Daggett Pioneer Cemetery: Respect on Route 66

Daggett Pioneer Cemetery in the ghost town of Daggett, California,  was the first “real” pioneer cemetery I had ever visited.  John was eager to share the whole Mojave Desert with me all at once and to tell you the truth, I was a bit overwhelmed.  Being a former East Coast denizen before my sojourn to the desert, I was well familiar with historical cemeteries from that region but had never actually gone to a western pioneer cemetery.  It was everything and more I hoped the experience would be. 

Benny Bahten was the first burial in Daggett Pioneer Cemetery in 1888.

Sandwiched between Old Route 66 and Interstate 40, it goes virtually unnoticed by passersby.   There is a distinct sense of peace among the weathered tombstones and grave markers found here.   Even 20 years after my initial visit, there is still an almost palpable feeling of tranquility and it remains one of our favorite cemeteries.


Despite all the numerous times we have visited during different times of the year, we’ve always had the place completely to ourselves, except once.  The cemetery always reminds me of the rugged people who settled and whose hands worked the unforgiving desert, etching out a life under the relentless sun and wind. 

San Bernardino County Sun 21 Feb 1954, Owner of Ryerson’s Market now known as the Desert Market.

Trains run about every ten minutes in these parts, and the sound of their long whistle as they approach the town of Daggett never fails to thrill.  And yes, John was right. I fell as hard for the desert as I fell for him. Both have rendered an enduring commitment.  Gimme wide open spaces, intense heat, dirt roads, abandoned cabins, and of course, pioneer cemeteries, and I’m a happy girl indeed. But I digress.


Whenever we’re at an early cemetery, I always wonder about the stories of people’s lives before they came to their final resting place. Gravestones give only little clues, and unmarked ones keep their secrets close.  Newspaper obituaries, however, lay it out succinctly in print.  I find them all interesting, but they often bring up questions unanswered because you may wish you had the opportunity to meet them in their lifetime. 



Everything from what did they look like, to how they fell in love, to heartbreaks, struggles and redemption.  Hopefully, those secrets endure in the memories of their loved ones.  People’s lifetimes matter, as they continue to leave their indelible mark upon history, as we continue to learn.

this too
The Weekly Sun, 27 October 1899

You will notice there’s wooden bed-like frames around some of the graves, evocative of eternal rest.   Some of the family plots are sectioned by rails, chains, or outlined with carefully placed stones. Just as in life,  there’s no two graves alike.  There’s something about being around the dearly departed that makes you feel alive! We never get tired of visiting here and we know you will enjoy it, as well.


Daggett had its first burial in 1888 and is still in use today. The land was originally owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad.  More than 300 people are interred in marked and unmarked graves. The cemetery hosts many different types of grave sites.  Some have nameless wooden markers and some display traditional crucifix’s, while just a few have modern headstones.

san bern sun 22 aug 1964 pg 8
San Bernardino County Sun, page 8, 22 August 1969
san bern co sun pg 20 10 sept 1953
The San Bernardino County Sun. page 20, 10 September 1953
san bern co sun pg 22 Nov 1958
The San Bernardino County Sun, page 22, November 1958
san bern co sun pg 16 jul 1962
The San Bernardino County Sun, page 16, 16 July 1962

walter alf san bern sun pg 18 dec 23 1970
The San Bernardino Sun, page 18, December 23, 1970
san bern co sun may 1974 page 23
The Sun Telegram, 17 May 1974

In 1953 botanist Mary Beale’s passion was made into a trail when the Mary Beale Nature Trail at Mitchell Caverns was dedicated.

When twenty-two-year-old Dix Van Dyke arrived in Daggett, California, in 1901, the town was a wild and raucous frontier settlement, with barrooms and brothels, silver mines and land swindles, cattle drives, and shootouts at the Bucket of Blood saloon. Dix, a ranch-boy with no formal education but whose father and uncle were writers, became the town’s unofficial historian.

san bern co sun 2 apr 1975 page 19
The San Bernardino County Sun, page 19, 2 April 1975
san bern co su 30 july 1976 page 10
The San Bernardino County Sun, page 10, 30 July 1976
San Bern Co Sun pg 18 4 Jan 1990
The San Bernardino County Sun, page 18, 4 January 1990

As previously mentioned, we’ve always been alone at Daggett Pioneer Cemetery except once.  We had the honor of attending the funeral of Daggett citizen Brian Vintus at the Daggett Pioneer Cemetery last summer.  Most of the townspeople attended.  We were affiliated with Brian through the Mojave River Valley Museum in Barstow. 


brian vintus obit

Just a few weeks before, we were proud to have been among a very small group of people from the museum allowed a tour at Alf’s Pioneer Museum and Blacksmith Shop.  It is today as it was in 1890, and is a virtual full sized time capsule of the Old West as it actually existed.  Until recently, the old shop and surrounding property was locked up, as it has been for many decades.  It has been in the same family for more than a hundred years and they are naturally quite proud of their legacy.  Brian played a pivotal role. 

In his lifetime, Brian was very involved with the cemetery’s preservation and the preparation of Alf’s Blacksmith Shop Museum, built in 1894 to replace an earlier rendition that was destroyed by fire.  It is a very special peek into Daggett’s amazing past. Brian’s funeral service was very profound and the celebration of life held afterwards at the Daggett Community Center was deeply touching.  It seemed like everyone in the whole community attended.  Neighbors shared delicious food and memories of a life well lived.  I was blessed to help in the kitchen and serving table. Strangers instantly became friends.  It was a wonderful tribute to a man’s legacy who was loved by all, but especially by his wife and children.  Rest in peace, Brian. We know you are still watching over Daggett.

Brian E. Vintus b. 29 January 1971, d. 22 July 2015

Brian’s close friend, Daryl Schendel, and Brian’s family continues to operate Alf’s Pioneer Museum and Blacksmith Shop and tours, located on First Street, Daggett.  Call ahead for hours, 760-254-2201. The Historical Society at the Daggett Museum preserves Daggett’s interesting past.  The Daggett Museum has reopened on weekends. Call ahead for hours, 33703 Second Street, Daggett, 760-254-2629.


As with all cemeteries, please show respect for those who are buried here. Do not walk or drive on graves. Park only on the dirt road. Please do not remove anything, or mess with anything that’s not yours. Take plenty of photos but leave only memories.

 To reach the cemetery, take Interstate 40 to the town of Daggett, which lies about 5 miles east of Barstow. Head east on the National Trails Highway (Old Route 66). The cemetery lies on the north side of the road, just on the edge of town limits.  Look for a small sign. Take the dirt road to the gate.   

    Lat: 34° 51′ 31″N, Lon: 116° 52′ 45″W

For more fascinating history about Daggett, California, please read our next article HERE.


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One thought on “Daggett Pioneer Cemetery: Respect on Route 66

  1. Thank you for this article . My cousins are promised to be buried there ,near where they made their homes and spent their lives. Their love of the desert and the small town feel of friends and family ;have made their time in the after life a must in this small quiet loving town.

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