Some people love strolling cemeteries and this one is worth the visit. It has the history, the views, and the plain simplicity of an old west cemetery.
The history of the cemetery is somewhat convoluted. It is unclear when it was first formed. All we have for reference are the dates on the graves. The oldest grave is from the 1877, just three years after the Custer Expedition opened the floodgates to fortune seekers. As soon as US newspapers had published accounts of gold in the Black Hills, land agents sought to profit by recruiting colonists to settle in the area to benefit from its potential timber wealth, “good, productive soil,” and, in the case of the Hills themselves, gold, which “no one who is at all posted will deny.” Maps of the time labeled the mountains as “Black Hills.” The only other word appearing in that map is telling: Gold.
The first burial was that of a miner. The grave, along with others, originally in the Pactola cemetery were moved to the Silver City cemetery sometime in the late 1940's. The cemetery serving the old town of Pactola was located on a quartz mound near Veteran's Point. It was moved in preparation for the flooding of the valley that created Pactola reservoir. Thankfully the Silver City cemetery was located well above the flood area and has always been located on top of the hill at the mouth of Rapid Creek.
Each headstone, a bookmark in a closed book. Each epitaph, a life whittled down to a handful of poetic words. Each set of dates, a window into when this person descended on this valley. Some are reminders of endurance. Some are reminders of how fragile life is. But most stones are just minimalists slabs of slate rock, revealing nothing and allowing our imaginations to run free.
Cemetery with a view
Tucked behind a locked forest gate, the Silver City cemetery is hard to get to. One could go by foot from town on trail 40 but it would be a bit of an uphill trek as you hug a treacherous slope with big drop-offs. You will eventually reach a fairly flat clearing with a sign pointing towards the cemetery.
The cemetery can also be reached by car via way of Jenny Gulch. There among the parking for all the canoers, fisherman, and cliff jumpers is a side road. It is purposely discreet as to not let in too many wanderers. The gate on this Forest Service road is locked and you will need a key from the Historical Society. Once in, you will first reach a large meadow forming the new section of the cemetery and a little further along the road you will reach the original fenced in cemetery.
Upon arrival, the first thing that strikes you is the beautiful views. The cemetery sits on top of a hill overlooking Pactola Lake. It is here where you see Rapid Creek emptying into the lake. A bench beckons you to sit and take it all in.
Black Hills Map and pamphlet by Major Stephen Long (1923)
Located east of town overlooking Pactola Lake.
MEMORIAL DAY SERVICE
It has always been a tradition to meet at the cemetery for a Memorial Day celebration.
At that time of year the irises flanking the headstones are making an appearance.
THE CEMETERY EXPANSION
In 2023 the cemetery was expanded from 0.17 acres to over two acres. The new expansion is a welcome development that allows new burial plots to be set aside for generations to come.
The Black Hills Cemetery Act was was put into law in 2014 and had the goal of transferring the public land where the cemetery sits to the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department and later to the Silver City Historical Society.
It took nine more years after the law came into effect to clear the appropriate USFS hurdles whereby we could take possession and allow for burials.
There are big changes planned for the coming years including a new gate, a new octagonal cemetery design, a fence, and other interesting cemetery concepts.