Settling the Frontier
When the first pioneer families settled in South Cottonwood area in the fall of 1848, they selected the low or bottom lands along the streams of water where they found an abundance of grass for their cattle and horses. It was easy to take the water from the streams for irrigation of farm crops. The higher bench lands were covered with sagebrush and produced very little grass and because of the labor and the difficulty in getting water to them, they were left in most instances, for later settlement.
There was a strip of high bench land, completely surrounded by low land near what is now Vine St. and 5600 S. lying toward the North. Before and after the advent of the pioneers, this land was used by the Indians as a camping ground, as water and grass could be obtained on either side of it and the enemies could not approach without being seen long before coming to the high ground.
When the pioneers arrived the area was considered almost worthless by the first settlers. They mutually agreed that no individual should fence or take title to it, but that it should be set aside and considered as belonging to South Cottonwood Ward. In 1853, when teamsters commenced to haul granite rock from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Salt Lake Temple, a dirt path was made along what is now Vine St. The east side of the road (where the Still Water Apartments now stand) became a halfway camping ground for the teamsters.
To the south a site was selected on which the South Cottonwood Ward erected their meeting house in 1856 under Bishop Andrew Cahoon, and Counselors George W. Gibson and William Carruth. In 1872 the United States started to issue patent for the land, under the custom that the man owning the largest acreage in any 160 acres would apply for and receive the patent for it. He in turn was under legal and moral obligations to issue deeds to any and all who owned smaller acres within the boundaries of his patent.
Two land owners received patents for the land which included most of the original cemetery property. William Wooten received the patent for what is now north of 5600 S. and the east half of the cemetery going east across Vine St. toward 9th East. He willingly deeded the land that contained the west half of the bench land west of Vine St., which has been recognized as belonging to the ward. He had become inactive in the Mormon Church and refused to deed the land to the bishop, but offered to deed it to the South Cottonwood Relief Society. The offer was accepted and the Relief Society received the deed.
William McMillan also deeded back part of his land west of the old cemetery to James Godfrey who lived within the boundaries of Mr. McMillan's patent. The Godfrey's eventually sold this land for development and a section was finally sold to Murray City for a cemetery extension in the 1970s. Although family tradition seemed to indicate James Godfrey donated land, records do not show that James Godfrey owned land in the original cemetery area; however, he did farm there for many years and eventually gave up this farming area for the cemetery. John Benbow received the patent for the property north of the cemetery and current research indicated that a small sliver of Benbow's land is also part of the old Cemetery section possibly including his own grave site. However, records do not show any transfer to the South Cottonwood Ward.
Planning the Cemetery
On June 6, 1872, Joseph Sharp Rawlins became bishop, with William Boyce and Richard Maxfield as counselors. Shortly thereafter they planned a cemetery on the high land tract, using the north one-fourth of the tract on the west side of Vine St. Prior to this time, pioneer families buried their dead loved ones in private cemeteries near their properties or the Salt Lake Cemetery or nearby community cemeteries. Some graves were moved to the Murray Cemetery after it was established. Men were called to clear off the sagebrush and to level the ground and fence it. Each man was given a receipt for a burial lot one rod square for $3, paid for in labor or cash. The first grave dig was for the burial of early pioneer John Benbow who died May 12, 1874. Charles Wilkins was the first sexton. It was named the South /Cottonwood Ward Cemetery.
Beautification of the Cemetery
In 1904 under the direction of Bishop William B Erekson, beautification of the cemetery began. Artesian wells were driven and the water was piped along the alleys to bring water to the cemetery for upkeep. A booklet of rules and regulations governing the cemetery was printed and delivered to each lot owner as far as they could be found and a request made to them to cooperate by having their lots planted in lawn. It was provided that the sexton Henry Ballard would water and care for the lots for $3 per season.
Following the improvements, Decoration Day 1904, agitators walked in groups in the cemetery, claiming they owned their lots and could drive their own wells and water their lots and so were opposed to paying the sexton for caring for them. A few days later, 20 owners took the locked cemetery gates off the hinges, and drove an artesian well on one of their lots.
The bishop entered suit in the court against that group using the water, and the court rendered a decision that "all lot owners of cemetery lots held only the right to bury their dead on the lots, but in all respects ere subjected to the rules and regulations of the cemetery authorities." The well was connected to the cemetery water system and those who drove it were paid by the ward for the cost of the pipe and drilling.
The lawsuit was far-reaching in its effect on all cemeteries owned by wards, because it showed the necessity of unifying the type of receipts or deeds given for the lots, and making it clear on the deeds that a lot owners could use the lot only for the purpose of burying their dead, and that uniform regulations should be printed and given to each lot purchaser for his guidance. The church attorney, therefore developed books of deed forms which included general regulations and sent them to every ward cemetery in the church.
Through the years it was found that the majority of lot owners lived in Murray City limits although some lot owners could not be found. It was thought some of them were living in European countries. The beautification depends upon the willingness of the owners to pay for planting lawns and for the yearly upkeep and watering. One lot would be cared for planting lawns and for the yearly upkeep and watering. One lot would be cared for and some around it left to grow to weeds. The ward had no authority to levy and collect a tax for the care of the entire cemetery. Murray City had such authority, and therefore it seemed advisable to transfer the title of the cemetery to Murray City so that the entire cemetery could be beautified and made a credit to the community it served.
Transferring Ownership to the City
About 1913, negotiations were started, under Bishop William B Erekson's administration, with the Murray City officers to that end, and carried on for several years. The sale was consummated in August 1917 between Bishop Jesse H. Wheeler, his counselors John B. Erekson and Wm. David Turner and the city of Murray. Murray City purchased the entire tract on the west side of Vine St. of 28 Acres and 86/100, as recorded in the Recorder's Office at the City and County Building for the sum of approximately $3,150. It comprised the north part where burial lots had been sold, and also about two-thirds of the tract to the south, which they could sell burial lots in the future. The entire cemetery was landscaped by City Engineer, Thomas McDonald who planted lawn and juniper trees, connected water to the City water mains, and made one of the most beautiful burial places in Salt Lake County. It was renamed the Murray City Cemetery.
Who Is Buried Here
The original section of the cemetery includes graves of the earliest settlers who came across the plains as Mormon Pioneers from the British Isles and Scandinavian countries. As the cemetery slowly expanded to the south, it began to include graves from many ethnic families from Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Eastern European countries who came to Murray after 1870 as the smelter industry grew. The cemetery continued to expand further south to 5600 S. and a section to the West was purchased about 1975. In 1996, a new section to the north of the original cemetery was developed.
Since the Murray Cemetery started after the railroad came to Utah, most of the headstones were made from imported marble and then hand carved. A few markers used local sandstone foundations. The marble was much softer and many carved details have deteriorated on the gravestone markers. At the turn of the century, power tools were used on granite. Sandblasting is used today to create various symbols for a pattern placed over the granite. Newer headstones have been placed nearby or replaced older ones.
Later sextons included Henry Ballard, Karl Jacobson, John Thompson, John T Barrett, William Jex, Henry Watts, Henry Smith Kyle Swallow, Gordon Healy, and Lane Page.
Most of this information was taken from Our Pioneer Heritage, by Kate B. Carter from the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Vol. 20, Pages 161-164, and was originally written October 1, 1946 by William B. Erekson for Cottonwood Camp, Daughters of Utah Pioneers.