Dunsmuir is known for its breathtaking waterfalls, great tasting water, fantastic fishing, and remarkable railroad history.

Founded in 1886, it has drawn such famous visitors as movie stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, baseball legend Babe Ruth, and coal baron Alexander Dunsmuir, for whom the town was named. Perhaps it is not unusual, then, that there are many surprising stories to be told about those buried in its cemetery.

• This is the third in a series of articles by Eve Thompson about area cemeteries.

Dunsmuir is known for its breathtaking waterfalls, great tasting water, fantastic fishing, and remarkable railroad history.
Founded in 1886, it has drawn such famous visitors as movie stars Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, baseball legend Babe Ruth, and coal baron Alexander Dunsmuir, for whom the town was named. Perhaps it is not unusual, then, that there are many surprising stories to be told about those buried in its cemetery.

1,463 people are buried in the Dunsmuir Cemetery, according to Dunsmuir city clerk Elaine Cantrell. Two people, Joe Sheridan and Lilly Jones, care for the area, given to the town by the Odd Fellows. Since 2004, Sheridan has maintained the roads and grounds. Since 2008, Jones has maintained the graves and their history.

Jones has created an index and plot map based on thousands of newspaper clippings and obituaries to complement the city’s records. She uses the index, organized by date of birth and death and cross referenced by name and plot block, to help those doing genealogical research.

Recently, Jones helped the Branstetters, a founding Dunsmuir family, in their search.

“My family is buried in three different blocks; I started maintaining my parents’, then my aunt’s and then my grandparents’ graves; now I care for the entire cemetery,”?Jones said. “My son and I have been doing everything from pulling up and repairing headstones that fell into the earth to painting stones for unmarked graves to making crosses to commemorate the veterans buried here.”

Many graves don’t have dates on them, Jones notes. “I read the Dunsmuir papers in the Mt. Shasta Herald archives.

When I discover the name, I use pen with permanent ink to re-paint the headstone or I make a rock myself.”  Jones creates small white headstones for babies, specifying their names, and paints stones with names for women. “It’s important to be remembered by your real name, not just as ‘baby’ or ‘Mrs.’”

People’s stories are fascinating, Jones claims. “For instance, Abner Weed started out in Dunsmuir; the Dunsmuir Hotel used to be the Weed Hotel. He was active in both towns. Then there’s Doc Branstetter, a hero who fought in the Spanish American War. When his nephew died, he didn’t attend the funeral which shocked everyone. I discovered he’d been found murdered in his cabin. The family mystery was solved. There are lots of mysteries; I love solving them.”

Many veterans are buried in Dunsmuir. Civil War veterans are buried in the cemetery; their graves are marked GAR, Grand Army of the Republic, for those who fought for the North, and CAS, Continental Army of the South. “You’ll discover our entire nation’s history when you walk around. Take this stone: the two Hull brothers were killed in action during World War II within a year of each other. You know how the family suffered. It was like that everywhere.”

Criminals, including bank robbers, and their victims are buried in the Cemetery. “There was a lynching in Castella in 1892, one of the last in California. A man was fired, went home and killed his wife and child. It’s possible they’re buried here. I’m trying to find where, and to learn their names; I feel like a detective.”

“Who was the ‘man killed by a steam shovel?’ Who was Dunsmuir Lottie?” Jones wonders. “The Towndolly family, an Indian family of four, are buried here. Even in 1948, there were still problems between Indians and whites, yet our town buried them here. That makes me feel proud.”

Jones’ life mission is to learn the names and histories of all interred in the Cemetery. “I’m trying to find obituaries and articles for everyone; I want to honor their lives. I go through all the old Dunsmuir papers to find the truth. I actually know more about who lived here than those who live on my street,” she chuckles. “The stories surprise me, yet they make me love everything about our town.”

Memorial Day is an important one for cemeteries, and Sheridan and Jones exert extra effort in preparing the grounds for that day. The Dunsmuir Girl Scouts also help clear the grounds in May, according to Jones.  She has planted iris and lily bulbs from her own garden to beautify the graves. “But I’ve run out of bulbs; if people want to thin their gardens, I’d welcome the bulbs,” Jones chuckles.

“People come here to pay their respects and to find answers,” Jones claims. “I have a sign on my truck when I’m out here: if you have questions, ask. It’s rewarding to share what I’ve learned, to help others learn about their past. I want to write a book on the people in the cemetery; people should know our town’s stories. It’s an old cemetery, and it tells a lot about us.”