Chandler author, photographer explore grave matter - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler author, photographer explore grave matter

September 24th, 2020 SanTan Sun News
Chandler author, photographer explore grave matter

Executive Editor

You can walk through an old cemetery and find history in every direction, stumble upon sad sentiments on gravestones that suggest an even sadder end and mourn some sites for being allowed to fall into disrepair from neglect.

First-time Chandler Ranch author Heather Moulton and Gold Canyon photographer Susan Tatterson do all three with their new book, “Graveyards of the Wild West: Arizona.”

Published by Arcadia Press/History Through Time Publishers, the book walks readers through some of the discoveries the pair made as they visited 15 historic cemeteries in the state, assembling individual chapters on six, pairing two in Florence in another chapter and then devoting an eighth chapter to “colorful characters” whose final resting places are in various graveyards.

Moulton, professor of English and literature at Central Arizona College since 2005, and Tatterson, professor of digital media at Central Arizona since 2013, started their tour at Yuma Pioneer Cemetery in March 2019, finishing their tour around the state last November.

They deliberately use “graveyard” rather than “cemetery” to describe the places they visited because the former “connotes more history,” Moulton said.

“It feels ‘old-timey’ and maybe a bit rough around the edges, just like the Wild West,” she explained.

Moulton credits her mother Nancy Moulton for the inspiration to write the book.

“She’s a historical romance author and she would stop by cemeteries to look at headstones for the names – old cemeteries have some of the best names made for excellent characters in books,” Moulton explained. “My mom also always loved westerns and I think that influenced my on-going fascination with the Wild West.”

Tatterson had some experience and fascination with old graveyards from growing up on the east coast as well as from collecting material for the books that she has published with Arcadia for its Abandoned Union series –  “Abandoned Arizona, Ghost Towns & Legends,” “Abandoned New Mexico, Enigmas and Endings,” and “Abandoned Maryland, Ruin and Restoration.”

When they started out, it was just for fun, Moulton said, as they traveled to abandoned and unusual places in the West.

“Then, I kept saying over and over, ‘Can we stop at the cemetery in this old Western town?’ She’s the one who suggested we pitch it as a book idea to Arcadia/History Through Time and they went for it,” Moulton said of Tatterson.

They didn’t encounter any grizzled old caretakers at any site they visited, but Moulton said she’s grateful for the individuals from historical societies and others who shared stories that helped give her a verbal framework for the book.

“As an academic, I made sure to vet the sites and find accurate and consistent information,” Moulton said. “That’s why my bibliography is so very long.”

The duo looked first for pioneer cemeteries “because that would mean older graves and interesting history,” she explained. “Then we looked for – and found – connections between the cemeteries and the legends of the Wild West.

“For example, even though only one Earp is buried in Arizona – in Willcox – the impact of the Earp family and their comrades on numerous cemeteries, like Tombstone’s Boot Hill and Prescott’s Pioneers’ Home, cannot be denied.”

As for the most interesting graveyards they explored, Moulton said, “as an author and researcher, it’s a tie between Tombstone and Pioneers’ Home Cemetery in Prescott.

“Both of them offer so much history about Arizona. I went to both as ‘fans’ of the Earps – thanks in large part to the movie ‘Tombstone’ – but after significant research, I was reminded that the concept of ‘heroes’ is, like history, written by the ones still standing after the smoke clears.”

Added Tatterson: “As a photographer, Jerome really stayed with me. The views from the cemetery are sensational. As someone fascinated by the settling of the West, probably Tombstone. But it is difficult to pick a favorite as they all featured someone or something memorable.”

And they noted that interesting graveyards can be found in the East Valley generally and Chandler specifically.

For like-minded explorers, they recommend the Goodyear-Ocotillo Cemetery, around which Fulton Ranch was built.

“There are hundreds of graves but very few that identify who’s there,” Tatterson said. “It’s tragic when that history – people, really – have been lost.”

They also noted that the City of Mesa Cemetery is “wonderfully historic” – and still in use today – with some notable residents liked country-western singer Waylon Jennings and Mesa’s first African-American doctor, Lucius C. Alston.

“Unfortunately, we were limited to 128 pages, so we had to carefully pick and choose the cemeteries to include,” Moulton said. “We’d love to publish another book on graveyards in Arizona because we had to leave more out than we included.”

But fear not, because “Graveyards of the Wild West: Arizona” is the first in a series.

Their next, “Graveyards of the Wild West: New Mexico,” is being released this week.