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Bell missing from historical Bard landmark
Two weeks ago, Frances “Nickie” Armstrong took a couple of friends to see the Potholes Cemetery, about a mile north of Bard, Calif.
The old cemetery is special for Armstrong; many of her ancestors are buried there.
At the entrance, a mission-shaped historical landmark with a brass bell notes that the cemetery lies on the old site of the 1781 San Pedro y Pablo de Bucuñer Mission Cemetery.
The cemetery, which looks to be straight out of the Old West, is a source of pride for Armstrong's family. She's happy to take friends on tours of the site, as she did two weeks ago. At that time, her son rang the brass bell hanging from the historical landmark.
When her friends returned a few days later to further explore the cemetery, they found the bell missing. They sent a photo to Armstrong.
Her stomach dropped when she saw the photo. “I was really floored by it.”
She believes someone stole the bell to sell for scrap, but she really has no way of knowing why someone would steal it.
“This is a horrible act. It was such an awful feeling to see it and realize that someone had desecrated the sanctity of that beautiful place.”
The landmark proclaims the origin of Potholes, a town long since vanished. In 1885, the United States, the Arizona Territory and the Yuma Indian tribes signed a peace treaty. That's when about 400 to 500 miners, both Mexican and American, descended on the area to look for gold.
Although at one time 500 people lived there, the only sign of its existence now is the Potholes Cemetery. Some estimates say about 300 souls are buried there. Some say it's a little more than 150.
Armstrong's great-uncle, Emilio N. Parra, 88, of Spring Valley, Calif., is the cemetery's unofficial caretaker. His great-grandfather, Felizario Parra, came from Caborca, Son., Mexico, in the mid-1800s, looking for gold. He found it in a mine by the Imperial Sand Dunes.
The grave of his only son, Julian Parra, who was born in 1867 and died in 1937, notes that it was Felizario “who in April 1876 discovered the Mesquite Diggings, last of the gold bonanzas in the Southwest.”
After the mining ended at Potholes, the search for more gold took the miners east across the Colorado River. Potholes, which got its name from the lava holes and natural sinks in the region, became their home.
Potholes Cemetery was declared a historical site in 1907. Its original location lies several hundred feet north of the All American Canal. On Nov. 13, 1935, with construction of the canal, 151 human remains were moved to the old mission cemetery.
“Funerals there are very different than those in the pretty cemetery with grass and flowers,” said Rebecca Corona-Nickerson, Armstrong's sister and Felizario's great-great-granddaughter. “This cemetery is mean. You go in there, you have to earn it.
“If you're buried here, you had a hard life. It's a hard place to live, and these were hard people.”
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.