Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Utah’s First Burial Site – An Ancient Native American Burial Ground?!

Utah's First Pioneer Burial Site

(If you want to read more in-depth about Utah's First Burial Site, a great resource is the book At Rest in Zion: The Archaeology of Salt Lake City's First Pioneer Cemetery (BYU Museum of Peoples and Cultures Occasional Papers, No. 14))

Where was Utah’s first pioneer burial site?

Most people are familiar with the Salt Lake City Cemetery, but what most people don’t know is that it was not the first burial site for the pioneers when they came to Utah in 1847. Back then, the Salt Lake City Cemetery was a small family plot belonging to George Wallace, and the first burial there wasn’t until September 1848. (Read more about the first burial in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, and how that small family plot became the Salt Lake City Cemetery.)

m_001126The story of Utah’s First Burial Site begins with Nancy O’Neil Rich, a pioneer woman who reached the Great Salt Lake Valley, but died only three days later on October 5, 1847. She was the first woman to die in the valley, and was buried near the “Old Fort”, which is present day Pioneer Park, with others that had died along the trek. There were also a few children and men buried there that had died in the early days of reaching the valley.

You can see a monument to Nancy O’Neil Rich in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. (See map below.)

In January 1851, twenty acres in the avenues district of the valley became the Salt Lake City Cemetery, and until July 6, 1986, the location of the first pioneer burial plot was lost with those buried there.Nancy Rich

Nancy O'Neil Rich Monument SLC Cemetery

Monument in the Salt Lake City Cemetery to
Nancy O’Neil Rich, first woman to die in the valley
Click to enlarge
(Okay to reproduce and print)

How / When was the burial site rediscovered?

In 1986 the area of 200 West between 300 South and 400 South in downtown Salt Lake City was being prepared for the construction of apartment buildings, and on July 6, 1986 a coffin was uncovered. Because of pioneer journals and other written records, there had been speculation that there might be pioneers buried in this area, but the exact location was unknown. Earlier efforts to find this burial site resulted in no findings, and discouraged descendants hoping to find their relatives gave up hope once again. After finding the first coffin, further examination resulted in finding the others.

View pictures of the excavation and discovery of the first burial site on the mormontrails.org website. (I am working on obtaining permission to have them posted here, but until then, please visit the link.)

In addition to the pioneer bodies, three ancient Native American bodies were found, along with two pit houses used by the ancient Fremont Indians who occupied this valley many years before the pioneers came here.

The remains were carefully removed and sent to be examined. Some of the remains were identified as  early pioneers known to be buried there, but not all could be identified by name.

You can read a more detailed account of the burial site and excavation on Mormon Trails website.

Where are the remains now?

After thorough research was done on the bodies, they were then laid to rest in a small cemetery in the North East corner of This Is The Place Heritage Park.

Many people have been to This Is The Place without even knowing this small cemetery existed (me included). You have to walk to the far North of the village, then the far East. (You must pay an admission fee in order to reach the cemetery.) The cemetery is located at marker 49 on the map below.

This Is The Place map

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Visit Utah’s First Pioneer / Ancient Native American Burial Site:

Utah’s first burial site, and the ancient Native American burial site, is located in the area of 200 West between 300 South and 400 South where the Palladio Apartments now sit.

You can stop and read a monument on the SouthWest corner of 200 West 300 South that was placed in memory of those once buried here.

To get the full story of Utah’s First Pioneer Burial site, you need to visit three places:

  • Monument at site of burial
  • Pioneer Cemetery at This Is The Place
  • Monument at Salt Lake City Cemetery for Nancy O’Neil Rich

utahs first burial siteA monument on the Southwest corner of 200 West 300 South in downtown Salt Lake City
marks the spot of Utah’s first burial site, as well as an ancient Native American burial ground.




  1. On the Mormon Trails site, it mentions that the Native American remains were not reinterred. Do you know if they were left at the site on 200 West 300 South?

  2. David, they were buried in the monument at This Is The Place monument


Thank you for your comments!