Carbon, Wyoming Territory was founded in 1868 on the line of the Union Pacific Railroad, which was still under construction. The town was named for its coal mines.
In its early years, it was a scattered, disorganized place of dugouts and rough cabins. Gradually these were replaced by frame and stone buildings.
Carbon was on the east side of Simpson Ridge, a hill that so steep that the Union Pacific often added an extra engine to trains there so that they could make it up over the grade. During the town’s heyday—the late 1860s through the 1880s—seven coal mines in the area fed the locomotives crossing the country.
Carbon by 1884 boasted supposedly boasted 500 residents, many of them men with families, and a “floating population” that sometimes swelled the total to 1,000 or more.
Early in the morning of June 27, 1890, a drunken boarder in the one and a half story Scranton Hotel in downtown Carbon knocked over a kerosene lamp. The fire destroyed the entire downtown business section north of the tracks – 20 buildings or more. Few of them were insured because the town had no reliable water supply and thus no fire protection. By then only one coal mine was still in operation. The town would never recover its former prosperity.
The Carbon Cemetery lies nine miles southwest of the town of Medicine Bow in Carbon County, Wyoming on private land. The cemetery is small, only about five acres. The landscape surrounding the cemetery is relatively flat, covered in natural grasses, with few trees. The historic old mining town of Carbon lies over a rise just to the south, and is not visible from the cemetery. Old foundations, roads, mine ruins, and the cindered roadbed of the original line of the Union Pacific Railroad may be found in the town today.
The cemetery was most active from 1868 to 1902, while people still lived in Carbon. The cemetery has changed little since the 1940s, when it began being used less frequently. Family and friends continued to maintain individual plots, however. The most recent burial was in 1995, and there are some prospective future burials.
According to the Carbon Cemetery Association, the site has 239 marked graves. Another 98 documented burials are no longer identified by markers. Additional unmarked graves may be present. Many headstones are marked with family names and indicate multiple burials at one location. The names indicate that many Carbon residents were largely from the British Isles, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany.
Most of the unnamed graves are marked with stone cairns or small stone rectangles. These were probably marked with wooden crosses indicating the name of the deceased, and have deteriorated over the years from harsh weather. Of the graves that have headstones, most are granite and marble.
Most notable, and most culturally connected, are the Finnish grave markers. All consist of a tall vertical metal bar with a flat vertical metal plate bolted to the top. The metal plates were painted with information about the deceased, but today are blank, from weathering. Similar markers are found in historic cemeteries in the “rural area surrounding Lake Lappajarvi, Finland, in the west-central area of the country,” according to Ron Sladek, author of the document nominating the site for the National Register of Historic Places. The burial tradition using metal grave markers was brought to southern Wyoming by Finnish miners and their families.
Local supporters formed the Carbon Cemetery Association in 2002 and revived an organized effort at maintaining the cemetery, with volunteers “refurbishing the place and rebuilding the stories of the people who are buried there,” says Nancy Anderson, of the association and the Hanna Museum.
In October 2010, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation deeded forty acres to the Carbon Cemetery Association. Included in these acres are part of the Carbon townsite and about one-third of the cemetery’s fenced area.
A post and wire fence marks the perimeter of the cemetery. The wooden posts are reinforced by pipes cut from the steam system of Carbon’s # 2 Mine. The main entrance is a ranch-style gate, but all access will be through a pedestrian gate after the spring of 2011.
The Carbon Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in July 2011.