Restoration of the Faught Cemetery, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa,
by Susan Faught, October 10, 1999
Susan describes her gallant effort
to restore a demolished and desecrated cemetery, despite action
from county officials to prevent her from doing so.
I come from a very close-knit family. While going to college, my
interests were always history, archeology, and anthropology. My
summers were spent helping out at a local dig which is now Olampali
State Park. Than I was married soon after, and devoted my time to
raising the four children my husband and I had. History and the
curiosity was lost most of those years but when my marriage ended
in divorce five years ago, I went back to college. I studied art
this time and that in some ways brought back my natural curiosity
for the past.
|Grave stones of Armstrong and
Isabel Faught. Click to enlarge.
Last year while driving in the country I decided to stop by our
private family cemetery that dates back to 1859. I got lost many
times trying to locate it because I hadn't been there in over 15
years. When I did find it I was outraged. There was hardly a headstone
that was left intact. Pieces and remnants lay strewn across the
oak wooded hillside, I saw signs of recent digging, and the beer
bottles and cans gave me evidence that this hallowed spot was used
over the years as a hangout for parties. I started by spending my
weekends cleaning up and hauling away the trash, which did no good
at all for on my next visit, I'd have to start all over again. I
felt I was fighting a battle I couldn't control. I would turn away
equestrians telling them they were on, for one, private property
and that this was a cemetery; they couldn't ride their thousand
pound animals through here any longer. Some would listen with understanding
and respect and others would fight me saying that they have always
ridden through the cemetery and would continue to do so. I felt
I had to do something drastic in order to preserve what was left
of my families cemetery for the future.
|Lemay area of cemetery.
Grave stones knocked over from their places. Click to
The property is basically divided into two separate areas - a beautiful
field with hundred year old oaks, and a treed hillside of the cemetery.
I moved a motorhome onto the field, installed power and phone and
moved in. I felt that the only way I could protect and preserve
this property was by having a 24 hour presence on the property.
I started, once again by cleaning the property, and at the same
time located a county map that was filed by my family in 1902 when
the property was deeded a cemetery. It had been divided up into
parcels for each branch of the family and also life-long good neighbors
and friends of the Faughts. With this I had at least an idea where
the headstones belonged. The parcels were also listed and filed
in the county record department, but during the time period were
talking about, most were written in pencil and in large books that
you literally had to turn each page, scan it for any names you recognized,
copy down that information and bring it up in microfiche. It was
a long, arduous task that meant spending many days searching through
many years to, sometimes, find one name. As I was doing the cleanup
of the property I would happen on stakes that were partly rotted
away and after measuring carefully, I found that these were the
actually corners to each parcel.
|Jabez Faught headstone that Susan
brought back up the hill. Click to enlarge.
The next step was to try and piece the fragments together and eventually
place them in their parcels. I struggled for six months trying out
different methods, and finally used a comalong and trees to bring
the pieces to where I would cement them back together. Some were
smaller and I could carry them with a little effort up the hillside,
but others took many weeks. I would work them up the hillside, yard
by yard, go home exhausted and give it a try another day. I have
them all up the hill where they belong right now except one stubborn
spire-shaped piece that is intact and weighs in the hundreds. It
had been wedged in the creek bed beneath silt, which required careful
removal of the gravel and silt around it, and them covering with
an old blanket, wrapping ropes around it and hauling it up a %15
grade. It was after I removed it from the creek bed and brought
it over the bank that I discovered that I had no trees around me
to use. So here it will sit till I figure out my next move.
Its been frustrating and often times I've wanted to give up, challenging
but I was determined, and elated when my plan actually worked. I
had, at first tried to locate members of the family that would lend
a hand but found that their work schedule or their age did not permit
this. I was left with the only option of doing the work myself.
I was given a genealogy chart by my ex husband about a month into
the work to help decipher who was who and how they were related.
This was a great help but it was done from memory. I spent the next
(endless) months in the Sonoma County Historic Library sifting through
their many volumes of the history for this area. I knew that the
three original brother who migrated by wagon train to this area
in 1854 must be in some records one way or another as I had seen
articles in the local paper about their exploits. I happened on
a gold mine, as I like to say. Not only did these volumes hold family
members and their biographies, it also held the other neighbors
or friends bios that were in this cemetery. Along with these was
a listing of offspring and birth and death records. As anyone doing
searches on genealogy can say, its a long hard process into the
past that often times were lost or hidden.
I have come to love and cherish this place; I had no idea last
year how involved I would be in the restoration, history, genealogy,
or every facet of these people and their kin - I only knew that
this was a worthwhile project for not only my family but for Sonoma
County as a community. It had brought out my natural instincts as
an archeologist, anthropologist, and historian. I assumed that other
people felt the same way.
I was wrong.
Last month, I was notified by Sonoma County, the Department of
Resource Management to be exact, that I was in violation. I was
told I could no longer "camp" here (their words), my power was to
be turned off, and I was ordered to vacate the property. I went
in, like every law abiding citizen to try to state my case, reason
with them, assure them that what I was attempting was by no means
conventional but effective for the time being. I showed them the
documents that made this private cemetery a historic landmark for
Sonoma County and needed to be protected as such. I asked for ways
to protect this property from further destruction if I was forced,
by law, to leave. I was told that Sonoma County has hundreds of
family cemeteries in just this state of ruin and that was not their
concern. This angered me. I made an appointment with my district
supervisor thinking that he was my representative in this community
- with the same result. His secretary passed on the message that
I now had 14 days left for power. The original letter posted to
me said that I would be imposed with criminal and civil penalties
should I chose to stay. I had no other choice - my options were
leave and tolerate the destruction that ensued - or stay, be fined
and perhaps jailed in defiance. I called the local papers. They
responded by doing a story on the plight of this local cemetery.
It ran on the Wednesday edition, September 6, 1999.
The morning the article came out I was overwhelmed with the response
from members of my community. The local paper was receiving more
mail in my support. I was contacted by channel 7 of the San Francisco
bay area TV station to do a feature. The best part of this story
is that I was also contacted by a member of the family I had lost
touch with twenty years ago. As she related to me over the phone
that night, she and her aged brother were having coffee that morning
while reading the paper. She yelled at him to get dressed and to
start up the car, thrust the paper at him in explanation, gave a
whoop, and they drove over to the cemetery at a break neck pace.
Sadly I was at work when they arrived, but when I got home that
night to find their note on the motorhome, I was doing my own whooping
too. For I had not only recognized the name but also the handwriting.
When she and her brother, both around 78 years old, arrived at
the property, he sped off without her and yelled down for her to
keep up - he wanted to see the cemetery. She said they both cried
with joy when they read the article. They had stopped coming here
because it had been too heartbreaking for them both. They had raised
kids, grandkids, but could find no one interested in preserving
this history. When they read the article saying that some member
of the family was going to stay in defiance of the county laws and
continue with the restoration, they were overjoyed.
This fight is by far not over. I know and feel that common sense
will prevail. I have a lawyer that is fighting with me now. I have
the support of the community with me. I know the county thinks that
this is only "one in hundreds of cemeteries" in this county that
have been destroyed by vandals so what is the big deal. The big
deal is that this is our heritage, it is our roots in society. It
is our duty, both yours and mine, to do our utmost to protect and
preserve these cemeteries for the future. I'm going to continue
to fight for the protection of this cemetery. I will be charged
with criminal and civil penalties if it goes that far but I cannot
back down now. I'm not fighting for only the right to preserve this
cemetery - it could be your county next that has this blase attitude.
- Susan Faught [RdDrgan@aol.com]
To view a list of the interments at Faught Cemetery, visit
Cemetery" at Cemetery Records Online.