Bingham Hill Pioneer Cemetery is a sacred place for Bellvue resident Judy Jackson. She visits frequently to spend quiet time at the grave of her son Jim who was buried there in 2009. And when she’s there, she pauses at another recent gravesite, that of Ezra Samuel Travers, who spent seven of his 10 short years attending Sunshine Day Care in Jackson’s home and died in an auto accident on Christmas Day in 1998.
These are two reasons why the cemetery holds a special spot in Jackson’s heart and why the recent disappearance of the registry containing the names of visitors to the historic cemetery has saddened her so. “I just can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing,” she said.
More than 10,000 visitors from every state and more than 20 foreign countries have signed guest books since they were placed in a small visitors’ stand at the entrance in 1987.
More than 20 years ago, Jackson got to know Rose Brinks who with her husband, Jim, has owned the 100-acre ranch adjacent to the cemetery since 1977. Brinks wrote and published “History of the Bingham Hill Cemetery, LaPorte and Bellvue, Colorado” in 1988. Two editions followed in 1990 and 1998. The book is currently sold out and the need for a fourth edition is becoming evident.
According to Brinks’ book, the disappearance of notebooks for visitors’ signatures is nothing new. One book with 2000 signatures from May 1992 to July 1994 was stolen. Another from September 1994 to June 1995 was taken as well as signatures from August to December 1995. Brinks tried leaving loose sheets in the guest book box which she brought home each month but even then sheets were stolen. “Signatures and comments made by visitors and their relationships to the buried persons tell so much history,” Brinks wrote. “I would share all the signatures. No one needs to steal them.”
Because of her interest in history and preservation, Jackson has long been involved with restoring and maintaining the cemetery. She rounded up landscaping volunteers and helped raise funds even in the years before her attachment to the place became so personal.
Today a large granite memorial lists the names of all the people known to be buried in the cemetery. Brinks’ extensive research revealed more than 130 names and as many stories, but she suspects there could be as many as 300 graves, some sunken into the ground and with no headstone, others located outside the marked boundaries.
No one ever paid for burial space, no records were ever kept, and no organization was responsible for the cemetery’s care until Brinks came along. She reports that while occasional volunteers worked on maintenance, no formalized on-going effort was made. Many locals did not know the cemetery existed. Between 1942 and 1987 there were no burials and few visitors other than the native wildlife. Weeds and brush took over the place.
Jackson’s roots go deep in Bellvue. In 1927, her grandparents, Mittie and Fred Tetly bought the Jacob Flowers house where Jackson and her husband Mike now live. “My grandmother visited Bellvue, decided that’s where she wanted to raise her two daughters and returned home to Medora, N.D., where she announced to her husband, “I’m moving to Bellvue, Colorado. Do you want to come?”
Jackson and her husband bought the home from her mother and aunt in 1978 and brought their children, Joy, then 10, and Jim, 7, from Los Angeles to embark on a rural lifestyle. “I pinch myself every day that I’m here,” Jackson said. As a young girl, she spent summers in Bellvue, and always remembered it as a magical place.
It was Jacob Flowers who founded Bellvue, owned a store in what is now the Grange and served as Bellvue’s postmaster. Known as “Uncle Jake,” he also had a bandstand and a racetrack. In 1990, Jackson finally obtained historic designation for the place, formally naming it the Flowers House. A Daughters of the American Revolution plaque honors the Flowers, Titlys and Jacksons as owners. For 12 years, she operated Sunshine Daycare out of her house. Today she shares her home as a special place for outdoor weddings.
As a single mother, Monica Travers, devastated at her son Ezra’s death, did not know where to turn. Jackson stepped up to suggest Bingham Hill Cemetery as a fitting resting place. The little boy was buried in a spot with an encompassing view of the countryside where he had spent much of his young life.
“I wasn’t one to have favorites,” Jackson said, “but Ezra was unusually bright and insightful. I’ve often wondered what he would have become as an adult.” Jackson has stayed in touched with Ezra’s mother and frequently assures her that her son’s gravesite is cared for.
Jackson’s own son died after a 4-year struggle with a brain tumor, and became one of the few recent burials at Bingham Hill, intensifying Jackson’s commitment to the place.
Brinks understands the comfort that can come from visiting the graves of loved ones. Her commitment to Bingham Hill grew out of her proximity to the place and also because of the comfort she found long ago in a country cemetery in southwestern Nebraska where she and her mother visited her father’s grave and where a few years later, her mother and first husband were buried.
With the publication of Brinks’ book, Bingham Hill Cemetery has become a well-known area landmark. School groups visit, people come from far away to see the graves of relatives, and Wiccan and paranormal groups have been known to show an interest. A large pile of eggplant is placed in the cemetery at Halloween every year. Some suspect they are placed there to ward off an evil spirit, but no one knows for sure.
No fees are ever charged for visiting. Caretakers only ask that visitors show their respect and remember that the place has many stories to tell from the earliest grave marked 1862 to the most recent burials.