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Restoration of the Faught Cemetery, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, California

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.

tombstone armstrong isabel faught
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.

tombstone lemay
Lemay area of cemetery.  Grave stones knocked over from their places.  Click to enlarge.

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.

tombstone jabez faught
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 "Faught Cemetery" at Cemetery Records Online.

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