“So, how exactly do you get to the Old Russian Cemetery?” We asked the Parks representative at Fort Ross. You can see the cemetery from the Fort, it is within throwing distance of the chapel, but between the two is a large and rather deep gully.
“You have to leave the fort, walk toward the ocean, head down to the beach entrance, find a split in the trees, hike through the gully, and climb up to the cemetery. Wear good hiking shoes and bring lots of water and sunscreen because it is a significant hike to the location. It might be too much for your little girl.”
I’m not sure what people’s definition of a “significant hike” is in this area, but… the mild walk is 1 mile, flat (until the end), and on a well-travelled path. And, my little girl skipped and played the alphabet story game with me the entire way. I don’t think I would even call this a “hiking trail.” It seems more like a wooded path between two locations.
And, if you are really concerned about walking this far or accidentally touching poison oak, you can drive along HWY 1 to the cemetery entrance, stop on the side of the road, and walk through the gate. This option was never provided… but either way, the walk was way more fun.
The wooden markers in the graveyard are not labelled. It’s not exactly known who is buried where, though a lot of research has pulled together a list of 131 people that are likely buried in the cemetery (1812-1841). The location of the cemetery was not known until 1972 when during the alignment of Highway 1, human remains wearing a small metal cross were discovered.
In the 1990s, this was the location of a joint multi-year Fort Ross Archaeological Project between the University of California at Berkeley, Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College, and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. In 1991, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee focused primarily on the graveyard area. The goal was two-fold: to gain insight into the lives of the people who lived at Fort Ross and to help reconstruct the graveyard which had been forgotten long ago.
I knew a couple of the people on this dig (and would have loved to have worked with Dr. Douglas Owsley, the consulting forensic anthropologist on the project). And, while friends were digging here in the early 90s, I was doing my “time” (field school) at Fort Calgary in Canada.
Rather than write on and on about the findings, I’ll point people in the direction of some of the papers that came out of the dig:
- UCB’s findings from digs at the Alaskan Village site (PDF).
- The mandatory Zooarchaeology paper: Social Implications of Mammal Remains from Fort Ross, California (PDF).
- This paper pulls details from all digs rather nicely into a descriptive view of life on the settlement: Peopling Ross’ Past (PDF).
- And finally, the paper that made me excited because I spent many years studying osteology and funerary practices: Death in the Daily Life of the Ross Colony (PDF).