Southern California Genealogical Society
Southern California Genealogical Society: Database: Los Angeles City Cemetery
Los Angeles City Cemetery: History of the Cemetery


Under the asphalt pavement of the Los Angeles Board of Education parking lot rests a hidden chapter of the county's history. It's the location of the first non-Catholic cemetery in the city of Los Angeles, alternately known as Los Angeles City Cemetery, Protestant Cemetery, Fort Moore Hill Cemetery, Fort Hill Cemetery, and simply “the cemetery on the hill.” The site of rumored gold and treasure buried by a wealthy Spanish family, the final stop for victims of vigilante justice and gunfighters, and the resting place of many of the City’s founders, the cemetery held evidence of the colorful settlers of Los Angeles's pioneer beginnings who fell to contagion and gunshot.

Although it may have had origins as early as the burial of four soldiers who died in December 1847, the earliest documented burial in the cemetery was of Andrew Sublette, a Kentucky-born mountain man, who was buried on December 19, 1853, following his death while fighting a grizzly bear in the Santa Monica mountains.

Some sources refer to the cemetery as a single entity with several sections – some public areas, and other private plots owned by individuals, families or groups. However, other sources describe the private areas as separate cemeteries for Masons, Improved Order of Red Men, French Cemetery (Societe Francaise), IOOF (Odd Fellows), and Olive Lodge, Knights of Pythias. Plots for Los Angeles Firemen and Soldiers are listed on a cemetery map ca. 1885.

For the first couple of decades, the city cemetery was not controlled or managed by the city – in fact, lots were not sold and it appears that no one was in control. People occupied lots and gravesites by squatter' rights. It was not until 1869 that a paid sexton was hired to sell lots and maintain the grounds.

The first official report of activity, filed by sexton Frank Hosmer in 1870, showed a total of 66 interments: White – 24 men, 14 women and 18 children. Colored – 2 men, 3 children; and Chinese – 5 men, for a total of 66. The report stated that between 500 and 600 individuals were buried in the cemetery at that time.

From the earliest days, reports complained about neglect and the poor condition of the cemetery. In January 1860, the Los Angeles Star editorial noted, “…On a barren hill-top, or in the open plain, bodies are interred, with apparently little care whether it remain sacred to that purpose or not. No enclosure marks the ground dedicated to holy object; no barrier keeps off the wandering animals or beasts of prey; the sacred mounts are trodden over and defaced; the tablets which indicate the names of those who sleep beneath are overturned; and in visiting the city of our dead, the mind is painfully impressed with its lonely, dreary isolation. This should not be…”

The cemetery continued to be used, and continued to be the source of complaints and concern, over the next twenty or so years. With the establishment of Evergreen Cemetery in 1879 and Rosedale in 1884, the city cemetery’s days began to wane. On August 30, 1879, the city council adopted a resolution prohibiting further burials in the cemetery except for individuals or societies already owning a plot.

In 1884, the city sold twenty-four residential lots on land previously part of the city cemetery complex. Several years later, Major Horace Bell, in his study on the land boom of the 1880s, decried the sale: “…A recital of the various forms of rascality perpetrated by the boomers would fill a volume. But the one greatest piece of rascality of all, to my mind, was the desecration of one of the city graveyards. It was a small pioneer graveyard covering ten acres. Some of the most honored California pioneers and officers of the army were interred there, but it was no longer used for burials. The city allowed promoters to map it, cut it up and sell it off in small building lots. In building streets through it, human remains were excavated and scattered and to-day [about 1900] wagons rattle through streets built up over buried human bodies. Houses stand on graves. The city of Los Angeles sold…this cemetery plot, a municipal burying ground, without pretending to remove and re-inter elsewhere the bodies resting there.”

In 1889, the Odd Fellows opened a cemetery elsewhere. The unused portions of the city cemetery were given over to the Board of Education to be used for a high school. Over time, the Board of Education annexed more and more of the land and eventually gained ownership of the cemetery. The Board negotiated with heirs and disinterred and removed many of the graves to Rosedale Cemetery.

By the mid-1900s, work had begun in earnest to transfer ownership of the land to the Board of Education, and the formerly 10-acre site had been reduced in size to about 5 acres. The Los Angeles times recounted the desecration and vandalism that had been wrought upon the cemetery. Within the next ten years, disinterment had begun in earnest and the Times reported, in graphic and sometimes grisly language, the discoveries made by the workers as they removed the bodies -- some to Evergreen, some to Hollywood Cemetery, many to Rosedale. These newspaper reports, which spanned over forty years, served to document the existence of some of the gravesites for the ages while providing insight to the rowdy early years of Los Angeles:

  • Robert S. Carlisle, who was said to have started the cemetery, was killed in a gunfight with Francis Marion King. Carlisle was buried with diamond settings in his teeth, which grave robbers later extracted and the Times reported in ghoulish detail.
  • Southern Pacific fireman Henry Amadon had just received a coveted promotion to engineer when he was murdered by Foster, the lover of his unfaithful wife. Ella Amadon and her sister, Lottie, had donned men’s clothing and spent the evening cavorting in a gambling house with their half-brother and Ella’s lover, unaware that husband Henry’s work schedule had been changed. When Henry surprised them while walking down the road in the wee hours of the morning, Mrs. Amadon’s paramour shot and murdered poor Henry.
  • Thirty identical caskets, each holding the remains of an unidentified baby, were found in a long row of grassy little mounds. The children were cosseted in tiny coffins, each fitted with wood handles carved in the shape of a lamb’s head, and glass plates – windows – through which the deceased could be viewed. The windowed caskets were often used when children died of a contagious disease so the parents could see them once more before saying their final goodbye.
  • Several bullet-ridden bodies, including one unidentified huge man attired in buckskin, miner’s hip boots, a white hat and “a remarkably thick belt,” provided a glimpse into torture Western style. In addition to fatal bullet wounds, bullet holes in feet and ankles indicated the victims had been encouraged to “dance” to entertain their persecutors before they met death.
  • Damien Marchessault was Mayor of Los Angeles from May 9, 1859 to May 9, 1860 and then again from December 27, 1860 to January 7, 1861. Born in St. Antoine Sur Richelieu, Province of Quebec, Canada, he committed suicide in the Council Room of Los Angeles City Hall in 1868.
  • Sheriff James R. Barton, and three deputies, became the first Los Angeles County law officers to die in the line of duty when ambushed by the gunmen from the notorious Flores/Daniel gang. []
  • According to the Times, “A nother plot contains the bodies of six deputy sheriffs, five of whom were killed in the cemetery while battling with cattle thieves, the sixth dying two years later as the result of injuries received in the engagement. His name as nearly as can be deciphered from the pieces of the badly crumbled headstone is G. Getny. Old-timers say that half of the 500 or more unknown graves contain the bodies of persons dying from the excellent marksmanship which prevailed in the early days.”
  • Vigilantes contributed to the population of the city cemetery, as well. During the term of office of Mayor John G. Nichols (1852-1852, 1856-1859), the city saw waves of lawlessness and numerous hangings. The city cemetery, the cemetery on the hill, saw many of these hangings. Mayor Nichols, whose son was the first American child to be born in Los Angeles, was himself buried in the Los Angeles City Cemetery.

The final chapter in the cemetery’s history was written in May 1947, as the final bodies were removed from the long-abandoned burial ground. One casket held an unidentified child. Hanbury MacDougall, about age 4, and William J. Broderick Jr., who died at birth, were moved from metal caskets in the brick mausoleum. And Robert Snell Carlyle [Carlisle], 1827-1865, the diamond-toothed gunfight victim who was said to have founded the cemetery, was relocated to Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

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Los Angeles City Cemetery

History of the Cemetery
Lost and Found:The Story of the Burial Journal
Burial Journal Notations
Other Sources of Interments in the City Cemetery
Los Angeles Times News Articles (by date)
Alphabetic Listing of Interments in City Cemetery
Chronological Listing of Interments in City Cemetery

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