Preserving Arizona’s Squaw Peak Cemetery

From The Verde Independent:

Why Willie Sullivan chose to ride his horse into the swollen Verde river, where he was going and for what purpose, we may never know.

All we know is that at some point he was swept from his horse and drowned.

We also know it happened on Jan. 10, 1897, that it was a Sunday and it was his 11th birthday.

After his body was recovered it was taken to a small hillside cemetery in the shadow of Squaw Peak, where he was laid to rest.

A year and three months later, the body of Charles Ryall was laid to rest about 40 feet from that of Willie Sullivan.

A 44-year-old English native who had come to Arizona with the 6th Cavalry, Ryall had been shot on Easter Sunday 1898 after getting in a fight with William Horn, the owner of a seedy watering hole in Copper Canyon.

The killing was later ruled self-defense. Ryall left behind his wife Emma and six children, the oldest not yet 12.

Then, just two years after Ryall’s funeral, Joseph and Mary Sullivan, along their six surviving children, were back at the little graveyard, this time to bury 16-year-old Hugh. One of Willie’s three older brothers, Hugh died from a burst appendix.

There was a seventh Sullivan child alive at the time of Hugh’s death, but Martin Luther Sullivan may or may not have been at his brother’s funeral. He had reportedly left home at age 11.

In 1923 Martin Luther’s wife Eliza gave birth to a son named George. And George Sullivan grew up to marry Edna Hasty.

In 2001, Bob and Deborah Schwallie came from Ohio to the Verde Valley looking to buy a piece of desert solitude. Deborah was the daughter of Edna Hasty’s sister Jessie.

At the time she and Bob purchased their five-acre home site off Salt Mine Road, the couple realized it included an old cemetery, known around the Camp Verde community as either the Lower Verde or Squaw Peak Cemetery.

But then came the surprise.

One day while walking the property with Deborah’s uncle, George Sullivan, he pointed out two graves in the northeast portion and told the couple the tragic story of Willie and Hugh — his uncles.

“It was incredible. All I could think was what an odd coincidence,” says Deborah.

A little while later, after visiting the Camp Verde Historical Society, Deborah discovered there were two more Sullivan graves in the cemetery, both infants born to Willie and Hugh’s sisters, Maude and Lucretia.

Today Squaw Peak cemetery is surrounded by homes. However, it was originally on the remote Young Ranch, which was later owned by Craig Jackson, one of the founders of the Camp Verde Cavalry.

It is uncertain why the site of the old graveyard was selected, given the larger cemetery at Clear Creek. Local lore has it that some of those buried in Squaw Peak cemetery were buried there because the families could not make it across the Verde River to Clear Creek Cemetery due to flooding.

There is evidence of at least one body being moved to Clear Cree Cemetery after initial burial at Squaw Peak, but it is also clear that the site was convenient for many lower Verde families.

For years the families of the buried provided what little care was received. It has paid a price for its obscurity.

And it hasn’t helped that it was built on a site that was once occupied by the Sinagua, as evidenced by a significant scatter of pottery sherds across the cemetery surface and nearby evidence of digging.

In 1971, rancher Jess Goddard was on his way out Salt Mine Road when on a whim he decided to stop and check in on the grave of his grandfather, Welcome R. Godard.

Goddard discovered a four-foot hole next to the gravestone of Ida Wine, Goddard’s cousin. On the north side they found a second grave dug up, that of an infant. A skull fragment was found in that hole.

No arrests were made.

There were 47 known burials in Squaw Peak cemetery. Thirteen are unidentified. At least six were infants. The earliest is believed to be that of Francis Rutledge Wood, who died in 1877.

Her husband John, who along with two partners founded the valley’s largest irrigation canal, Wood’s Ditch (today part of the Verde Ditch), was the last known burial. John Wood died in 1907.

In researching the cemetery records, Deborah Schwallie found the graves of several other Verde Valley pioneers, including L.M. Olden, a former attorney and one-time owner of the Squaw Peak Mine and valley pioneer Welcome R. Godard.

And along with the Sullivan and Wood families, several members of the pioneer Vine and Thompson families are buried there.

The Schwallies built their home in 2005. Bob (Dr. Robert Schwallie) is an emergency room doctor at Verde Valley Medical Center, and Deborah has begun volunteering in the community.

Both are now committed to preserving and protecting the long-neglected graveyard.

“Back home in Ohio I grew up next to a large cemetery. I kind of like them so I never really gave it much thought when we bought the property. But I have gained a real appreciation for what’s here. We aren’t sure what exactly to do. We only know we want to do the right thing,” says Deborah.

In the meantime she is approaching the Camp Verde Historical Society as well as members of the families of those buried in the cemetery to put a plan together.

“It definitely needs to be cleaned up. But other than that I’m open for suggestions.

Jan Klann with the Camp Verde Historical Society says the organization is excited to see that the Schwallies are interested in preserving the cemetery.

“It isn’t very often that someone comes along and wants to do something like this. It will be one of those fun projects that’s right up our alley and a project we are looking forward to taking on,” says Klann.

Schwallie says she is also excited and is ready to start this fall.

“At first I wondered how appropriate it might be, but I have decided to have a Day of the Dead celebration here in November,” says Schwallie. “It is a time to celebrate this old graveyard, not a mournful occasion. And if we are going to protect this treasure we should begin by celebrating it.”

Here is a short documentary video about The Squaw Peak Cemetery in Camp Verde was where some of the earliest, non-military pioneers were buried:

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