Russell Gulch Cemetery historical mapping project

Volunteer opportunity on August 3 & 4

By Michelle Slaughter

Volunteers are needed to help the historical project archaeologists from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday & Sunday, August 3 & 4, at the Russell Gulch Cemetery, located SW of Central City, record graves and headstones, complete site forms and take photos, and assist as needed each day. Volunteers may participate one or both days but will need to commit to one or the other—or both—by July 29. Space is limited so please volunteer as soon as possible.

Volunteers will need to bring what they will need for the day: e.g., sunscreen, bug spray, a refillable water bottle (we’ll provide a jug of water so people can refill their water bottles), snacks, etc. Pulled pork and sloppy joes will be provided for lunch. Please dress accordingly: boots (no open toed shoes), a hat, and bring layers of clothing since the cemetery is at 9,000+ feet and the weather can be cool or even rainy in the afternoons.

To sign up or ask questions please reach out to Michelle Slaughter at

Project Description

The following revised project description is taken from our History Colorado, State Historical Fund grant application.

The Russell Gulch Cemetery (5GL.113) was originally recorded in 1982, and as such, was not recorded to today’s standards. Funding for the proposed project will be used to conduct a pedestrian survey of the cemetery, and the cemetery will be documented and re-recorded using Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) Management Data and Historical Archaeology forms. The 1982 site form states that the site was “associated with significant events or patterns,” yet the site was recommended as “not eligible” to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and remains “field not eligible.” We believe that a case can be made for a recommendation of “eligible” and we will use National Register Bulletin #41 (Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places) to guide us in making our recommendation.

The site will be mapped by local engineering and survey company, Harris Kocher Smith, who are donating their time and efforts to the project. A site sketch map of the cemetery will include the site boundary, the location of the single building, graves (marked and unmarked graves identified during this project), features, and relevant natural topography or features. The work will take place under the supervision of archaeologists, Michelle Slaughter and Cody Anderson, and they will work directly with the volunteers who will assist in survey and site recording. Students who volunteer will gain experience in documenting cultural resources which can be added to a curriculum vitae/resume–an added benefit for future jobs seekers.

During the recording of the site, grave related mementos will be left in situ, and previous visits to the site indicate that other types of artifacts are not likely to be encountered.

In addition to complete re-recordation of the site, the survey will be augmented with geophysical survey, conducted by Colorado School of Mines (CSM) student volunteers. We propose to conduct a geophysical exploration sample of a portion of the cemetery where unmarked graves are known to be present (as indicated by crude wooden or stone borders around the graves, and/or grave shaped indentations or mounds). Dr. Richard Krahenbuh from the CSM Center for Gravity, Electrical and Magnetic Studies, will be partnering with us and analyzing archaeological data with the use of geophysical techniques; his students will be assisting and learning the geophysical techniques as well. The locations of the geophysical survey samples will be recorded with a GPS unit and plotted on a map which will accompany the project deliverables (report and site forms). The sample geophysical survey will not only help us verify the presence of unmarked graves, but will help aid in planning for eventual geophysical survey of the entire cemetery. In subsequent project phases, we hope to place markers on all of the unmarked graves that are appropriate for the site and clearly identifiable as non-historic markers. Also, by trying several different geophysical techniques during the current project, our goal is to determine which method will be most effective for identifying any remaining unmarked graves in the cemetery. Further, we hope to use the geophysical data from this project to guide us in planning future geophysical survey around the cemetery, since there is a good chance that some members of the community were buried outside of the cemetery fence line. Like any 19th century mining community, Russell Gulch was a town with a number of ethnic groups, not all of whom were treated fairly or equally. Finally, it would also be appropriate in the future to do geophysical work in the original cemetery location, which was moved to put in a baseball field for the miners.

The proposed project will provide baseline information needed for Gilpin County and the Odd Fellows to better understand the resource that they have and need to protect. We will provide them a map of burials and hopefully a more comprehensive list of graves than is available now. An existing spreadsheet of graves is based on historic records dating to the 1950s and needs to be revised and some of the tombstones may have been destroyed or removed since that time. We will update the list to reflect those changes and on any new information we may gather during our research. New information from the project may also assist in identifying themes, events, and people associated with the cemetery and town of Russell Gulch.

Because this is a site that engenders considerable public interest, we will include volunteers to assist us with the project fieldwork component. We will reach out to the local community as well as to our network of archaeology professors to recruit interested undergraduate and graduate school students.

Since there are no bathroom facilities available in Russell Gulch, we have budgeted for porta-potty rental. Camping accommodations can be made upon request.

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