Pioneer & Military Memorial Park, Phoenix, Arizona
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The Williams-Crosscut Cemetery

        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 history.

        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.

         For just 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 died there.

        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 website.

        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.

        Today, the 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 hasn't.

        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


Copyright 2015, Pioneers' Cemetery Association, Inc. Last revised 20 July 2015.