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Remains in 19th-century graves downtown ID’d as soldiers

The Government Cemetery in Tucson, circa 1870

The Government Cemetery in Tucson, circa 1870

Eight months after archaeological researchers removed the last of more than 1,300 remains from a nearly forgotten 19th-century downtown cemetery, some faces from the past are beginning to emerge.

The Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services believes it has identified at least five sets of soldiers’ remains, some from members of the 2,300-strong California Column dispatched to Tucson in 1862 to drive out Confederate troops that briefly occupied parts of the Southwest during the Civil War.

The remains of 58 U.S. soldiers stationed at the then-Fort Lowell location near the cemetery have been exhumed and will be reburied with full honors at the Southern Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Sierra Vista on May 16.

“Serving in the Western territories was a thankless job back then and I can’t think of a better way to honor these soldiers,” Joey Strickand, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, said Friday.

There were adjoining civilian and military cemeteries downtown in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Army’s Camp Lowell was then located in what is now the Armory Park area and was later moved east to near what is now the intersection of Glenn Street and Craycroft Road.

By comparing old cemetery maps and Army records, Veterans’ Services officials believe they have given names to at least five soldiers buried downtown.

The soldiers’ remains will be buried in a specially constructed 19th-century-style cemetery near Fort Huachucha, Strickland said.

The downtown site, at Stone and Toole avenues, was excavated to prepare for a new Pima County-Tucson Joint Courts Complex approved in a 2004 Pima County bond package.

State law required the county to hire an archaeological consultant to study the site before beginning construction of the courts complex.

What was found was beyond expectations.

“We have an unparalled view of a period of Tucson history of which we have some documentary information but little in the way of physical,” Roger Anyon, project manager for the Pima County Cultural Resources and Historic Preservation Office, said Friday.

“The cemetery gives us a view of Tucson life then and the people who lived here,” Anyon said.

Few of the more than 1,250 civilian remains exhumed and stored for reburial later this year likely will ever be identified, Anyon said.

Archaeologists studying data from the field are finding some clues about how tough life was back then.

One grave revealed three burials, possibly of a family who died at the same time and were buried together, Marlesa Gray said Friday. Gray is the project manager for Statistical Research, Inc., the archaeological consultant hired by the county.

“There were the remains of a fetus and the mother” who may have died together in childbirth, Gray noted.

Territorial Tucson had several deadly outbreaks of disease at that time, including smallpox in 1870.

“There may be certain sections of the cemetery that can be dated to those epidemic periods,” Gray said.

The epidemics took a heavy toll on the very young and very old, records show.



Tentatively identified more than 120 years after their burials:

• Sgt. John C. McQuaide: Company B, 2nd California Infantry. Arrived in Tucson in May 1862. Died July 12, 1862, from disease.

• Cpl. Paul Remy of Cologne, Prussia. Company D, 23rd U.S. Infantry: Died in Tucson May 11, 1872, from acute dysentery.

• Farrier John Foley from County Wexford, Ireland, Company D, 1st U.S. Cavalry. Died May 11, 1872, from trauma from a fall from his horse.

• Pvt. Peter Bus of Delfshaven, Holland. Company K, 21st U.S. Infantry. Died Feb. 19, 1872, from accidental gunshot to his right arm.

• Cpl. John English of Ireland. Company A, 32nd U.S. Infantry. Died July 16, 1867, of acute dysentary.

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