Hillside Cemetery is a testimony to a unique chapter in the history of the American West. In the 1870s, the lure of gold and silver attracted thousands of people to the San Juan Mountains. Some were fortune seekers, others simply seeking a better life and opportunity. The mass migration brought many people from the east coast to this area; many immigrants such as Irish, Italians, and Germans, fleeing oppression or famine in Europe. And with the mining boom also came the seedier people of questionable character; drifters, prostitutes and gamblers.
The first recorded burial at Hillside was of Rachel Farrow, a young girl who died of "mountain fever" (pneumonia) in August of 1875. The first marked burial is of James Briggs who was killed in an 1878 snowslide. Of the more than 3,300 documented burials, at least 2,000 have no identifiable markers. Wooden markers used on early graves have deteriorated or disappeared over the years.
In the Silverton area, jobs in the mines were plentiful, but the workplaces were hazardous. Workers who didn't fall down an open shaft, get blown to bits in an explosion, or crushed in a cave-in, would almost certainly suffer "miners consumption", a disease that destroyed the lungs.
Measles, smallpox, typhoid, scarlet fever, diphtheria, cholera, and pneumonia were common causes of death, as well as childbirth. In October and November of 1918 more than 17 people died from the flu epidemic which raged worldwide. A majority of the victims were young adults in their 20s or 30s and when individual graves could not be dug fast enough, two "flu trenches" were used for the burial of about 90 people.
Natural disasters such as annual snowslides took their deadly toll as well. In March of 1906, dozens of avalanches occurred and 18 county residents died.
➠ Hillside Cemetery Website
Other Silverton sites to see:
About the Researcher
Information about Hillside Cemetery would not be possible without the dilligent research of Freda Carley Peterson (1928-2017). Her work is the only comprehensive and accurate record of burials at Hillside Cemetery. She has written a two-volume study "The Story of Hillside Cemetery" which contains detailed biographies, documentation, and family relationships. Freda received a prestigious award from the American Association for State and Local History in 1990 for her research and compilation of burial records in San Juan County, Colorado.
➠ Freda Carley Peterson Obituary