Tom Ross: Hidden Hahn’s Peak Cemetery worth the trip
September 17, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Every time we've driven to Steamboat Lake and north to Columbine and Big Red Park over the span of three decades we've always passed by the turnoff to the Hahn's Peak Cemetery, oblivious to the history resting there. That long string of missed opportunities ended on Sunday when we took the advice of Jo Semotan and made the turn into the little lane on the north side of Routt County Road 129 just east of Hahn's Peak Village.
The antique tools welded by Pete Schroeder into a carefully crafted steel gate at the entrance to the cemetery served as a preamble to our visit; the gate shows off miner's pick axes, sheep shears, a branding iron, the metal fittings from horse tack and even a beautifully rusted gold pan.
The history of North Routt and Hahn's Peak Village, once the county seat, is of livestock grazing and the search for gold nuggets.
One of the most impressive head stones in the little cemetery is that of Herman Mahler, described as "A Pioneer of Routt County." Mahler was born in 1875 and died at the age of 93 or 94 in 1969. His stone is etched with a mountain range and an evergreen tree as well as crossed shovel and pick axe. We can infer that Herman was a miner.
Among the oldest graves still in good enough condition to appreciate are those of Catherine (1852 to 1925) and John (1850 to 1927) Rathjen. There are other grave markers in the cemetery that have crumbled with time. Roger and Joyce Cusick, who did a great deal of research on the cemeteries of Routt County from 2004-2008, write at yampavalley.info that there are 57 known burials in the cemetery and, "Many of the early burials may never be identified as the old wooden markers have long since disappeared due to the severe weather of the area."
Some of the plots are surrounded by elaborate wrought iron fences, a sign of relative wealth.
During our visit, we admired the fenced-in grave plot of Civil War veteran George W. Cross. There is a durable plastic marker bearing the name of Mr. Cross set in the soil just outside the plot. But if you walk to the back of the fence surrounding his head stone, you crane your neck and make out his name on the back of a humble wooden plank with moss growing on its decorative top. The dates are difficult to make out.
I was captivated by the grave of Joseph Morin, who was born in 1847 and died in 1932, just because his date of birth was so early in U.S. history – roughly one year before the beginning of the Mexican American War.
I was curious enough to track down a brief mention of Morin's death in the Sept. 9, 1932, Steamboat Pilot.
Under the Hahn's Peak news heading, the Pilot reported: "The entire community was saddened by the death of Joe Morin, which occurred Saturday of last week in Steamboat Springs.
"Many were present from Columbine, Clark and Steamboat when the remains were laid to rest in the Hahn's Peak cemetery at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31."
So, we know that Morin was widely liked, but we don't know what he did for a living, or where he originally came from.
I found an e-mail address for the Cusicks, not knowing if it was current, and soon received a call from Joyce from their new home in Cassville, Mo. She was able to quickly look up the funeral record for Morin and tell me that the old prospector was suffering from arterial sclerosis and under the care of Doc Willett in Steamboat when he died at the age of 84 years, 8 months and 18 days.
A native of Quebec Province, his funeral cost about $100, Cusick told me. That included $65 for the personal services of the mortician, $20 for the pine casket and another $10 to have it painted.
If you find yourself traveling north to Steamboat Lake yet this autumn, begin paying attention just passed the Hahn's Peak Roadhouse and when you approach a log home close to the road, watch for the little cemetery sign set back from the pavement. The quaint cemetery is worth a stop.
See if you can find the tall armchair carved out of a big pine stump in the cemetery.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com