Debbie Croft: Hornitos residents remember those who came before on Day of the Dead

10/31/2013 11:07 PM

10/31/2013 11:21 PM

The simple headstone reads: Belle, wife of Robert Arthur, 1836 – 1916. Her remains lie in the cemetery of St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Hornitos.

She is one of more than 300 people buried in this Gold Rush community cemetery, but there’s a mystery as to who this woman really was.

Isabelle Thatcher Arthur was born, raised and lived in Merced County, according to www.findagrave.com. Based on information from ancestry.com, Isabella “Belle” Steele was born in Ohio in 1838 and died in Merced in 1917. Both websites state she is buried in Hornitos.

Her husband, Robert, made his living as a blacksmith in Hornitos and Coulterville.

It is believed the Arthurs were parents to 11 children. The oldest, George, died shortly before his 20th birthday. Their son John did not survive infancy.

A few years before Robert’s death, he handed the family business to sons Charles and James.

Daughter Elizabeth married Charles C. Pierson, a native of Sweden. They had at least six children. The couple is also interred behind St. Catherine’s.

In May 1955, the Mariposa Gazette announced the funeral service for son William, who had delivered mail by stage between Hornitos and Merced Falls.

Three more daughters and another son blessed the Arthur home.

Several graves of this pioneer family are found in the cemetery. Many other names represent nationalities from around the world, attracted to this corner of the globe as word spread of the discovery California gold.

On Nov. 2 of each year they are all remembered. A candlelight procession takes place in Hornitos on All Souls’ Day, known in Spanish as Dia de los Muertos.

Visitors arrive at dusk to carry a candle up the hill to the cemetery, then each one is placed on a grave. The road is lit by hundreds of small lanterns.

Sally Abbott Uribe and her church friends go to Hornitos once in the spring for St. Catherine’s birthday, and then in the fall on All Souls’ Day.

“I know a couple people who are buried there,” she said. “I went to school with them.”

Uribe grew up in Yosemite and Mariposa. Her mother and grandmother, of the Alaride family, were raised in Mariposa. Uribe went away to college and returned home 40 years later.

Saturday evening’s ceremony will be followed with Mass at the church.

The white-washed, wood frame structure is braced by stone buttresses.

The small sanctuary holds just 75 people. Last year, a crowd of 400 to 500 participated in the procession.

After Mass all are invited to the community hall for refreshments.

This year, Bishop Armando Ochoa of the Diocese of Fresno will preside, to be assisted by the Rev. Stephen Bulfer of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Mariposa.

Those interested in participating should meet in the town plaza at 5:30 p.m. The procession begins at 6 p.m. For more information, call (209) 966-2522.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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