- Trevor Perkes
Gravesites in Yellowstone National Park (And How to Find Them)
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Yellowstone National Park has an amazing story to tell. Filled with unique historical characters who traversed the area the vast natural wonders that defy all imagination makes it a story worth hearing. For the Native Americans, early Euro American explorers, and early Army Calvary soldiers who lived in Yellowstone and protected the park, it wasn’t always a “walk in the park”. It was a dangerous place where a fall from a horse, an attack from a bear, exposure to hot geothermal features, or a common illness could mean death. Are there gravesites in Yellowstone National Park? There are Three main cemeteries in Yellowstone National Park and a few single gravesites. Fort Yellowstone Cemetery was used for the burial site of Army Calvary men and their family members. Mammoth Civilian (Kite Hill) Cemetery was the cemetery for early park visitors and workers, and Gardiner Cemetery (Tinker’s Hill) was used for Yellowstone and Gardiner residents. Being a “history buff” and avid Yellowstone visitor year-round, I love finding these places in the park that take me back in time and provide a unique perspective that the early visitors may have experienced. The cemeteries, like many places in the park, are what I consider “sacred”. Each man, woman and child who is buried in these cemeteries, many with worn, nameless head stones, have a story to tell. If you visit these places, please be respectful of the sites and surroundings. Do not touch or take parts and pieces as “souvenirs”, but rather leave them intact to preserve their natural and original setting. Try to envision the Cavalrymen lowering to the grave a fallen brother in arms, a mother and father burying a child, or a co-worker and lost friend, and having to write to their family that their loved one has died while in Yellowstone National Park.
Fort Yellowstone cemetery During the early days of Yellowstone National Park (1886 – 1918) the US Cavalry managed and protected the Park. During this time, if a soldier or member of their family passed away, they were buried at the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery.
Between 1888 and 1957 there were 58 individuals buried here. However, in 1917, just before the US Army stopped managing the park, 20 graves (Army Personnel) were moved to the Little Bighorn Battlefield that is located near Crow Agency, Montana.
After the Army turned the Park’s management over to the National Park Service, several civilians were also buried at the cemetery – the last person to be buried here was Jeanett Clark in 1957.
The cemetery is located between the Upper Terrace Loop Drive and Mammoth Hot Springs near the horse corral. You cannot drive to the horse corral, but you can park at the pull off near the entrance and walk down. It will take about 2 minutes to walk to the cemetery. The Cemetery has a steel pole fence and rock pillars outlining the boundaries of the cemetery. You can learn more about it by clicking HERE.
Mammoth Civilian (Kite Hill) Cemetery Not many know about this small cemetery. Tucked away from the public on a hill behind Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, there are located fourteen (14) graves, five of which are known by the engravings on the markers, and the rest unknown as no markings identify who is buried beneath the headstone or make-do marker. Of the 14 grave sites, only one headstone remains. It is that of Mary J. Foster and Sarry E. Boiling.
Mary J Foster, at the age of 33, was the first person to be buried at this site in 1883. For years it was believed that she was an employee at the Mammoth Hotel. However, research indicates that her family lived in the area (Cook City/Red Lodge, MT) and that they were passing through the area near Mammoth Hot Springs when Mary Died. Her cause of death is unknown.
How to get to the site:
The cemetery is located at the top of what is known as “Kite Hill”. It is the hill behind the Mammoth Hotel in Mammoth Hot Springs. To get to the cemetery, walk up the “Old Gardiner Road” about 300 yards. At which point another smaller service road will connect to it from the west. Take this service road for about 100 yards and you will see the Beaver Ponds Trail that intersects with the service road. Take the service road north away from Mammoth Hot Springs and towards the hill. Stay on the trail for about 100 Yards. This trail will slowly climb the hill. At about 100 yards, the hill on your left will climb rather steeply. This is Kite Hill. Venture off the trail towards the apex of the hill where you will find the gravesites. At the top you will find some stone lined graves overlooking Mammoth Hot Springs to the east. Some of the markings are difficult to find and you should be cautious so as not to disturb the burial remnants leaving it as a sacred setting for those buried there. You can learn more about it by clicking HERE.
Gardiner Cemetery (Tinker’s Hill)
While it wasn’t within the Park’s boundary when it was first established, it certainly is today. Many of the early graves from the 1880 and1890’s are worn down and the names are mostly lost to history, but some are still evident and have a story to tell. One of the most interesting facts about this cemetery is that it is the final resting place for a number of influential early park residents. For example, John F Yancy, the owner and operator of the “Old Pleasant Valley Hotel” that was located near present day Tower-Roosevelt Junction is buried in this cemetery.
To get to this cemetery, you need to “leave” the park out of the North Entrance by driving under the Roosevelt Arch and turning left away from the city of Gardiner. Due to the Park’s boundary, you are, technically, still in Yellowstone. Drive approximately 1 mile and turn left into the cemetery that is just off the road. If you decide to visit this cemetery, please be respectful. It is important to note that this graveyard is still within the actual park boundary.
Lone Grave Sites in Yellowstone National Park
There are a few lone grave sites scattered throughout the park. Below I have listed some of the more known sites knowing full well that there are others, some of which will probably never be discovered as the ravages of time, the elements, and other factors have hid them forever.
Mattie Culver Gravesite
The gravesite of Mattie Culver is the easiest to access. In fact, thousands of park visitors will stop for a picnic at the Nez Perce Picnic Area and not know that they are within 30 yards of mattie’s burial site. Mattie Culver was the wife of E.C Culver, who was the winter keeper of the nearby Marshall’s Hotel. Note: The hotel is no longer standing but ruminates of the hotel can still be seen today where it once stood. See our Yellowstone Interactive Map to see exactly where it was. The Nez Perce Picnic Area is located halfway between the Madison Junction and Old Faithful. If you are traveling south along the Firehole River, away from Madison Junction, you will come to a small road (Fountain Flat Drive) that turns west (Left) and crosses over the Nez Perce Creek where you can then turn right into the parking area for the Nez Perce Picnic Area.
There is a restroom located at the south end of the parking lot with a small dirt path just to the right of the restroom that will lead you down to the grave site. The grave is surrounded by six solid posts and an iron fence. There is a white headstone marked with her name, date of her death (March 2, 1889) and her age (30 Years old). Mattie left behind a husband and 18-month old Daughter. You can learn more about Mattie and her death by clicking HERE.
Native American Sites in Pelican Valley According to park records, there are a few lone Native American grave sites that have been discovered in the pelican valley. The exact location of these graves is a well-kept secret in order to preserve them.
Single Child Gravesite Near South Entrance
On July 17, 1903 a large family group of “immigrant pioneers” traveling from Almy, Wyoming in route to Calgary, Canada to start a ranching business entered the southern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. One member of the family group was little 2-year-old Bessie Rowbottom. The very next day while still in the park Bessie died. Bessie’s father, Lorenzo Rowbottom, sought for and received permission from the nearby U.S. Army Corp to bury Bessie in the park. At this time another group of travelers came into their camp and saw that they were getting Bessie ready for burial. Joining together the two traveling family groups built a small wooden box for her casket, dressed her in a nice white dress, and buried her with a small and informal ceremony where a lady from the other family group sang the song, “Little Children Who Love Their Redeemer”. Bessie’s father dedicated the grave. Please note that if you would like to visit this gravesite please check in at the ranger station at the South Entrance and they will provide you directions to the gravesite as it is physically located in the housing complex area. There is also a notebook at the ranger station that provides significant background information about Bessie, the traveling group, and the grave itself. Further, helpful and knowledgeable rangers are ready to answer your questions and share their knowledge of the area and events.
As I mentioned previously, each of these sites are considered sacred places. Whether it is the grave of an infant or final resting place for the men and women who helped establish the park and make it what it is today, it is extremely important to be respectful of these sites when in the park.
Death in Yellowstone
You can learn more about some of the people who are buried in the park by reading the book titled, “Death in Yellowstone” by Lee H Whittlesey. It details all the known deaths that have occurred in Yellowstone National Park since its inception. It’s a fascinating book that is well documented and provides the reader with a look into the life and workings of the residents of the park in its early years and the unique challenges of the environment. You can purchase the Death in Yellowstone book by clicking HERE.
If your planning on visiting Yellowstone National Park, you should consider purchasing the Yellowstone Explored Travel Book. The book has all of this information and so much more! You can purchase the Yellowstone Explored book by clicking HERE.