The most historically important gravesites in Lincoln County, New Mexico, are in the Cedarvale Cemetery in White Oaks. The first graves were dug around 1880 and lots were sold. The Knights of Pythias acquired the property about 1892.
Graveyards were not a high priority on the frontier, but White Oaks was really created by easterners attracted to the gold that was discovered here. It’s been said that there were as many lawyers as miners in White Oaks at one time. A cemetery was an expected part of civilization to them. “Most historic figures are buried on private land…except for White Oaks,” says historian Drew Gomber.
The cemetery contains the graves of many important people in the development of New Mexico, including the recently discovered grave of Deputy Sheriff James Bell, killed by Billy the Kid when he made his famous escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse.
Other participants of the Lincoln County Wars include Susan McSween Barber, Paul Mayer, Dave Jackson and W. C. McDonald, the first governor after statehood.
In the southwest part of the cemetery you will find the grave of John V. Winters, who was one of the discoverers of the “Mother Lode” of gold in 1879. His grave is in a north-south direction rather than the traditional east-west direction. Why? Thinking ahead he had requested this so that he could be overlooking his strike in perpetuity.
Cedarvale Cemetery is on the National Historic Register.
Here is an amateur video that captures some of the sites and sounds of the New Mexico’s most historically signifcant old graveyard: