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Pioneer Gravesite

At the top of a rocky and sage covered hill—not far from the Robber’s Roost—is a gravesite which time very nearly forgot, and which the VCPA has helped to remember.

The gravesite is located on land near what is generally regarded as the “old road” to Virginia City. The property came into the portfolio of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) along with several other nearby/adjoining parcels. It appears that wasn’t until 1993, however, that a thorough examination of the property was made. It was during the 1993 survey when human remains were discovered and, in compliance with federal and state regulations, all further development of the property was immediately frozen.

The remains were identified as those of a Caucasian and, although perhaps not definitive, at least two sources attribute the human remains at the site to be those of a family of emigrants into Madison County. Jessie Wilcox Carney (who grew up at the Robber’s Roost in the late 1800’s) once wrote that: “buried on the hill…are the graves of five white people who died of Typhoid fever while camping near Robber’s Roost.” Unquestionable, however, is that the remains are those of an early pioneer to Montana. 1.

In January of 1999, the BLM transferred ownership of 160 acres to Madison County under provisions of the Recreation & Public Purposes Act. The transfer of the property was made with the understanding the gravesite would be protected, that adjoining property owners would have right-of-way to access their land, and the County could continue to utilize a portion as a gravel pit. By this time, Lowell Gilman, who grew up in nearby Ruby, had placed a quartz rock to mark the gravesite and urged that the site be developed into a memorial site. Lowell was joined in this effort by Jim Edwards, a long-time VCPA Board member and adjoining property owner.

The Madison County Commissioners transferred the gravesite property to the Virginia City Preservation Alliance in 2011. The site has been fenced and an attractive bronze tablet memorializes the hardships faced by all of those who made the arduous journey to the Montana Territory. The memorial also serves as wonderful tribute to Lowell Gilman and Jim Edwards whose dedication to preserving the history of Montana—and Madison County— is inspiring, and is at the heart of the VCPA’s Mission.

Written by Gary Forney.

1. Pioneer Trails and Trials, pg 400. Oral interviews with Lowell Gilman and Jim Edwards.

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