David and I observed Dia des los Muertos early when we wandered through the City Cemetery in Chinese Camp on our way back from Yosemite last month. You can’t see the resting place from Highway 49, but Mike, the affable owner of the little market/bar in Chinese Camp, told us where to veer off the road and gave us permission to open the cattle gate barring the way.
Chinese Camp was home to more than 5,000 Chinese laborers in the mid- to late 1800s. People of Chinese descent are buried separately, in another cemetery we’ll have to find on our next trip. Mike told us the Chinese burial ground is now deliberately obscure because it became popular among grave robbers who learned about the Chinese tradition of interring gold and silver with the deceased.
The only visitors to City Cemetery that day, we came upon that customary mix of quiet, peacefulness, and sadness found in graveyards. Even though the memorial to a 2-year-old “dear lovely little girl” swept away in the Tuolumne River is nearly 120 years old, gazing upon it made my chest tighten.
The gravestone documenting 28-year-old Marcelles Butler’s murder confirms that this tiny town held its place in Wild West history.
We also observed that some old headstones announce “native of Germany” or “native of Tuolumne Co.,” a not-so-subtle proclamation, perhaps, of bias against the Chinese.
The filigree around this listing tombstone adds a prettier touch than the more modern woven and barbed wire behind it.
Looking out over these hills with their soft burnish makes it possible to believe that all souls buried here indeed rest in peace.