Park Valley man trying to solve the mysteries of an old pioneer cemetery

Bruce Pugsley points to some the graves of pioneers who settled in the Park Valley area.

PARK VALLEY – Bruce Pugsley, the Park Valley cemetery sexton, is trying to uncover the mysteries beneath the stone covered graves of a pioneer cemetery in his tiny town. He began working on it while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was assigned to the Logan Utah Mission and took on the old cemetery as part of his service.

Three graves marked with stakes in the Park Valley Cemetery.

While Park Valley residents knew of the place where some of the first settlers of the area were buried, it had become dilapidated. At one time, Arlo James put up a marker with 13 names on it, but he has since passed. The Spackman family added the gate and there are plans to put an arch over the gate.

Until Pugsley started to work on the barbwired 160′ x 100′ area, it was full of sage brush and weeds.

“I got the Elders Quorum to come up and clear the sage brush,” he said. “And Bishop Burt Kunzler and his wife, Shelly, brought a mower and cut the weeds before Memorial Day.”

As they cleared the area, the stone piles began to be more evident. He marked the graves with wooden stakes. There are 23 graves; some have more than one person in them, Pugsley said. He has heard there are two other graves under the road next to the cemetery.

A marker showing some of the people who are buried in Park Valley pioneer cemetery.

“I don’t know who belongs to what spot,” Pugsley said. “I’ve researched the death certificates that I could find, and I think I have one or two figured out.”

“There is a lady from the Russian colony in there somewhere,” he said. “The Dunn family came and marked where Harriet Dunn was buried.”

Some pioneer graves are not in either the new, or old, cemetery.

“I know of five kids buried along the creek up by the north string, near the old Palmer place,” he said. “They all died of diphtheria.”

One of the saddest stories the old cemetery tells is of the Hirschi family that lost four of their children to the diphtheria outbreak in the summer of 1883. They lost three children in three days. Their oldest son and their nursing baby survived

“I don’t have any records, because the old sexton didn’t keep any,” Pugsley said. “We know Andrew Rose built a lot of the caskets and his wife Minerva helped dress the deceased.”

Bruce Pugsley made a hand drawn plot map of the old pioneer cemetery in the little community of Park Valley in Box Elder County.

There aren’t a lot of people left that know much about the cemetery. It stopped being used in the early 1900’s. There is a rumor someone has a plot map with the information Pugsley needs to solve the mysteries of the pioneer burial place.

“I’d sure like to know if anyone had any information about who is buried in the cemetery and where,” Pugsley said. “And I want to thank everyone who helped in preserving the old pioneer cemetery.”

Park Valley, with a population of just over 200, is located in the northwestern part of the state, 150 miles northwest of Salt Lake City, and 100 miles west of Brigham City on State Hwy 30.

The ranching community of Park Valley includes locations that at one time were separate communities, such as Rosette, Dove Creek, Muddy, Rosebud, and Kelton,

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  • E. Lige Palmer June 12, 2020 at 4:30 pm Reply

    My Dad told me that there was a decision early on that this site was not a good burial spot because of the abundance of ground water. He said that when the decision was made to move the cemetary to the north of Chicken Ridge the Cemetary Sexton began the work of moving the most recent bodies. Some families made the decision to move family members and others decided to leave their family where they were at. He began digging up those than were to be moved and lifting them out. While lifting them out water and stuff began running out of the saturated coffins and on top of the Sexton. He said it was a very messy and nasty job.

  • Marilyn Moncur June 12, 2020 at 8:26 pm Reply

    Thank you Bruce for all your hard work! The community of Park Valley is very fortunate to have you take care of the cemeteries. I remember asking Dad who was buried in the pioneer cemetery and he told me the story of the Hirschi children and GGrandpa Jacob’s little daughter. I appreciate you sharing your love of family history.

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