Treating the community of Needles, CalPoly Pomona students under the guidance of Dr. Mark Allen collaborated with local archaeologist Ruth Musser-Lopez of River Archaeological Heritage Associates (RiverAHA) to document the Needles Pioneer Cemetery over the Halloween weekend.

On October 29 and 30, two students in the archaeology program at Cal Poly Pomona, Jane Fernandez and Alicia Garcia, along with Ruth Musser-Lopez, all under volunteer agreements to the City of Needles, spent most of the weekend visiting the Needles Museum archives and documenting language on tombstones at the Needles Pioneer Cemetery, photographing individual grave configurations and linking their locations to a map using a global positioning system (GPS).

According to Musser-Lopez, “the volunteer project is designed to provide the students with practice in securing original interpretive data using archaeological methods including global positioning system mapping, ground penetrating radar mapping, archival research and in-field data recording.  The student’s project will yield a significant contribution to the local and wider interstate Route 66 community in the area of the growing historic-tourism industry,” Musser-Lopez said.

“The historic Needles Pioneer Cemetery was active during a period of time surrounding the turn of the the 20th century. The period of use has been documented previously and is roughly 1893 to 1918—one of the goals of the project is to collect data, any record that may exist in the archives of the Needles Desert Star newspaper, the Needles Museum, Needles Library or in the possession of local individuals.  The whereabouts of the record is to be determined by the student investigator on this project.”   

Musser-Lopez also said that “The Pioneer Cemetery located on  cemetery hill in Needles is believed to be the first cemetery that was used by the residents of the community of Needles, arguably the first EuroAmerican documented community in the County of San Bernardino since Padre Garces christened it in 1776, naming the area ‘Santa Isabel.’   

“The community of Needles was named after the railroad siding when the railroad was built and had an early newspaper called Booth’s Bazoo by Booth and Booth dating from about 1889,” she said.  “Two monuments marking the burial locations of James P. Booth, M.D. 1882-1909 and Catherine Booth, 1850-1906 are intact—potentially an interpretive focal point of the project. The students are encouraged to find and research archived copies of that original newspaper and learn as much as they can about the Booths.” 

“The remaining portion of the cemetery is a fraction of what it originally was.   Many of the caskets were exhumed and relocated to the new cemetery by the East Broadway offramp of I-40 in Needles when the interstate was constructed bypassing an original section of Route 66 in the area of Needles. The new interstate cut through a portion of the cemetery.   Prior to that, caskets were disinterred in a section of the cemetery on the east end of the hill between what is now E Street and F Street.   A new road called ‘Grandview’ was constructed between E and F and homes were built there.” 

“The broad purpose of the project is to provide detailed and accurate interpretive information concerning the Needles Pioneer Cemetery” Musser-Lopez stated.  “Other project goals are to determine period of use of the cemetery, determine the configuration of the cemetery as it changed through time; determine the name, ages and importance and, or, significance of those individuals who were originally interred in the cemetery and those who remain in the cemetery currently; determine if any died by the same cause (i.e,, dysentery or cholera).  Over the weekend the students mapped the location and orientation of the extant graves.  Jane and Alicia are dream students who stuck right to the task and with the use of GPS have already documented more graves than were previously thought to be there.  With access to ground penetrating radar, the count will probably go up.  I am not certain how much of the project goals will be achieve during this semester.  Perhaps students at Palo Verde college may want to get involved in the project as well.

“We are currently in search of old photographs of the cemetery so that we can compare where the tombstones are now with their original location and orientation.   Many of the tombstones have been pushed over and vandalized in the past but with photo comparison data, potentially we will be able to make recommendations as to repositioning the markers to their original location.”


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