Rare wildflowers, prairie grass, tumbleweeds, sagebrush and ornamental wrought iron fences dot the 200-year-old pioneer cemeteries of Custer County, Colorado: Ula (est. 1872), Rosita (est. 1870), Silver Cliff (est. 1878), Hope Lutheran (est. 1872), The Assumption (est. 1881), and numerous private family cemeteries.
Perhaps the most well-known cemetery in the county is Silver Cliff—famous for the “dancing blue lights” discovered by 19th-century miners. A National Geographic magazine reporter wrote about the lights in August 1969 and people began traveling to Silver Cliff to see the lights—few did, however. Scientific and speculative discussions ensued as to the origin of the lights but nothing was conclusive.
Residents of the Silver Cliff cemetery and its nearby neighbor, The Assumption, repose under the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with graves dating to the early 1800s. Many grave markings have decayed or are illegible. Others are crudely inscribed with a name or a date: Baby 1829 or simply, Daughter.
Once the county seat, the town of Ula has long since disappeared. Land was donated by the Kettle family for a graveyard in the 1870s and one of the oldest gravestones is of Azor Palmer, who was born April 16, 1826 and died November 17, 1874.
Hope Lutheran Cemetery lies in the shadow of the mountains with all headstone epitaphs in German with delicate scrollwork and engravings. It’s as though this cemetery was placed so visitors could sit with their loved ones and admire the magnificent mountain views.
Rosita residents endured cholera, flu, and other epidemics in the early 1900s and the cemetery has numerous graves for children and potters. Potters’ graves are typically marked by a wordless white wooden cross or a stone simply inscribed “unknown.” The cemetery is one of the few in the county nestled amongst a dense and hilly pine and pinon tree covered forest. The soft, spongy woodland floor speaks to decades of few visitors.
Content credit: Jules Marie, December 2022