LEAVES FROM THE PAST: FORT MILLER

by

June English



 
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FRESNO COUNTY

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The earliest known cemeteries in Fresno County were the Fort Miller and the original Millerton Cemeteries. The Millerton Cemetery was located on the north side of the San Joaquin River from the old town of Millerton, the site of which is now under the waters of Lake Millerton.


There is no documented record of when the Millerton cemetery was begun. But, as there was a settlement there as early as 1851 and perhaps before, there must have been a burying ground nearby. Fort Miller was established in 1852 on the site of old Camp Barbour, established in 1851, and there was a burying ground from that date until a few identifiable and unidentified remains were removed to the new site on Winchell's point on the south side of the lake in 1941. There exists the record of only three soldiers who died and were buried in the Fort Miller cemetery. The official records of the fort were destroyed in the fire and earthquake that ravaged the Bay area in 1906. The Quartermaster General in Washington, D.C., had these three names of men who were buried there:


Edward Murtha, Pvt. Co. K, 2nd U. S. Inf . July 27, 1851
Christian Berkemyer (or Berkenmyer),
            Pvt. Co. K, 2nd U. S. Inf August 25, 1852
Otto Neibur, Pvt. 2nd California Volunteers. October 1863

In the burying ground across the river were laid to rest men, women and children who died from every known cause. Death was often the result of any illness, even though there were several doctors in the town. Occasionally there is a reference to a burial here in a family record or a published reminiscence. None of these burials were removed and as far as can be determined there exists no official burial or death record for the early period of Fresno County's history.


Death reports in this great region of what was once Mariposa County can be found in early Mariposa newspapers deposited in the Mariposa County Courthouse and in the private collection of Frank F. Latta, famous historian of this valley. The Millerton Times published ten issues in 1865, then became defunct. Then, until 1870, when the Fresno Expositor came into existence in Millerton, we can only search again in the Mariposa Gazette, hoping the personage who died was prominent enough to be mentioned there.


Natural disasters were the cause of the disappearance of this burial ground across the river. In the winter of 1861-62 there was recorded the greatest rainfall in the history of this state. All the rivers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys overflowed their banks and if this great inland valley had been populated, there would have been a great disaster. Part of the Millerton Cemetery was washed away onto the Joaquin Plains. The dwellers of that ill-fated town continued to bury their dead across the river. The great flood of Christmas Eve, 1867, completely eradicated any trace of the cemetery. During the intervening years until 1871 or 1872, the dead were laid to rest in private plots or the Fort Miller Cemetery. When the IOOF was instituted at Millerton in 1871, they also established a burying ground near Millerton. Before Friant Dam was completed in 1944, every effort was made by the officials to find relatives of the deceased in these two cemeteries and the remains were removed to the place of the families' choice. The unidentified and unclaimed were removed to Winchell's Point. A monument, made of the huge granite blocks from the Millerton Courthouse, was placed here to explain the origin of the small cemetery.


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