For our founders: Salida woman hopes to restore historic Cleora Cemetery

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SALIDA, Colo. — Established in 1880, the Cleora Cemetery has served as the final resting place for founders of nearby Salida. According to Salida local and history buff, Nicole Dixon-Kinyon, the cemetery holds the bodies of Chaffee County’s earliest settlers who traveled and lived in Buena Vista, Maysville, Garfield and other neighboring areas.

“It was the only cemetery that was in the area,” Dixon-Kinyon said. “Cleora, the actual townsite, was established in 1878. They established the cemetery in 1880.”

According to History Colorado, the cemetery “served as the pioneer graveyard in the area before Salida and other local settlements developed such facilities, and it became a final resting place for the pioneers of several communities in the vicinity.”

Created in 1878, Cleora was a short-lived railroad town that served as a supply point for travelers. Unfortunately for the small town, two years later, Salida was formed and with it, came the death of the smaller town of Cleora. Today, the Cleora cemetery is the only hint of where the small railroad town used to be.

“There’s just so much history in this one four-and-half plot of land,” Dixon-Kinyon said.

Despite being a historic piece of land, the cemetery has seen better days. Overgrown weeds litter the grounds, vandals’ artwork can be found in the area, and fences that once stood tall now rest on the ground.

“Nature has definitely taken its toll,” Dixon-Kinyon said.

The majority of graves in the cemetery are unmarked. However, instead of being indicative of abandonment, unmarked graves have been present in the cemetery since its creation.

In a document published in 2017, the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service wrote “The cemetery is not formally laid out in an arrangement of blocks and grave plots with roads or paths. Instead, there is a mountain landscape with informal social paths radiating from the entrance gate on the north upward to the south through the grounds (Photograph 4). Graves and plots were placed irregularly where there was room and in locations individual families favored. The northernmost section (the lowest part of the site) has relatively few marked burials, perhaps due to drainage issues…”

Grave marker and enclosure at Cleora Cemetery; courtesy of Nicole Dixon-Kinyon

Despite no formal layout or completely-marked graves, Dixon-Kinyon hopes to spruce up the remaining headstones as well as the plots that can be seen.

“A lot of headstones have been pushed over,” Dixon-Kinyon said. “There’s a lot of unmarked graves there that need at least a little bit of help.”

On Sept. 7, Dixon-Kinyon created a GoFundMe account in hopes of gathering enough money to repair the cemetery. Almost immediately, businesses, families, and residents of nearby areas began pledging to help. But locals aren’t the only people who want to help.

“I’ve had people contact me from like New York, Virgina,” Dixon-Kinyon said. “It really spread, really fast. I did not expect that.”

Dixon-Kinyon’s goal is $8,000. With that money, she plans to gets the tools needed to weed-eat the entire area, replace old fencing, remove the vandalism, and purchase a commemorative plaque honoring those who are buried there.

“It’s important, I feel like, to commemorate the people who are buried there because, without them, we really wouldn’t have Chaffee County,” Dixon-Kinyon explained. “Without Chaffee County, the railroad would have never come through here. It just connects a whole lot of people, just this one little plot of land.”

Picture of fencing enclosure at Cleora Cemetery; courtesy of Nicole Dixon-Kinyon

The process won’t be easy. Due to its boot hill layout and its sloping grounds, Dixon-Kinyon says no lawnmower can access the area. Instead, a weed eater will be needed to remove the tall weeds that have taken over. Fencing will take some time to remove and then replace.

Dixon-Kinyon hopes to have all of those renovations done by the end of October. But to do that, she will need volunteers. If you want to help, email her at ndkinyon16@gmail.com. You’re also encouraged to send monetary donations to P.O. Box 631 Salida, CO, 81201.

To view Dixon-Kinyon’s GoFundMe visit https://gf.me/v/c/54nr/clean-up-rebuild-grave-fencing-and-weed-eating.

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