A small cemetery sits on a knoll in the San Luis Rey Valley. From its vantage point it provides panoramic views and a direct view of the Mission San Luis Rey and grounds. It may go largely unnoticed by busy commuters driving past it while traveling on State Route 76 or Mission Avenue. Some of the earliest pioneer residents of the San Luis Rey Valley and Oceanside are buried there.
Decades before Oceanside was established, a small township was settled near the historic Mission San Luis Rey. The San Luis Rey Township was a vital, busy place with a post office, hotel, general store, and a newspaper called the “San Luis Rey Star. The township was also a stopping place for most travelers going to and from San Diego and Los Angeles before the railroad was built in 1881.
Many families from various parts of the country (and even from abroad) came to settle in the area; families that included the Goldbaums, Lanphers, Libbys, Bordens, Hubberts, and Freemans. They raised cattle, sheep and engaged in farming.
At that time there was only one cemetery in the area, that belonging to the Mission San Luis Rey, but it was in ruins. At some point in the late 1860’s land was designated for a cemetery, just south of the Mission. The first known interment in this burial ground was that of one-year-old Catherine Foss, who died in 1869. A few years later David and Rebecca Foss would lost another child, a boy who lived just three days.
Perhaps because of this initial burial of baby Catherine, and the imminent need of a proper cemetery, Isaac Kolb donated the land in 1875 to “reserve for public burying ground or cemetery where the same is now used for that purpose”. The following year the cemetery was deeded to the San Luis Rey School District “to hold in trust for a public burying ground”.
Among the arrivals to the valley were Andrew Jackson Myers and his wife Sophia, who settled there around 1875. In 1881, Maggie Myers, their infant daughter died and was buried at the cemetery.
In 1883 Myers received a land grant that would become the new town of Oceanside and Myers has his place in local history as the founder. But in 1886, tragedy struck the family again when another child died, his namesake, Andrew Jackson Myers, Jr.
The mortality rate for children in 1870 and 1880 was over 316 per thousand births, meaning over a third of children did not make it to their fifth birthday. Years later the Myers would lose two more older children to sickness, who also were laid to rest in the cemetery known simply as San Luis Rey.
When Sophia Myers died in 1906, she was buried near her children. A year later, in 1907, Andrew Jackson Myers, died and was buried there as well. However, only two markers remained, that of little Maggie and Andrew, Jr.
The list of those buried in the modest country graveyard continued to grow, but was not chronicled. Life without modern medical care and antibiotics was a difficult one and even the most common ailments could turn deadly.
Susan Elizabeth Latimer Libby died at the age of 32 in 1900. She was the wife of Charles S. Libby and the mother of four children. The newspaper reported that “A few weeks before her death she contracted a cold which resulted in pneumonia and a sudden turn for the worse caused her death.”
Death often comes suddenly and unexpectedly in tragic ways. In 1891 Dave Kitching was killed at the age of 22 in a farm accident. The Diamond newspaper reported that the details, “The hay press guillotine had crushed his leg three days previous, and the shock was more than his constitution could stand. The young man had developed into a most promising worker and citizen, although his pathway was not strewn with flowers by any means. A dependent mother and several disconsolate sisters have lost their mainstay and support; San Luis Rey is deprived of its most exemplary young man. Words cannot express the sorrow and grief of the community. The Diamond sheds tears with the mourners who are legion and stand askance at the sad havoc cruel death has wrought of a sudden like a flash of lightening from a clear sky.” The paper further noted that the “untimely death of Dave Kitching has cast a gloom over the whole community” and that Ida Rooker, his fiancée was “prostated with grief.”
In 1898 Antonio Subish, a resident of Bonsall, accidentally shot and killed himself. It was reported that he had placed his gun, “a short-barreled breech loader, against a log and as he picked it up by the muzzle and drew it toward him the weapon was discharged, the load entering the unfortunate man’s right breast causing death almost instantly.” Subish was 47 years of age, leaving behind a wife and several children. He was buried in the San Luis Rey Cemetery.
Henry Lusardi, Jr. was buried in the hilltop cemetery, carried by his classmates after drowning in 1930. Henry drowned after swimming in what was described as a deep pool three miles below Lake Hodges dam. His lifeless body was submerged more than 24 hours while his family and friends waited frantically for crews to locate him. The Oceanside Blade reported that “efforts of officers to raise the body had been futile because Lusardi had taken off all of his clothes before stepping into the water, and grappling hooks failed to attach.” Finally, Lt. A. H. Brown, equipped in a diving suit, descended into the water and brought up the lifeless body. Thirty-three years later, his father Henry Lusardi, Sr. would be buried near his son.
Lucia Nares, who died in 1932 and Ramona Heredia, who died in 1934, were both buried in the San Luis Rey Cemetery after bouts will illnesses. The two young girls were buried next to each other as the families were very close.
Alford (Alfred) A. Freeman, the patriarch of the Freeman family who came to San Luis Rey from Texas in 1870, was buried there with his wife Permelia. Their graves are marked by two unusual handmade markers, fashioned by their son Almarine. Members of the Freeman family were buried in the southwest corner of the cemetery. At one time a row of wooden crosses (now since removed or eroded by weather and time) signified the burials of several individuals. Others have more traditional headstones and in recent years concrete crosses have been erected.
While no official list was kept, it seems that most families were given a specific row or area in the cemetery. Walking the cemetery, one can see a distinct row for the Lanpher, Woodruff, Libby, Hubbert, and other families like the Abilez (aka Avilez) were buried in groupings.
One notorious burial was that of John W. Murray, who gunned down Oceanside’s Marshal Charles C. Wilson in July of 1889. Wilson was in the process of arresting John W. Murray for disturbing the peace. Murray who, with another man by the name of Chavez, had consumed more than his share of alcohol at a nearby saloon, was still wanting “to paint the town” after the saloons closed. Marshal Wilson instructed Murray and Chavez to go home and behave themselves, according to newspaper accounts, but this only incited Murray. Wilson managed to arrest Murray’s cohort Chavez, and in the process, without warning, Murray rode up to Wilson and shot him in cold blood. J. Keno Wilson, a constable, watched in horror as his brother collapsed. He then fired after Murray, hitting his horse, but Murray escaped in the night. Charles Wilson died in his brother’s arms as Oceanside’s Dr. Stroud was called, but it was too late.
Murray fled to his uncle’s house, that of Benjamin F. Hubbert, a rancher in the San Luis Rey Valley. Unaware of the murder, Hubbert obliged his nephew breakfast and Murray went on his way. A reward for Murray “dead or alive” of $1300 was posted and he later surrendered to John Griffin, who with others, took him by wagon to the court in San Diego.
The twenty-three old Murray went to trial for murder and was found guilty. His conviction was appealed but his sentence of hanging upheld. Murray fell ill while awaiting both his appeal and pending death sentence and died sometime in 1892. He is buried at the cemetery along with his Uncle Ben Hubbert and other family members.
In 1947 Maria Susan Salgado died and was laid to rest in the cemetery. Her obituary stated that she was born on the Rancho Guajome and that “she could recount that her father worked in the San Luis Rey mission in the early days, and she could also recount many of the interesting early days of California, which was built around the old California ranchos.”
Salgado was a direct descendant of Tomasa Huisch, a Native American woman born as early as 1796. Tomasa was the mother of Josephine Silvas, the grandmother of Gertrude Salgado and the great grandmother of Maria Salgado.
As one of four Luiseno Indian women who lived near the Mission San Luis Rey, Tomasa told visitors stories of how as children they helped to build the Mission. The Oceanside Blade featured three of the women in a story in 1895 and said of Tomasa, [She] “is known to be more than a hundred years old and is put by some above 130. She claims that she packed “dobes” when the mission was built, and, as its construction was begun the first decade of the present century, there is little ground for doubting that she is, at least, in her second century teens. She was the mother of a large progeny, some of whom lived to be very old, she surviving them all.”
Tomasa Huisch died on June 8, 1899, and was buried on June 10th in the Mission San Luis Rey Cemetery, her burial recorded on page 9, paragraph 38 in the cemetery records. The Oceanside Blade reported her death: “Tomasa the ancient Indian woman, one of the landmarks of San Luis Rey died Thursday night. She was said to be over one hundred years of age and as a little girl helped at the completion of the old Mission.”
There are several other Native Americans buried at this historic cemetery including Nick L. Beyota, Andrea O’Campo and Lee Duro.
It is not known if an actual burial map or even a burial list of the cemetery ever existed, but it seems unlikely, and none has ever been found. The San Luis Rey School District, although the legal owners of the cemetery, seem to have kept no official record of any kind. The San Luis Rey Township and surrounding ranches formed a tight-knit community, and the valley residents knew where their loved ones were placed (with or without a permanent marker) rested and must have assumed that someone would always know and remember. They likely never planned for what lay in store for the cemetery in later years, which came to be called the San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery.
San Luis Rey School Trustee and valley resident Shirley Anson Woodruff was responsible for pointing out available burial sites to families looking to bury their dead. For years he was the cemetery’s only “caretaker” but apparently kept no record of burials or placements of graves. He filed the yearly tax exemptions for the cemetery with the county.
Over the years attempts were made to document persons buried there and one list contained an estimated 84 burials. There were at least two partial lists done between 1960 and 1980, decades after most of the earliest burials. The persons collecting the information likely counted and chronicled existing headstones. A realistic number based on death certificates and obituaries place that number above 120.
When the Oceanside school district took over the San Luis Rey School District, it unknowingly acquired the cemetery as its trustee. Shirley Woodruff continued to file the annual tax forms for the cemetery until his death in 1989. He was buried in a plot reserved for him several decades ago, alongside family members.
As the population grew and construction increased in the valley, the San Luis Rey Cemetery seemed all but forgotten except for the descendants of those early citizens. By 1989 the entrance, which was originally located off the south side of Mission Avenue, was changed to Rancho Del Oro a newer road between Mission Avenue and the Expressway. The cemetery had long been enclosed by a simple barbed wire fence, which was replaced by a chain link one. Grass and vegetation grew around the cemetery making it nearly invisible. Vandals frequented the cemetery, leaving beer cans and litter strewn about. Weathered wooden crosses were taken out of the ground and tossed and headstones were pushed off their bases. By the late 1980s the cemetery was overgrown, grass was nearly waist high.
The Oceanside Historical Society, which was organized in 1985, began researching and documenting the cemetery in 1989. In 1991 the Society formed a cleanup, calling on their members, descendants of the pioneers, and interested residents to help. A group of Marines from Camp Pendleton volunteered and after much effort many bags of trash were removed, including a mattress, along with an entire dumpster of brush and weeds. Several headstones which could be lifted by simple “manpower” were placed back on their bases.
Shortly after, it was discovered that headstones had been stolen. The markers of Leovi Cerda, Benjamin Neff, as well a “double” headstone for William E. and Catherine Libby. A handmade marker for Frank Meza was destroyed. In addition, an attempt had been made to dig into three gravesites but did not get far due to the fact that the ground is hard clay.
Also stolen was one of the oldest and most unique headstones, that of Steven D. Lanpher, who died in 1891. His granddaughter Betty Lanpher Kopcso filed a police report in January of 1996 after she had visited the cemetery and discovered his headstone was no longer there.
This unusual theft was reported in the newspaper and one month later the Oceanside Historical Society was contacted by the Oceanside Police Department on December 2, 1996 informing us that the headstone had been dropped off at their station. An unidentified woman in Fallbrook had read about the missing Lanpher headstone and realized that it was the very one she had sitting in her front yard. She had the heavy granite stone loaded into a van, drove to the Police Station and told an officer that she wanted to turn it in. She did not want to give any details, only that she had purchased the headstone for $100. It took five police officers to remove the 400-pound marker from her van and place the headstone into “evidence”.
The headstone was then returned to its rightful place and although somewhat damaged, stands once again at the grave site of Steven Lanpher. The other headstones still remain missing, prompting the family of Leovi Cerda who died in 1934, to replace her headstone with a similar one.
In 1997 the unsightly chain link fence was removed and replaced with a barbed wire fence supported by wooden posts, which was more in keeping with the cemetery’s authenticity. Rancher Dave Jones donated a strand of barbed wire that had been saved from the original fence.
With a grant from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, a sizeable donation from the Oceanside-Pacific Kiwanis Club, and generous donations from members and descendants, an archway and gate were erected providing a sense of dignity and history to the cemetery.
The Oceanside Historical Society placed a memorial headstone for both Sophia and Andrew Jackson Myers, founders of Oceanside, near where their two small children were buried, Maggie and Andrew, Jr.
On December 20, 2006 Oceanside Police Officer Daniel Bessant was killed while responding to a routine traffic stop. His family requested that a memorial marker be erected in his memory near the southeast corner of the cemetery so that his fellow officers would see it while driving on the 76 Expressway.
On April 27, 2013 a group of more than 100 people from the Carlsbad California Church Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ pf Latter Day Saints spent hours to clean headstones, trim, mow and upright fallen markers. The group also provided historical genealogies of many of the people buried there.
There are many who visit the cemetery and at times are alarmed at its appearance. In the summer there is little or no vegetation. During the rainy season the grass grows tall. It is important to note and remember that this cycle is the same as it has always been for over 150 years. It is not suitable to change this cemetery into a memorial park with a green lawn and landscaped shrubbery.
Currently the cemetery is being maintained by two dedicated volunteers who keep it mowed (after the rainy season), pick up trash and place flags on graves of veterans, most of which are from the Civil War and World War I.
In 2021 the Oceanside Unified School District transferred “ownership” to the Oceanside Historical Society as official trustees of the cemetery.
We encourage descendants and concerned citizens to donate to the Oceanside Society Historical, helping us maintain this precious historical cemetery and preserve the history of the people buried there.
Donate at https://oceansidehistoricalsociety.org/product/donations/
11 thoughts on “History of the San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery”
Thank you for this. I drive by here regularly and always assumed it was part of the mission. My parents are buried in the little church next to the mission.
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Thank you for reading and your interest
My parents and one grandparent are buried in the cemetery at the Episcopal church (the last time I knew it was sponsored by the Episcopal Church in Carlsbad) that backs up to the San Louis Rey complex. When I was a kid we would go clean that cemetery every year and I would see the names of many people I knew from our church.
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Grew up in Oceanside with many fond memories. Now living in Oklahoma for over forty years now, but Oceanside will always be home. Thank you this this interesting information.
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Elaine, thank you for reading and your interest!
WOW!!! This article was so informative! Thank you!
From now on I will see if I can spot it!!
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Kristi—once again an excellent rendering of the septum of the Pioneer cemetery. One suggestion would be to include at the end the a brief not on the official transfer of the cemetery from OUSD to the Historical society for its continued safe keeping !! All the Best…Mike Blessing
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Will do, thanks 😊
Thanks for writing this article. It gives a clearer focus on our city’s past citizens. I am interested in our history also, even though I live near Portland Oregon. My here is still in Oceanside.
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I appreciate your feedback! Thank you
Thank you for this view, once again, into the past. I assume from your history that Myers and Freeman streets are named after the early residents you mention — I’ve often wondered how Oceanside’s traffic corridors earned their monikers.
When I saw your first headline, I thought I would be reading about the small Episcopal cemetery (oft erroneously connected to the mission) down the hill just west of the mission. I had no idea there was another cemetery nearby.
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