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Mysteries at SCV graveyard

Little is known about Sand Canyon cemetery as time, vandalism fade plots

Posted: July 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 30, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Sand Canyon resident Mike Hogan walks at the site of the Mitchell-Dyer Family graveyard in Canyon Country on Wednesday.

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It’s a bit of Santa Clarita Valley history lost to time.

And like many history tales, it harbors a few mysteries.

On a knoll above Sand Canyon near Highway 14 is an old graveyard. Called the Mitchell Cemetery or the Mitchell-Dyer Cemetery, it appears to host about 20 grave sites, some of them children’s.

During a recent visit, the cemetery appeared abandoned except for the company of a few stuffed animals and toys. Many of the graves can be detected only by piles of rock, lacking markers or information on who lies beneath the parched soil under the summer sun.

The hilltop location offers a near 360-degree view of the surrounding valley and canyons. Over the roar of freeway traffic, the buzz of unseen insects can sometimes be heard. A white butterfly dances over the graves before rising into the sky.

It’s unclear if someone is maintaining the graveyard. Most of the graves are free of the tall grass that surrounds them.

At one point, someone built a fence around the cemetery, but that’s mostly broken now as people gained access to the plot of land.

“I know somebody tries to take care of this thing,” said Michael Hogan, a Sulphur Springs School District board member who is a longtime Sand Canyon resident.

What is apparent is the vandalism.

Most of the markers are made of concrete or cement with small inscriptions on metal plates. No tombstones remain. Apparently the last person was buried in the cemetery in 1957, according to the markers still visible.

Several babies have been buried at the cemetery without dates or first names, including “Helvey baby” and “Dyer baby.” Piles of old, rain-washed stuffed animals sit at many of the graves.

Most graves have at least mismatched stones, but a memorable marker that read “Mexican baby” has disappeared during the past few years. Hogan and other Sand Canyon residents remember the marker, but a recent visit to the cemetery showed no sign of it.

In an effort to avoid further vandalism to the cemetery, The Signal is not revealing directions to the area.

Thomas Mitchell, who was a colonel in Sam Houston’s army during the Mexican-American War and later came to captain the first sheriff’s station in the Santa Clarita Valley, is also buried at the cemetery, Hogan said. Thomas Mitchell, born in 1827, homesteaded about 160 acres in the Sand Canyon area in 1848. He died in 1907.

Some of the other markers might belong to people who worked for Thomas Mitchell, said Edgar Carver, of Canyon Country. Carver is a 95-year-old self-described railroad buff who became interested in the history of Sand Canyon after unexpectedly discovering an original railroad bed near the Robinson Ranch golf course.

“This all came about because I’m walking my dogs near Robinson Ranch and see an old (rail) road bed and wondered, ‘what the hell is that?’” Carver said.

That railroad bed led him to the Mitchell family, Carver said. The Southern Pacific Railroad ran through the Mitchell property.

The Mitchell family also built the first school in the Santa Clarita Valley, which eventually became the Sulphur Springs School District in 1872, Hogan said.

Another longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident, 88-year-old Clement Cox, remembers what was likely among the last burials at the cemetery, according to his wife, Paula Cox. Clement Cox said the boy’s name was Leroy Insley. A grave by that name couldn’t be found.

Cox said he remembers that the boy died of tularemia — a serious infectious disease caused by a bacterium — after eating an infected rabbit.

“My husband was there at one of the funerals, and he remembers his brother shoveling dirt into the grave,” Paula Cox said.

kjonas@the-signal.com

661-287-5517

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