Aspen’s Ute Cemetery has unique connection with the Civil War
Soldiers who made their way west after war laid to rest in historic site
A casual stroll through the Ute Cemetery takes observers to another time in this town’s history, one defined by hard living and the chance for fortune among Aspen’s early settlers.
Roughly 175 graves pepper the hallowed grounds — including an estimated 50 belonging to Civil War veterans, the large majority of whom fought for the Union.
At the the time graveyard was built in 1880, it was known as Evergreen Cemetery, while the last Monday of each May then was hailed as “Decoration Day” to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War, which claimed an estimated 620,000 to 750,000 fighters in the line of duty.
The Civil War ended in 1865 and Ute City was established in 1879, its name changing to Aspen in 1880. Seduced by the fortune of silver mining, prospectors came to Aspen, including vets from the Civil War.
“After those guys got out of war, they all went out West to Leadville and Aspen, and that’s why you see so many Civil War markers in Aspen,” said resident Jim Markalunas, a veteran of the Korean War whose late wife, Ramona, played a large role in restoring the Ute Cemetery from its unkempt state of dilapidation.
In the late 1990s, Aspen residents, concerned that the cemetery’s integrity had been overrun by vegetation and decayed by neglect, pushed the city, which owns the graveyard, to restore it.
The chief reason for the cemetery’s haggard condition was that survivors of those buried there were no longer in the Roaring Fork Valley to tend to the roughly 175 graves, leaving it in a state of neglect for nearly 50 years.
“Laid out on the crest of the ridge, one row above the other, the Civil War veterans appear to have been buried in battle formation, as if even in death they were prepared to defend their position from attack,” reads a registration form to place the Ute Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.
That form was completed in June 2001 by Rod Sladek of Tatanka Historical Associates of Fort Collins, leading to the graveyard’s admission to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Preservation efforts also were spearheaded by the city, the Aspen Elks Lodge and Colorado State Historic Fund, with the city rededicating the cemetery on Memorial Day 2003.
Today the cemetery, which is located off Ute Avenue on the east side of Aspen, features narrow paths, cleaned markers and vegetation that is no longer unruly. White military markers, including 15 that were government-issued in 1890, can be seen. Some of the veterans’ graves are unmarked, including that of Francis Deacon Jones.
Jones, like many of the veterans who came to Aspen, was a single man seeking a better life in Aspen.
Sladek’s application notes that Jones, a native Georgian, was a member of the Union Army and worked as a cook in the 109th U.S. Colored Infantry. The only known black person to be buried in the cemetery, Jones is believed to have led prayer meetings with Aspen’s other black residents. He died in January 1919.
Some other Civil War veterans buried there were victims of Aspen’s hard winters.
On March 11, 1884, an avalanche buried the Vallejo Mine shafthouse on Aspen Mountain, killing Union vets George Marshall and John Meginity, who both rest at Ute Cemetery.
Another claimed by an avalanche was Alexander Adair, who carried mail between Aspen and Crested Butte. An Illinoisan, Alexander served in the Union Army and was killed by an avalanche in March 1885 on Pearl Pass near Ashcroft.
Likewise, Union Army man William Fogg of Maine died in an Aspen-area avalanche in February 1897. The next month, George Buzzard, who was born in Pennsylvania and also served in the Union, died from an avalanche in Conundrum Gulch.
Others led lives as carpenters, real estate brokers and in other various trades. Some married and had children in Aspen; others died alone.
Vermont-born John Roddy, who enlisted in the Union Army in June 1861, was injured in battle in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862, yet remained in the war until June 1864. Roddy moved to Aspen in 1885, working as a barber and then later as a prospector. When he died in March 1899 at age 59, he was widowed and plagued by paralysis, according to Sladek’s research.
“These graves of our dead heroes are scattered all over the cemetery grounds,” reads an article in an April 23, 1890-dated Aspen Daily Times.
A Decoration Day ceremony held May 30, 1885, in Aspen included a march to the then-Evergreen Cemetery, where prayers were recited, graves were decorated and songs were sung. Closing ceremonies were held at the Wheeler Opera House. Aspen members of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Union veterans, cleaned up the cemetery before the 1886 Decoration Day observance, prompting the Aspen Daily Times to declare the duty of future Aspenites was to “see to it that hereafter the place is kept halfway respectable.”
The Aspen Historical Society has no records of surviving relatives of those veterans buried at Ute Cemetery, said archive technician Megan Cerise-Winn.
“But I do know of a few people who have come here because they are specifically interested in that site,” she said.
The Ute Cemetery is open from sunrise to sunset.
Editor’s note: The original version of this article erroneously stated the last burial at Ute Cemetery was in the 1940s. The last burial came in the early 1970s.
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Stage 1 fire restrictions in Pitkin County start Wednesday, which means no campfires in undeveloped sites, no fireworks and no smoking outside unless it’s in an area cleared of all combustible materials.