Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dearborn Crossing Cemetery Part 1

The Dearborn River country in Lewis and Clark County is an area rich in cultural history where physical remains abound if you know where to look. Buffalo jumps, pictographs, and stone arrow points illustrate Native Americans’ use of the abundant natural resources. One overlook, according to locals, was an eagle-catching site. Below, a stone cage—still intact—housed captive eagles until they molted. Then the birds were freed and the feathers collected. The area saw crews building the Mullan Road, completed in 1860, and heavy traffic between Fort Benton and Helena on the Benton Road from the mid-1860s to the advent of the railroad in the mid-1880s.

Nothing remains of the hotel and other businesses at the site of Dearborn Crossing, which served travelers along the Benton Road from the 1860s until the 1880s and the advent of the railroad.
The settlement of Dearborn Crossing sprang up to serve stagecoach and freight traffic and included a large hotel, livery, general store, and other businesses. The historic Dearborn Crossing Cemetery served the early settlers. It sits on a high, flat knoll overlooking the Dearborn River about a mile from the present Highway 287 Bridge. It is a beautiful, peaceful place. But the cemetery’s silent residents could tell tales of early-day violence.

Dearborn Crossing Cemetery, on private property, once served the local community.
In 1866, Charlie Carson and Louis Marcotte went out one morning to fetch the stage horses. Piegan Indians ambushed them. Marcotte survived by hiding in a gulch, but Carson was killed. He was the first person buried in the Dearborn Crossing Cemetery. In 1878, Gus Cottle and several others were also killed by Indians and buried here. Not all the graves are marked.

A few tombstones like this one of Gus Cottle, one of four killed by Indians in 1878, recall the hardships of early settlers.
A fence, built by property owners in 1960 to protect the tombstones from cattle, surrounds a portion of the cemetery. Depressions in the ground, however, indicate that there are unmarked graves outside the fence. Victims of murder, accidents, and sickness speak to the hardships of Dearborn pioneers. Most intriguing among them are William and Hattie Moore whose shocking deaths in 1885 were ruled murder-suicide. But was that what really happened? Stay tuned for Part 2.

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