Idaho City has been using this cemetery since 1863. Approximately 200 grave markers still stand and many of those have been repaired, restored, and maintained by the Idaho City Historical Foundation. It is estimated that 2,000 graves are scattered through the forty timbered acres. Of the first 200 graves, only 28 were for people who died of natural causes.
If you make the trip to Idaho City, you should take the short drive to the Pioneer Cemetery. You may have seen cemeteries from the 1800’s elsewhere in Idaho. A mountain town’s cemetery is much different. Interspersed with trees, you will not find neat and tidy rows of gravestones as the norm. Being on a hillside, make sure you wear good shoes while visiting. Idaho City Historical Foundation cares for all of the historical grave locations in the cemetery.
In 1862 when Idaho City sprung up during the gold rush, it would not have been long before the residents would have to deal with death. Between the dangers of mining, and a city too large for its small police force, a death by natural causes would have been unusual. Pioneer Cemetery was established in early 1863 to serve the city. The gold rush lured many people to Idaho City, from all kinds of backgrounds. The Masons, Odd Fellows, Catholics, and the Chinese all had specific sections of the cemetery. Murderers and other deceased undesirables were buried along the eastern edge.
Just like the city itself, much of the cemetery has throughout history been victim to fire. Because most of the grave markers at the time were made of wood most of the estimated 3,000 graves are without a marker. There are many made of stone that still survive, along with the wrought iron fencing. Many of the graves are “Unknown”.
Despite the Chinese population being a large portion of Idaho City in the 1860’s and 70’s, you will not find any Chinese grave markers. It was customary for the Chinese to be repatriated, returned to their homeland, after death. The individual would have been buried and exhumed several years later. The bones would be stored not in a coffin, but a much smaller box that the bones would fit into. In areas such as California where the Chinese presence endured longer, this would have been an organized affair. The remains would be marked and sent back to their specific village for burial. Due to fire, it is likely most Chinese from Idaho City were repatriated as unkown. For more information on the repatriation of Chinese from the Pacific Northwest, please visit the Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee.