The solitary grave is marked only by a small metal pipe cross. The sole clue to the identity of the deceased is a name and date scratched into the cross: “Mrs. Franklin 1869.”
As it begins to lightly rain, I stand in front of the grave and wonder for a moment about Mrs. Franklin. How did she die? Was she traveling across Nevada when she contracted pneumonia or did it happen during childbirth?
Was there a Mr. Franklin and little Franklins or was she a widow? Was her first name Naomi or Elizabeth or Anne? Why is this the only grave out here, so far from any town?
Who was Mrs. Franklin?
It begins to rain. I stand for a while as the sun disappears behind the clouds and a wind not previously there begins to splash the drops all over the parched sagebrush and rabbitbrush. For a second, I wonder if I’ve been given a perverse heavenly response because she died of thirst.
Anyone who explores the broad Nevada landscape will occasionally find a solitary grave and tombstone — sometimes the only reminders of the existence of a former mining camp, stage stop, ranch or trail.
Many of these sites can be found along the pioneer trails across the state. In many of these cases, the arduous journey west proved too much for an elderly, sickly or unlucky traveler.
For example, on the hillside above U.S. Highway 395, near Steamboat Springs, you can find a dark, gray granite marker carved with the image of a covered wagon. Carved words state the spot is the final resting place of Jeremiah Rogers, native of Indiana, born 1830 and died 1861.
Rogers apparently died while making the journey to California. Fortunately for him, 20th century descendants hunted down the site of his grave and erected the impressive marker and a small fence to protect his final resting place.
Perhaps the most famous pioneer casualties along U.S. 50 are the three little LeBeau sisters, who apparently died in the 1860s while trying to cross Nevada. In this case, dysentery is said to have been the cause of death.
The three sisters were buried in the sandy flats near Sand Mountain. Their graves might have disappeared by now — truly the fate of most untended solitary grave sites — except for the fact that caretakers have maintained the site, leaving flowers and erecting a small picket fence and crosses.
Less lucky is Elzy H. Knott, member of a prominent pioneer Carson Valley family, whose grave is hidden in a grove of locust trees behind a bed and breakfast inn located in Genoa.
In 1859, Knott, who was then 26 years old, got into a dispute with a Mormon boy over ownership of a bridle. Apparently, the argument escalated and Knott was shot to death.
His father, Thomas Knott, refused to have his son buried in the Genoa Cemetery because Mormons were buried there. Instead, he laid his son on the hill behind his home and erected a fine marble headstone and wrought iron fence around the site, which can still be seen (but ask for permission from the property owners).
But when it comes to lonely graves, let us not forget Mrs. Franklin. Her final resting place is located at Mount Airy (also spelled Mount Airey), once the site of an Overland Stage station and located about 17 miles west of Austin, right off U.S. 50.
Mount Airey was actively used by the stage from 1861 to 1868, then became a ranch before finally being abandoned in the 1890s. A small hotel was once located here, although only crumbling rock walls, stone foundations and Mrs. Franklin’s grave can be found today.
The small community apparently never amounted to much and there is little reference to it over the years in any of nearby Austin’s newspapers.
Sometime later, I discovered what had killed Mrs. Franklin. In his excellent book, “Romancing Nevada’s Past: Ghost Towns and Historic Sites of Eureka, Lander, and White Pines Counties,” historian Shawn Hall noted that she had died of smallpox.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Franklin.