indigenous resident of the Grand Canyon and also the first person buried in the cemetery.

Headstones of William Wallace Bass and Ada Lenore Diefendorf Bass

There is a headstone for William Wallace Bass who helped develop the stage line in the area. Further research has identified this headstone as a monument because in 1933 Bass was cremated in Phoenix AZ and then his ashes were scattered by plane over Holy Grail Temple in the Grand Canyon.

Headstone of Pete D. Berry

Pete Berry – One of the only miners that had a few paying copper mines in the Grand Canyon. His most successful copper mine was called Grandview or Last Chance mine. After 1907, the mine was acquired by William Randolph Hearst who sold it to the national park service in 1940. In 2009 the mines were gated.

Twenty-nine unidentified victims were interred in four coffins here from the June 30th, 1956 United/TWA Grand Canyon crash. At the time this event, it was sited as the worst disaster on record and prompted the formation of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).


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