Posted By admin on March 21, 2011
A reader thought others might be interested to hear the story about the bodies that were found when the city was digging to lay the foundation for Rattlesnake School.
On Oct. 14, 1992, a story written by Donna Syvertson appeared in the Missoulian. It was about a memorial at Rattlesnake School dedicated to the dead who were buried where the school was later built. The memorial, described below, still stands with a dedication plaque that says the cemetery was used from 1888-1930.
Here are the first few paragraphs:
“Rattlesnake School dedicated a memorial Tuesday to the hundreds of dead who are buried in its schoolyard.
The memorial consists of a 6-foot concrete arch with 10 faces on it; the faces represent different ages and races of the people in the cemetery. A smaller arch signifies a bridge from one kind of existence to another. Much of the work was volunteered.
Pieces of human skeletons were discovered in 1989, when Chlo Murdock and her daughter were walking through the school grounds, where a new addition to the school was being built. After finding a skull bone, Murdock reported the findings to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.
Murdock and Susan Liles began to research the graveyard, which was a potter’s field on the grounds of the old Missoula County Poor Farm, Detention House and Hospital. It was used through the early 1930s. The cemetery’s register could not be found. But old funeral home records, which started in 1901, turned up 454 people buried in the cemetery. There is a possibility 750 bodies actually were buried there, Murdock said.
Not all of them are poor people. Many died without family or friends to care for them. Railroad accidents claimed 56 men. The bodies of children filled 37 graves and women, 19. Chinese people accounted for 14 graves while Indians and four blacks were buried in the field.”
On its website, the Missoula Cemetery offers an intriguing synopsis of local historical cemetery sites. It says there was also a graveyard beneath what’s now Prescott School in the lower Rattlesnake that was used as early as 1883, when the railroad first came through.
“The site was chosen by the local Chinese immigrants due to its clear and prestigious view of the valley,” it says.
There is also evidence of an Indian burial ground where the former Safeway Store on West Broadway was built. The city-founding Higgins family had its own private cemetery at the base of Whitaker Hill (the bodies were ultimately removed to the Missoula City Cemetery).
Go to: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentView.aspx?DID=406