I am one of the 90,000 sunseeking RVers who migrate to Yuma, Arizona most winters. Some of us, along with Yuma residents, come together one evening of the year in Yuma's desert Pioneer Cemetery to pay homage to ghosts from the past and to "Dine with the Dead".
To my mind, there are two major types of ghosts--those that haunt places, and those that haunt people. Yuma's old Pioneer Cemetery definitely falls in the first category. Certain odours are sometimes associated with a haunting, usually pleasant, sometimes not. Here is a story.
On this night as I tramped along a dusty path through the historic
burial site that overlooks Gila Valley and the glittering new Yuma
Palms Mall, I could detect the sweet scent of dry desert sand and
fragrant blossoms. It was then I chanced to meet a most singular
gentleman. He was well turned-out, with a silver bushy beard, and he stood calmly, by a mounded gravesite...as though waiting...for
something--or--someone. A short black-barreled shotgun hung
loosely in one hand, while the other rested on a large pistol in a
worn leather holster strapped to his thigh.
I introduced myself, and boldly asked, "If I'm not being
impertinent, what is your name, when were you born, and when did you die?"
He looked me long in the eye, and said, " Abram Henson
Meadow was my given name, but I'm also known as Charlie
Meadows. Buffalo Bill Cody named me 'Arizona Charlie' when I was
performing as a sharp shooter in his Wild West Show--and that
name stuck. In fact, I had a dozen careers, and a thousand
Occasionally, one paid off. I prospered in the Canadian
Klondike gold rush, and my 'Grand Opera House', now called the
'Palace Grand Theatre' is still a landmark today in downtown
I was born in Visalia, California in 1859 and retired to Yuma after an exciting life,for the dry healthy climate . Californians started calling us 'Zonies', while old-time Arizonans referred to themselves as Hassayampers, after the storied Hassayampa River Legend in the Sonnoran Desert. The claim was, that once you drank its water you can never tell the truth again. I'm known to have said that it would be a 'snowy' day in Yuma when they bury this old Hassayamper." He paused, a steely glint in his dark eyes. "And, as for your other rude question--I passed on December 19th, 1932 of natural causes...on the day it snowed an inch and a half in downtown Yuma." I thanked Arizona Charlie and his eyes lit-up as he looked over my shoulder and said, "Well, if it isn't Calamity Jane, come to visit." "Howdy Charlie, it's mighty good to see you." Her slouch hat was pulled low over her eyes, a red bandana looped around her neck. She wore a long open oilskin duster coat. A
big, holstered pistol faced forward, centered on her waist.
I knw her reputation as a woman of the Wild West
renowned for sharp shooting, whiskey swilling, cross-dressing
ways and kindness to others. She looked me up and down, smiled, and stuck out her hand and said, "I'm not resting in this here
cemetery, but I always our enjoy our special night each year. I just wish Wild Bill Hickok could be here with me."
I said my farewells and walked on in the solemn stillness as
dusk approaced, and nearly bumped into two more famous shades from Yuma's past. 'King Samuel Woolsey', a Confederate
sympathizer who epitomized everything that represents what we
think as the old west.
Woollsey introduced me to a tall, handsome man named
'Sherriff James T. Dana', who told me his story.
"I died September 20th, 1871, a few days after our posse had
chased my killer into a river bottom. In the shoot-out I got shot with a
glass tipped arrow that pierced my liver. My killer, Que-Cha-Co
escaped from prison and was never recaptured."
And now it was time to dine under spreading foliage of
Arizona's state tree, the Palo Verde. A tasty BBQ dinner was catered by Yuma's "Texas Roadhouse."
The guided cemetery tour features period dressed storytellers standing by pioneer gravesites, telling their life and death stories.
Yuma's Genealogical Society started "Dining with the Dead" in
2002 before handing this yearly celebration and fundraiser over to the Colorado River Riders.
"Most of the re-enactors are members" said Randy Smith,
Committee Chairman, and who portrayed King Samuel Woolsey.
The popular event is a fundraiser for 'Saddles of Joy', a non-profit organization that offers therapeutic horse riding.
You should also know that Yuma was a small, but very progressive town in the olden days. It was at the crossroads where people heading west came to ford the mighty Colorado River, directly below where the Old Territorial Prison still stands. Of the Military, Gold Rush Miners, and pioneers all heading for California, many made the trek--some stayed. For some it was the last stop after drifting away from the cold, the past, and old ways--trying to find a new lifestyle in the desert heat and year round sun that evoked images of gunfighters, date palms, hot springs, and the present day 24 casinos. And yet today Yuma remains a small, safe city that is an irrestible treat for RVers.*