Come with us on a Virtual Tour of one of the best attended events, our night time Martinez Cemetery Tour
In this cemetery were laid to rest many early pioneers of Contra Costa County. Many were drawn to California by gold, but fulfilled their dreams for a better life in other ways. The first recorded burials at the old cemetery, entered in the City of Martinez death register, were 1854. However, it is believed that burials occurred as early as 1851.
The land was part of the Don Ygnacio Martinez land grant, El Rancho Pinole, and was platted in the original survey of Martinez of 1849 by surveyor Thomas A. Brown for Col. William M, Smith, the son-in-law and agent for the Martinez family and founder of the City of Martinez
It is not known how many plot deeds are still held as a cemetery overseer sold some plots to more than one person. He later ended up in San Quentin Prison.
Special Thanks to Richard Patchin who gathered most of this information for the tour.
John Muir invited his brother and sisters to move from Wisconsin to California to help manage his farm. In 1892, David Muir accepted his brother's invitation. David had been a partner in a successful business in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, his partner embezzled funds over a period of 20 years which caused the enterprise to fail. David ran the valley ranch properties when John Muir and wife, Louie Strentzel Muir, became responsible for the estate of her father, Dr. John T. Strentzel. David lived in the old Strentzel home in Alhambra Valley.
Don Salvio Pacheco
This weathered and eroded headstone found buried near this site is believed to be the grave of Don Salvio Pacheco, founder of Concord, and his wife, Juana Flores Pacheco. Don Salvio co-founded the town called Todos Santos (Concord) along with his son Fernando and his son-in-law Francisco Galindo. They offered some lots for $1.00 to entice Pacheco business to relocate to Todos Santos. Fernando was a huge man standing 6 feet 2 inches and weighing up to 450 pounds. His size was of such interest that periodically he would have official weigh-ins with the weight recorded in the local newspaper. The Pacheco family insisted the official name of their community was Todos Santos. However, Americans moving into the area preferred Concord.
Captain Joseph Walker
Captain Joseph Walker was a pioneer, trailblazer, explorer, and mountain man. At the age of 21, he helped to build Independence, Missouri, which he named. He was elected that town's first sheriff. He served under Andrew Jackson fighting the Creek Indians, and at various times rode with Kit Carson, Jim Bridger and Sam Houston. In 1833-34 he followed the Humboldt River and crossed the Sierra Nevada into California. He and his crew were the first Europeans to cross the Sierra from east to west, and he was the first white man to see Yosemite Valley. He led the first wagon train of immigrants into California. Walker warned the Donner Party about trying to cross the Sierras so late in the year. He was dismissed by them as an "ignorant Missouri pike." In 1846, he was with Fremont at Hawk's Peak when Fremont stood off the Mexicans and then lost his nerve and retreated. Walker quit Fremont in utter disgust and never had a good word to say about him after that. He exclaimed, "He (Fremont) was the greatest moral and physical coward I ever met". Adding, "I would call him a woman, if it weren't a slur to the sex." At age 65, he led a party of miners into Arizona, capturing the Apache Chief Mangas. U.S Troops took Mangas away from Walker and murdered him. Walker never led any white men anywhere after that. That was Walker's last expedition. He retired to his nephew James’ ranch on Mt. Diablo. He was an honorable, kind and courageous man. Walker River, Walker Pass, and Walker Lake are all named for him.
Eliza Nottingham - We are not sure how she came to be in this area. When she was on a family outing at the age of nine, she saved a four year old boy from drowning in a creek. The boy's name was Abraham Lincoln. Ironically, she is buried opposite Hardy the Faithful, a former slave, -- she who saved the life of the man who would sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
John and Margaret Muir Reid
Margaret Muir Reid and her husband John were the first to accept John Muir's offer to help manage the farm. John Reid was named foreman. Their son, John Muir Reid and his wife Bertha and son John Muir Reid, Jr. are buried here as well. Following the death of John Muir's mother, Ann, his widowed sister, Sarah Muir Galloway, joined the family in Martinez.
Sarah Muir Galloway
Sarah Muir Galloway was the sister of John Muir.
William and Delilah Frazer
William and Delilah were pioneers who came to Martinez in 1859 after settling in the Willamette Valley of Oregon several years earlier. Delilah raised eight children alone after her husband’s death in 1868 from small pox. The eldest son, George took charge and become very successful raising Durham cattle and hogs. George bought 700 acres in Franklin Canyon. He was one of the prime movers in bringing the Santa Fe railroad through the county in the late 1890’s. He donated 12 acres for a station site, which was named Glen Fraiser to honor his family. George’s brother, William bought land in the Vine Hill area and was quite successful raising almonds and pears. He served on the Vine Hill School Board for many years. A sister, Jennie, married Joseph P. Jones, a lawyer. Jones came to the area in 1868 and was appointed Deputy District Attorney in 1869. He was elected District Attorney in 1875. In 1880, he was elected to the State Assembly and later went on to be a Superior Court Judge. A sister, Louise married H.M. Bush, grandson of Henry and Abigail Bush who settled above Brown Street in 1853. It was Henry and Abigail who planted vineyards that became the beginnings of the Christian Brothers Winery - a part of the De La Salle Institute that stood on the top of the hill from 1881 - 1932. The Christian Brothers later moved their establishment to the Napa Valley.
William and Miranda Hook and Family
William Hook and his twin brother Elijah, were born on Valentine's Day in 1805. When they were 14 years old their father died and their mother moved the family to Old Franklin, Missouri. This is where the brothers entered the business world, keeping their eyes open for many opportunities. They did much trading between Missouri and Sonora, Mexico. Elijah died of yellow fever near St. Louis in 1835. In the early 1850's William, his wife Miranda and 10 children moved to Martinez. William bought a structure on Main Street in 1852 and turned it into a general store. He had it rebuilt in 1856 after it was destroyed by fire. In 1925 the building was again destroyed by fire and the present building was built in 1926. Hook's profits soared and he bought several lots on Main Street. Eventually, he owned nearly 3,000 acres in what is now Pleasant Hill. There a very large house was built to accommodate his large family.
The Fishes were reportedly the first millionaires in Contra Costa County. Lafayette Irving Fish and brother Charles came to California in 1850 and Martinez in 1854. They bought a large tract of land between Martinez and Pacheco and began wheat farming. At one point, the Fish's had 18,000 acres in wheat. To work these vast holdings, the brothers brought mechanized farming to the area including the use of a steam powered plow built in 1862. Lafayette and Charles were among the founders of the Bank of Martinez - with Lafayette serving as president from 1873 until 1890. Eventually, the brothers were joined by their brother Josiah and sisters Caroline and Julia. Julia is considered the founder of the Martinez Library. She proposed the idea of a reading room for young people. Immediately successful, she suggested a public library which was housed in a building donated by Dr. John Strentzel. In 1900, Julia donated the property at Susana and Court Streets for the first Alhambra Union High School which opened in 1901. In 1921, the high school was moved to its present site. The Court and Susana site now accommodate the Martinez Unified School District offices, a warehouse, and the district's corporation yard. The Fish wives and children also lie in this plot.
From the Lafayette Irving Fish obituary - Lafayette was born in Batavia, New York, in 1824, and left for California early in 1850. His trip to California was by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He first settled in the Feather River area where he engaged in mining, later in a mercantile business. Later he came to Contra Costa County where he purchased a large tract of land near Martinez to engage in the sheep business. In order to get the stock he desired he returned to the East, where he purchased 3,000 head of blooded sheep and drove them across the plains. later he engaged extensively in wheat growing.
Lewis Cass Wittenmyer was a pioneer to Contra Costa County in 1849 and to Martinez in 1857. He was elected County Clerk and called the first city election in 1876, becoming the city's first mayor. He was first married to Helen Russell who died in childbirth; he then married Clara Austin in 1872
This was another early family in the area. The Brothers, William and Henry Hale were businessmen who, with Dr. J.H Carothers, laid out the town of Pacheco in 1858. Pacheco was an important shipping point for grain. With others, the brothers founded the Bank of Martinez in 1873. They were active in city, social and church life.
Warren and Laura Brown
Warren Brown was the son of Elam Brown and the brother of Thomas A. Brown. He was a surveyor and drew the original map of Martinez for his surveyor brother in 1849 when Thomas was hired by Col. William Smith, founder of Martinez, to do the work. Warren, Thomas, and their brother-in-law, Napoleon Bonaparte Smith were co-owners of a trading post located in Martinez in 1849 - the first established business in the county. Warren came to California in 1847. While traveling here with his family via wagon train, he was stricken with typhoid fever. He was left at Ft. Bridger, apparently to die, while his family continued on. He recovered and rejoined the family in California. He was elected County Surveyor in 1850, and in 1854 was elected to the State Assembly. Also, he served as sheriff and farmed. He farmed a large tract of land in Martinez until moving near Lafayette in later years.
J.H. Carothers, M.D. and Wife Emily
Dr. J.H. Carothers was a native of Pennsylvania and came to Martinez in 1854. He received his medical degree from Miami College in Ohio. In 1857, with the Hale brothers, William and Henry, he purchased property and laid out the town of Pacheco which became a major shipping point for wheat and other agricultural products before devastating floods drove businesses to locate elsewhere. In 1869 he was elected to the legislature for one term. In 1884 he was appointed County Physician.
Col. William M. Smith
William M, Smith, who married Susana, one of Don Ygnacio Martinez’s daughters, saw great potential for building a center of commerce based on serving the needs of those traveling through the area. He got permission from Don Ygnacio’s heirs to establish a town site on 120 acres that included the ferry landing. Later the Welch family who owned the property on the east side of Alhambra Creek contributed another 500 acres to be included in the new town. Martinez would become the first town in the Contra Costa District.
William Smith was a native of Georgia. His military title is considered legitimate as he, along with Lt. John Rose, commanded the Mounted Company of Yerba Buena volunteers during the final battle of the Mexican-American War. The historic record indicates that he was a circus riding crack shot, black face minstrel, an alcoholic, and suffered periods of depression. Also, he is regarded as having had keen business acumen.
At the request of a wealthy businessman, Smith came to San Francisco to manage some properties. Within two years, he and his business partner, Frank Ward, had their own mercantile and trading company on a San Francisco Pier.
Smith and Ward resided in a rooming house run by Susana Martinez-Hinkley. Susana’s husband, Capt. William Hinkley died accidentally - his untimely death leaving behind a young, beautiful widow with a large San Francisco home and very little cash. To make ends meet, Susana opened her home to boarders. One wonders if Smith was aware of Susana’s family connections and therefore his taking up residence was a calculated move, or if their meeting was purely happenstance. Whatever the circumstances, in early 1848, Col. Smith and Susana were married.
Acting as agent for the Martinez family, Smith hired Thomas A. Brown and Warren Brown, sons of Lafayette founder Elam Brown, to lay out a town in the 120 acres west of Alhambra Creek.
Smith promoted lot sales in San Francisco attempting to interest prominent businessmen in locating businesses to Martinez. To that end, he named streets after them. Hence Howard, now Marina Vista, Ruden, now Main, Ward, Green, Thompson and Mellus streets. Other streets were named for Martinez family members.
Thomas A. Brown
Brown Vault - Thomas A. Brown, an engineer, was hired by Col. Smith to survey and plot the city of Martinez for a fee of $2,500. He did this with the help of his brother Warren. Five years earlier, Thomas had laid out the City of Portland, Oregon Territory. Following the Smith assignment, he was hired by the William Welch heirs to survey another 500 acres east of Alhambra Creek to be added to the new city. He received nearly 1/3 of the land surveyed as payment. Thomas was a partner in a trading post located in town. He was appointed Alcalde of the territory in 1849 and was elected first County Clerk and Recorder when Contra Costa County was formed in 1850. He retired from that post in 1855 to become a County Supervisor. While serving as County Clerk, he studied law and was admitted to practice in 1855. He became a County Judge in 1856, and served until he was elected to the Assembly in 1864 where he served 2 terms. When the Superior Court was created, he became the first Superior Court Judge (a post he held until just weeks before his death). His father and mother lie in the grave immediately to the right.
Elam and Margaret Brown
In 1846, Elam Brown, a widower with 4 children, joined a wagon train and came west. They stayed briefly at Sutter's Fort, and then came through the Livermore Valley to Mission Santa Clara. Along the way Brown married Margaret Allen, a member of the wagon train whose husband had died on the trek west. She had eleven children. In the Spring following their arrival, Elam hired out in the Contra Costa logging district. There were three stands of very large trees, Moraga Redwoods, Peralta Redwoods and San Antonio Redwoods. He helped to harvest trees; whip sawed them into lumber, hauled the lumber by ox team to the Oakland Estuary, and transported it across the bay to San Francisco. While delivering lumber, Brown heard of 3,300 acres being offered within easy riding distance of where he was working. Brown had little money of his own but his new wife had $900.00 that she had hidden in a crock among the things she brought west. The owner of the land accepted Brown's $900 offer and Elam established a ranch in the Lafayette area. He was supposedly the second white man to settle in the county. He served as "Alcalde" of the territory and he represented the District of San Jose at the Constitutional Convention of 1849. Elam was the first member of the California Legislature for the county and the founder of Lafayette. Elam sold his friend, Nathaniel Jones, who had come west in the same wagon train, 372 acres for $100. Nathaniel Jones would become Contra Costa's first sheriff. Brown harvested heavy crops of wheat, which grew profusely all over Contra Costa in the days of virgin soil. Elam bought a second hand grist mill so he wouldn't have to haul his grain to a mill in San Jose. Brown capitalized on his acreage - not only by raising wheat but also by selling off small farms, and soon a small village developed. In 1853, Benjamin Shreve, a disappointed gold seeker, bought 250 acres from Brown to farm. In addition to farming, Shreve taught school. In 1855, he closed the school and opened a general store. Later he applied to the U.S. Post Office Dept. for permission to open a branch at what he named "Centerville". Another town already had the same name so Shreve chose "Lafayette" in honor of the French general who helped the American cause during the Revolutionary War.
This storyboard was dedicated in 2015 outside the Brown Family mausoleum.
Caroline Hipple Holpin known as "Papinta the Flame Dancer" was an Indiana native. Her husband, William, who was originally from Wisconsin, bought 100 acres in Ygnacio Valley in 1897. They had married in Chicago 10 years earlier. During their first years together they moved about often. From Omaha to Denver to Portland, then to San Francisco to Minneapolis, and back to Chicago. While in Chicago, William, a lover of horseracing and the theatre, talked his wife into becoming a performing artist. William found Caroline a dance teacher and they bought a complicated set of Mirrors called the "crystal maze" which reflected light from calcium arc lamps. During her act "Papinta the Flame Dancer" managed to keep 50 yards of silk in motion. Within a few years her exotic performances became quite popular and lucrative. She performed in the capitols of Europe, Cape Town South Africa, and then on many stages in the United States. The Ygnacio Valley property had been purchased so William could pursue his dream of raising racehorses. In March 1905, Caroline's life started downhill. While performing in Rochester, New York, she received word that William had died at their ranch of "acute gastritis". He was 35 years old. Her father-in-law claimed William and Caroline’s marriage license and other important papers had disappeared mysteriously. He claimed to be the rightful heir to the ranch. The case was in the courts for a year and a half, finally being resolved in Caroline's favor. She continued to perform. On August 10, 1907, Caroline died just after finishing a performance in Düsseldorf, Germany. Speculation was she was overcome by the fumes from the arc lamps.
James Rankin was a Scottish immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1865. Coming from a coal mining area in Scotland, he came to Contra Costa and the mines at Nortonville in 1870. Later, he became a store owner. In 1884, he was elected Sheriff and in 1885 moved his family to Martinez. He served two terms as Sheriff. Rankin Park sits on a portion of the Rankin property. The olive orchard picnic area is a remnant of the 400 olive trees Rankin had planted. In 1893 he became president of the Bank of Martinez, a position he held until his death. Rankin family descendants continue to live in Martinez to this day.
This is the oldest existing marker in the cemetery (1856) the area became an official cemetery in 1854. There is some evidence of burials on this site as early as 1851.
Hiram Mills was a prominent attorney. At one time, Estudillo Street was named in his honor.
Haussman/Tavan were local philanthropists. Money from their estates was put in a trust to provide funds to help maintain the cemetery. Every four years interest is accumulated and used to pay for improvements to the grounds.
Woodman of the World and Women of the Woodcraft
Contributed by Roger Weed
Some of the gravestones in the Alhambra Cemetery bear the inscription and logo of the Woodmen of the World. The Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society was founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1890 by Joseph Cullen Root. By 1900 it had more than 500,000 members. Symbols which were used by the order included the tree stump which represented equality, the dove and olive branch for peace and the axe, beetle and wedge for workmanship, progress and culture.
As a fraternal benefit society the Woodmen was controlled by its members and set up on a lodge system similar to groups such as the Elks and Moose. It was non-profit and provided financial and insurance benefits to its survivors.
The purpose of the Woodmen was to provide a burial to members. Joseph Cullen Root, the founder, created the Woodmen Memorial Day each year on June 6 to commemorate deceased Woodmen. Early Woodmen certificates entitled holders to a death and monument benefit. Grave stones were originally furnished free but later were offered only to those who purchased a $100 rider.
Spanning three centuries, Woodmen has evolved into a modern financial services organization, offering life and health insurance, annuities, investments and home mortgages. Today, Woodmen is one of the largest fraternal benefit societies with more than 810,000 members who belong to more than 2,000 lodges across the United States and conduct volunteer projects that benefit individuals, families and communities.
In addition to providing life insurance protection to members, Root believed that Woodmen members, through their local lodges, should be an active volunteer force within their communities, helping those in need.
George Bailey was a lawyer who handled estates and investments. Some of his larger investors wanted to cash in some of their holdings. He informed them that he needed to go to San Francisco to get the money. Three days later his body was found floating in the bay. He committed suicide to avoid facing embezzlement charges.
Josiah and Eliza Smith Sturgis
Josiah and Eliza Smith Sturgis were pioneers from Nantucket in the 1850's. He built and operated the Alhambra Hotel from 1855 to 1912. City Hall was built on this site in 1913. In the 1950's the city hall building was demolished and the space became parking lot #1. Recently, a creek realignment and plaza project displaced the parking lot.
The McClellan and Hardy the Faithful
The McClellan's and Hardy migrated from Tennessee. Hardy was their slave. When they came to California, Hardy had to be granted his freedom because of residing in a free state. Hardy continued to give faithful service as attested to by the inscription "Hardy the Faithful" on his headstone and his inclusion in the family plot.
Potters Field was established in 1873 for the burial of "strangers and others not having purchased lots in the cemetery." The name is derived from a Biblical passage in the Book of Matthew. There is some evidence that the areas where potters dug out clay to make their wares were used as ready-made burial sites.
During the busy time of Port Costa's grain shipping years, accidents occurred on the Strait. An apprentice drowned after falling into the Strait, a cabin boy fell from the mast of a British ship. Each lad was buried here instead of being returned to their homeland. Several sailors were buried in Potter's Field when there was no provision to bury them otherwise.
Chinese Presence -- Brick Burner
Chinese had arrived in California with the onset of the Gold Rush. From almost the beginning of that immigration they were in Martinez. Many more came to build the Transcontinental Railroad. Many of the leading families of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties had Chinese cooks, house servants, and field workers. The Strentzels and the Muirs were among the growers who employed Chinese workers. A fish cannery in Martinez also employed many Chinese workers who were brought in to work for low wages.
A common feature in the Chinese section of host community cemeteries is the "burner" (sometimes mistakenly called an "oven"). The Chinese believed that when the flesh decomposed the devil was driven out. It was customary for Chinese families to leave dishes of food on the graves, and also numerous small confetti-like papers with small holes in them, the idea being that through these the devil could not get to the body of the deceased, but would become confused if he attempted to find his way among all the supposed obstructions.
The Burner a brick or masonry structure, served as a safe place for the ritualized burning of spiritual tributes. "These paper and cardboard facsimiles of money, clothing, possessions, and houses, would serve the deceased in the afterlife. Burning these items passes them to the spirit realm.
Education was a top priority for the County’s early residents, especially those from the eastern U.S. Beverly Holliday, a schoolteacher from Illinois, came to California to look for gold. Not finding enough to live on, he became a logger working in the nearby Redwood Groves of Oakland and Moraga. By January of 1850, he was ready to return to teaching. He found a teaching job at the Martinez Seminary for $75.00 a month. This salary was quite high for the time because 13 years later salaries for male teachers in Contra Costa ranged from $45 - $75 per month while female teachers earned $35 - $62. Holliday started with a class of 6 pupils. Within 6 months there were more then 20 students. He taught reading, writing, arithmetic. Later Mr. Holliday served as coroner and Justice of Peace. Holliday and John Livingston owned the land on which this cemetery was placed.
Obed Fosdick Alley
Obed came to California from Nantucket in 1850. After working in the gold fields and spending some months in Martinez, he sent for his wife Phebe who arrived in 1852. Obed started a dairy and dabbled in politics, serving at various times as County Assessor, Tax Collector, and Secretary of the Contra Costa Agricultural Society. Also, he was elected County Treasurer. Phebe, a teacher, talked the Masons into allowing her to use some of their meeting hall space for classrooms. She had first taught school in the kitchen at the Sylvanus Swain home. The Swains were also from Nantucket. Phebe didn't teach long. She became more of a fund-raiser and dabbled in magnetic healing. In 1869, a playground accident killed their son Herman when he was struck by a baseball bat. He was buried here. In 1874, the Alleys moved to San Francisco and later moved on to San Jose. After their deaths Obed and Phebe were laid to rest with their son. No evidence of any grave marker was found on this plot. The present day marker was placed by the Clampers in recognition of the Alleys contributions to the community. The Clampers have been very much involved in restorative projects and clean-up of the Cemetery.
Built after a fire that burned most of the wooden markers. Water was pumped by windmill from a well by the front gate. The trough was used to fight fires and water the horses in the funeral processions.
Are you looking for more graves?
If you are searching for the burial site of an individual buried in either the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery or the Saint Catherine of Siena Cemetery of Martinez, the Martinez Historical Society might be able to assist you. The Martinez Museum archive includes information about many Martinez families including burial records.
An archivist at the Museum can be reached by email as follows: MartinezHistory@att.net
The City of Martinez is another source of information as owner and manager of the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery. The City's cemetery web page contains their most recent decedent lists for the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery, Potters Field, and American Civil War veteran
The Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance does original research to identify the graves of individuals and their descendants for whom records are lacking or incomplete. The Contra Costa County Genealogical Society is another resource for locating graves and tracing the family trees of the deceased.
The Contra Costa County Historical Society can also be a source of information on those who lived and died in Martinez or who are buried in a Martinez cemetery.
Martinez Historical Society
1005 Escobar Street - Martinez, CA 94553 (925) 228-8160