A chapter in Carbon County's colorful coal mining history that was slipping into oblivion is being saved through the efforts of a young man who, with his mother's help, is working on an Eagle Scout project.
Christopher Sjostrom, 13, and his mother, Nancy, have spent countless hours researching information about the small, weedy and neglected Castle Gate Cemetery.The results gleaned from census, church, county and state records, found both in Carbon County and Salt Lake City, will appear in two books.
The first book, already completed and printed by computer, lists the names of those buried in the cemetery with a little information. The book is intended mostly for libraries, including genealogical libraries.
The second book, which might not be finished for two years, will be about the related Castle Gate coal mining disaster, which occurred March 8, 1924. The disaster is often listed as second only to the Winter Quarters disaster of 1900. The Castle Gate mine explosion claimed 172 lives, while the earlier one at Winter Quarters killed 200.
Nancy said she and Christopher first became interested in the cemetery last summer when they read news reports of title to the land being transferred to Carbon County. Officials of Blackhawk Coal Co., which has not had a presence in the county for many years, came to make the transfer.
The cemetery, located in Willow Creek, east of the Castle Gate power plant of Utah Power & Light Co., has become more neglected since 1974 when homes on the Castle Gate town site and 205 people who lived in Castle Gate were moved to a subdivision in Helper.
The move was made to provide room for expanded mining operations, and more mining structures were built on the town site. They are now idle.
Research by the Sjostroms indicates there were 350 people buried in the cemetery beginning in the 1880s and ending in 1942 when the last person was buried there. Rec-ords were either not kept or lost. The burials began before Carbon County began issuing death certificates in 1904.
Nancy Sjostrom said several people have told her they were surprised to find the number as high as 350 because the number of headstones and markers total much fewer. Also many of the markers, some about 100 years old, are in poor condition.
She said she and her son first intended to remove weeds and straighten and repair headstones, but they realized they might infringe on the rights of relatives. Also it would be very easy, with sketchy rec-ords, to put headstones in the wrong place.
Nancy Sjostrom said she was also intrigued by a statement in The Sun, a Price newspaper at the time of the mine disaster, that said half the victims were buried in the cemetery. She said the research has revealed that only 46 of the 172 were buried there. Other victims were taken to Price, Helper, Emery County, Utah County, Salt Lake City and some more distant places such as Overton, Nev.
One of the most interesting aspects of the disaster story is the work of Annie Palmer, often called Utah's first social worker. Palmer, who was hired to administer a relief fund for the families, tried to avoid mistakes made at the earlier Winter Quarters disaster when a lump sum was given widows. The Winter Quarters widows sometimes soon became penniless and spent their remaining years in poverty.
Palmer gave the money in small, monthly allotments depending on the number of children in the family and other factors. If the woman wanted to become a seamstress, Palmer saw to it that she got a sewing machine, Nancy Sjostrom said. If she wanted to plant a garden, she got seeds. Some got money to help them return home, a few as far as Greece.
In addition to the books, the Sjostroms are seeking donations for a memorial or monument on which the names of all those buried in the cemetery can be written. Cost will be $1,500, and they have already raised $600.
The Department of Transportation will improve an overlook along the highway leading to Duchesne and pave the road leading down to the cemetery. Documentation will be submitted to have the cemetery named a historical site, Nancy Sjostrom said. She said this work is being done by people associated with the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum.