Land Park area residents are quite familiar with the community’s Sacramento Historic City Cemetery, which was founded in 1849. Another Sacramento area cemetery established during the same era was the Sloughhouse Pioneer Cemetery.
The Land Park area’s historic city cemetery at Broadway and Riverside Boulevard is the oldest existing cemetery in Sacramento, established in 1849. It is the final resting place of more than 30,000 early Sacramento residents.
Although not considered as old as the historic city cemetery, the Sloughhouse cemetery is recognized as having been established only a year later. However, there is a family lore that the remains of two-year old Alexander Rhoads were buried at the Sloughhouse cemetery in 1847.
The little pioneer cemetery in Sloughhouse cemetery is just 1.5 acres and is located 18 miles southeast of Sutter’s Fort. It is undergoing a project to restore 17 of its historic tombstones.
Roberta Tanner, assistant chairman of the Sloughhouse cemetery, recently sat down to discuss details regarding the Sloughhouse cemetery.
During her interview with this publication, Tanner said that Land Park’s Sacramento Historic City Cemetery played an important role in the project.
“During the earlier stages of the project, we decided to contact Dr. Bob (LaPerriere, vice-chairman of the Sacramento County Cemetery Advisory Commission), since we had worked with him in the past,” Tanner said. “He led us through the (old city) cemetery, pointing out what the two cemeteries have in common, including historic iron fencing. He has been invaluable in educating us in proper maintenance of historic tombstones and providing us with advice on which restorations to pursue within the project as a whole.”
Tanner also noted that recently representatives of both cemeteries very briefly discussed the possibility that the cemeteries could become sister cemeteries.
In response to this idea, Tanner chuckled and said that the much smaller Sloughhouse cemetery would definitely be the “little sister.”
Land Park business hired
Another Land Park area institution that has provided much assistance for the Sloughhouse cemetery restoration project is Ruhkala Monument, which is located directly across the street from the old city cemetery.
Following several visits to the Sloughhouse cemetery by Royceanne Ruhkala, the Sloughhouse Cemetery Committee hired Ruhkala Monument to work on the project.
Ruhkala’s involvement with the project includes cement work at the bases of fallen tombstones, drilling and pinning pillars and other tombstones to their bases and providing advice about prioritizing details regarding the project.
Tanner said that an important part of the committee’s decision to select Ruhkala was the company’s well known reputation as an expert in pioneer, vintage memorials.
The Sloughhouse cemetery restoration project is very timely, explained Tanner.
“A special event will be held at the cemetery on May 12, when we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the deeding of the cemetery to the International Society of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Sacramento Company,” Tanner said.
The public event will include tours of the cemetery and speakers, including Maureen Smith, international DUP president, and Dennis Holland, president of the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation.
When asked how the Daughters of Utah Pioneers became involved with the cemetery, Tanner said that the cemetery was actually established by Utah pioneers.
“The cemetery was started to house the remains of the Rhoads family, who came through Utah to California,” Tanner said. “They were actually among the first to bring a wagon overland across the Sierra Nevada.”
The history of the Rhoads family dates back to 1846 in the Sacramento area.
The Rhoads Family
It was in the spring of that year that Thomas Rhoads headed to California from Illinois with 51 members of his immediate and extended family, including 14 of his 18 children and his wife, Elizabeth.
Among Thomas’ children were Elizabeth, Sarah and Catherine, who each married well established, local landowners.
Elizabeth married Sebastian Keyser, Sarah married William Daylor and Catherine married Jared Sheldon.
Daylor is documented as the first person to have been buried in the Sloughhouse cemetery.
In addition to Daylor, other people buried at the cemetery include: Sheldon, the majority of Sheldon’s children and grandchildren and Thomas’ son, John Pierce Rhoads, a Donner Party rescue party organizer and a California State Assembly member.
The cemetery remained in the ownership of descendants of the Rhoads family until 1972.
While researching her possible connection to Thomas Rhoads in 1971, Norma Ricketts, the late local historian and DUP member, read a related article in a local newspaper.
The article announced that the Native Daughters of the Golden West were scheduled to place a historical marker at the cemetery to honor John Rhoads and his involvement in the Donner Party rescue efforts.
Within the article was a reference to John Rhoads being buried with other family members at the Sloughhouse cemetery.
After reading the article, Norma went to the cemetery, where she met Percy Westerberg, the owner of the cemetery property and a descendant of Catherine Rhoads and her second husband John Mahone.
Westerberg told Ricketts that he was concerned about the cemetery, because he was no longer able to care for the cemetery.
Shortly after her visit to the cemetery, Ricketts received a telephone call from Westerberg.
In recalling this moment, Ricketts, in 2006, wrote: “In 1971, Percy called my office and said, ‘Norma, I’ve decided to give you the cemetery.’”
Although she appreciated the offer, Ricketts felt that the cemetery should be cared for by a group rather than an individual.
Through Ricketts’ efforts, the cemetery was eventually deeded to DUP.
Daughters of Utah Pioneers
The first chairman of the cemetery committee was Maureen Smart, who catalogued the cemetery’s headstones with a group of DUP members and submitted the information to the Bureau of Vital Statistics of the state of California.
The cemetery has had several caretakers under the direction of DUP, including Smart, Stan Newton, Loretta and Elvin Mullin and Fran Newbold, who is the cemetery committee’s chairman.
In addition to the current project with Ruhkala, the committee hopes to have other restoration projects completed in the future. These projects are dependent on acquiring grants and other donations.
Improvements to the cemetery have also included work performed through about 25 Eagle Scout projects.
A closed cemetery
Tanner said that the Sloughhouse cemetery, which includes more than 300 burials and 190 tombstones, is a closed cemetery.
“Even though it is a closed, historic cemetery, we’re still discovering names of people and even markers of people who were buried there in the 1800s,” Tanner said. “So, in a way, we’re still an open cemetery.”
As part of DUP’s ongoing efforts to document and preserve the history of the cemetery, the organization is seeking any old photographs, newspaper articles and other items pertaining to the cemetery.
For additional information regarding the Sloughhouse cemetery’s upcoming anniversary event or any other details regarding the cemetery, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.