If you visit the Williams-Crosscut
Cemetery just west of the 7-11 on 48th Street and Van
Buren in Phoenix, Arizona, you won't see much. The fact
that there is still a tiny bit of open land, a few
miscellaneous headstones and some fencing is the only
indication that there had once been much of a cemetery
there at all. But if you're interested in history, like
I am, it's one of the most significant places in Phoenix
Phoenix is a
relatively young city, and it doesn't take much
time-traveling to reconstruct the story. To do that, you
have to travel back to the 1870s.
about any other city in the country, the 1870s wouldn't
really be that terribly long ago. But Phoenix was a very
primitive place then. While they were drinking champagne
in San Francisco, the pioneers of Phoenix were building
with adobe. There was no railroad, and there wouldn't be
one until 1887. And that meant that there were no
bricks, and certainly no materials for headstones. Any
lumber would have come from up north, and would have
been wildly expensive, not just to buy, but to
transport. But people lived in Phoenix then, and they
Two of the people
who were living there in the 1870s were John Wesley
Williams and his wife Mandaville, known as Manda.
Although the land on which they settled then seemed to
be "way out in the desert", it really isn't today.
Their farm was located on the Tempe Road (Van Buren Road
today) about five miles from the townsite of Phoenix and
even closer to the Phoenix Settlement (Mill City). One
of their close neighbors was Jack Swilling, who, along
with his company, had dug the first pioneer canal,
bringing water from the Salt River at about where 44th
Street is today, going northwest as far as where
downtown Phoenix is today.
Documentation on the Williams-Crosscut Cemetery is
difficult to find. As a researcher, I'm inclined to be
very suspicious. But this is where the fact that
Phoenix is so young helps tremendously. The cemetery was
formally established in 1884 by Mrs. Mandaville "Manda"
Williams for her family. In an 1965 article in the
Phoenix Gazette newspaper, Harrison Williams, the son of
John Wesley and Manda Williams, recounts some personal
recollections. His mother, who lived until 1934,
certainly would have spoken of her trials and
tribulations as a young woman in pioneer Phoenix.
Although the exact details are admittedly vague,
Williams Cemetery was a place that Harrison had been
visiting since he was a young man.
Records show that
there have been at least 81 burials in
Williams/Crosscut. For a list, please go to the Find-A-Grave
However, the cemetery also includes
burials that occurred prior to that date. The
earliest grave, dated 1877, is that of James Ansley
Young. He is believed to have been the first
Justice of the Peace in Phoenix. Two of John
and Manda's children, Lee H. Williams and Lutecia
Williams, died in 1879 and 1884 respectively.
James T. Cline died in 1883. Originally
buried in the First City Cemetery (now gone), these
bodies were removed to the Williams/Crosscut Cemetery
after it opened, probably around 1885.
The last burial in
Crosscut was that of Isaac Wilson Williams, the oldest
Williams son, in 1947.
cemetery is owned by multiple descendants of the
Williams family, most of whom now live in other states.
Why the name Crosscut? When the
original Crosscut Canal was built in 1888, it bypassed
the cemetery. Whether that was a coincidence, or whether
it was out of respect for the cemetery, is not known. If
you're wondering what happened to the Crosscut Canal, it
was abandoned in 1913 when the new one was built on the
east side of the Papago Mountains. The new Crosscut
Canal is still over there. The old Crosscut Canal was
finally covered up in the 1990s and a linear park was
built on top of it. You can walk your dog there.
Time and vandalism
have removed just about every trace of this important
pioneer cemetery. There is no real reason to stop as you
drive by, and there is really nothing to see but dirt
and a chained-link fence, but it's an important place
for Phoenix history. A marker would be nice.
The Tempe Road, by the way, is the
continuous trail that goes from Phoenix to Apache
Junction. Run your finger along a map going east from
Phoenix (along Van Buren and Washington), then cross the
Salt River going south through Tempe, then curve east
again at the edge of Arizona State University. And then
on straight to Apache Junction. The names along this
road have changed over the years, but the main route
Thank you to the
Phoenix Pioneers' Cemetery Association, who provided me
access to their documentation on this cemetery. They are
headquartered at the Smurthwaite House on Jefferson and
13th Avenue, near the Pioneer & Military Memorial
Park, but they support the preservation of historical
cemeteries all over Arizona, of which there are quite a
few. A lot of good people volunteer their time for this,
so if you think that you're the only one that cares
about this kind of stuff, you need to meet them. And
they know where the Lost Dutchman is! Really!
Article by Brad Hall.
Last revised 9 December 2013