Mill Fork Cemetery first caught my eye while coming back from a weekend trip to Moab. Located in Spanish Fork Canyon, it’s right off the highway, and if you don’t know to watch for it, by the time you see the sign you’ve already passed. A couple of weekends ago we decided to take a drive and explore the cemetery for ourselves.
I hadn’t done any research on the cemetery beforehand, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than it was old. What we found upon arrival, was unexpected, and quite honestly, it’s the oddest cemetery I’ve visited.
I wasn’t sure what we would find as we drove under the cemetery sign. Once we got out of the car and could see wooden stairs that led to a long bridge over a wash, my curiosity was piqued! At the end of the stairs was a metal gate and the cemetery, surrounded by a chain-link fence. The official internment count is 17; I guess these are the graves with headstones. However, Find A Grave lists 46 total burials, the first occurring in 1895, and the last according to the State of Utah in 1926.
Walking through the small cemetery, I noticed that most of the graves were from two families, and almost all of them were very, very, young when they died. Another gated chain-link fence surrounded these graves, and large bushes made them hard to see. Mill Fork Cemetery was turning out to be quite unusual. Outside of the cemetery there appeared to be maybe 2-3 unmarked graves. Some were small mounds covered with rocks, and one had a wooden headstone so worn any writing that had been there at one point, was now long gone.
Not knowing the history of Mill Fork, of which little to no trace remains, I decided to see what I could find. I also wanted to know how all these young children died. I was not disappointed by what I would learn; almost every burial here resulted from a tragic death.
Established around 1875, Mill Fork was a logging camp that was implemental to the development of the railroad through the canyon. At its height, it had a population of about 250 people, three sawmills, charcoal kilns, a general store, and housing for railroad employees.
The first interments took place in June 1893. They were Edna Eva Finch (3 years old), Effie Finch (3 years old), and Georgia Geraldine Finch (5 years old). The Salt Lake Herald reported that a woman and her child were trying to escape a scarlet fever epidemic in Grand Junction, Colorado. They stopped for a few days in Mill Fork, not realizing that they were infected, nor did they tell anyone they came from a city experiencing a Scarlet Fever outbreak. Within that short period, they contaminated Mill Fork, and many of the people became ill. The Finch family were hardest hit, losing three of their children. If the Finch children had stone markers at one point, they are now gone, being replaced relatively recently with wooden markers.
The next person to be buried here was Myrtle Elliott, on May 31st, 1905. 9-year old Myrtle was outside with her older brother who was unloading 100-lb sacks of grain from a wagon. He didn’t realize she was behind him and accidentally dropped the grain on top of her.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of the tragic deaths in the Elliott family. 3 years later, her father, William Edson Elliott was struck and killed by some runaway coal cars. It is reported the first mine car hit him so hard it knocked his hat off. He was then run over by 6 more cars before the 8th car derailed after striking him.
The irony in Edson Elliott’s death is that for years he was a railroad section foreman in charge of keeping sections of rail safe for travel. He was only working inside the Castle Gate Mine temporarily, waiting for outside work to become available.
The last and most shocking story behind the Mill Fork Cemetery belongs to Ida Viola Chadwick Ballard and her husband and murderer, Paris Ballard. Ida had family ties to Mill Fork, but she and her husband were living in Salt Lake City at the time of their deaths. Paris worked as a farmhand on Antelope Island and was often gone for stretches at a time. Apparently, he was also an alcoholic and when he was back in Salt Lake with Ida he was prone to jealous fits in a drunken state. Neighbors said they seemed to be a nice couple overall.
On the day of her death, the 12th of September, 1919, Ida Ballard was able to get Deputy Sheriff Arthur Waller to accompany her back to their apartment in order to dissuade her husband from carrying out threats he had previously made against her. When they got to the apartment, Paris was gone, and they assumed he had gone back to Antelope Island for work and wouldn’t be a problem at that time. It turns out he had not headed back to Antelope Island, but instead was out purchasing a gun and some whiskey.
He later returned to the house and began arguing with Ida. A neighbor who lived on the other side of the apartment reported hearing him yell at Ida to come into the house, and when she refused, he was seen dragging her inside. The neighbor told police that she couldn’t hear what they were arguing about, but that the tone was angry. She then heard Ida pleading for her life when two shots rang out followed by three more shots and silence.
When police arrived they found Ida dead on her knees at the foot of the bed, and Paris face down on the bed barely alive. As they were getting ready to transport him to the hospital, they found a half-empty flask of whiskey in his pocket. He died later that evening at the Salt Lake Emergency Hospital. For whatever reason, their family decided to have them buried side by side in the Mill Fork Cemetery.
I think it’s great that Doug and Christie Atwood have taken it upon themselves to maintain, improve, and document this little cemetery so well. It’s well worth a stop if you’re ever in the area. Make sure you sign the guestbook!