Many heroes laid to rest in Colfax Cemetery

By: Nancy Hagman, Colfax Record Correspondent
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As we remember and honor our veterans this month, it is only fitting to tell the proud tale of the Colfax Cemetery. In 1851, Ammiel Brickell was buried in the first-known grave established on boot hill north of Illinoistown, where the Colfax Cemetery is located. A committee of three people, which always included the local coroner/mortuary owner, handled the cemetery association?s business affairs. As Colfax was established and the area population grew, so did the cemetery (see Colfax Record, March 29, 2012). In 1917 with changes in state law, a special district was formed by petition to the Placer County Board of Supervisors. It became ? as it is today ? the Colfax Cemetery District and its appointed trustees currently oversee three facilities. Between 1918 and 1970, there were four additions of land made to the original grounds. For the most part, they were cut out of the ?Diamond? Siems orchards. After the Colfax railhead was established, Oak Street was extended to run due east, straight up the hill to the cemetery grounds. The construction of Interstate 80 in 1960 wiped that out and the new frontage road ? N. Canyon Way ? is now the only access. On older maps, the north-south road on the grounds was officially Evergreen Lane. According to long-time grounds Superintendent Craig Ballenger there have been past board members who have wanted to name the facility Evergreen Cemetery. The mystery here is finding who and why this little avenue is now officially Cypress Avenue. The total number of gravesites at Canyon Way cemetery is approximately 3,750. This is officially an estimate because there are old markers that cannot be read, locations where the markers are gone, and old burials where nothing was ever recorded. In the case of the Indian Cemetery, the elders of the local band say there are sites that pre-date the arrival of pioneers. At the Weimar Cemetery, with few exceptions, only a wooden board with a number attached marks each sites. With the advent of the Internet, a website called Find-a-Grave has prompted the efforts of Colfax?s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2003, The American Legion Post 192, the Colfax Area Historical Society, and the Colfax Cemetery District Board ? along with some very resourceful citizens ? to identify and remember area veterans. The Colfax Veterans Memorial Project is well underway and has already provided some interesting information. Of those distinguished to date: Over 406 veterans? graves have been identified in the Colfax District, 400-plus in the main cemetery on Canyon Way, five in the Colfax Indian Cemetery and one in the Weimar Cemetery. Some veterans are interned at the Colfax grounds without being marked as served and only a handful of the hundreds of graves at Weimar are identified at all. Colfax veterans were a sturdy bunch ? the average lifespan was over 65 years, 16 lived into their 90s, and one lived to his century mark. Most of the nation?s conflicts are represented by Illinoistown and Colfax veterans. There are two veterans who served in the Mexican War, 11 in the Civil War, two in the Spanish-American War, and 118 Colfax veterans served in World War I. To date, the memorial park is the forever-home of 199 World War II veterans, 47 Korean Conflict veterans, and 21 Viet Nam veterans. Among the honored are four women. There is one marker for a Missing in Action soldier who was later confirmed dead by an eyewitness; his body was never recovered. U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Stanley Johnson was with his troop, being transported by helicopter to an outpost at Hiep Duc in Vietnam when it was hit by enemy fire. The aircraft burst into flames, out of control. There were no survivors. Several men served multiple times. Three Colfax veterans served in both World Wars, 11 veterans served in both World War II and Korea, and one veteran served in three wars: World War Il, Korea and Viet Nam. It is not common to indicate meritorious service on a grave marker but of those that have, eight received the Purple Heart and seven received other medals. They have come peacefully to their earned, quiet rest and deserve the honor and respect of all who walk the grounds.