Photos & Text by Kenn Evans, Park Ranger
Although Homolovi State Park protects Hopi lands and cultural artifacts, the park also contains a small cemetery from a group of 19th century settlers who founded the city of Sunset. Sunset Cemetery stands as a mute testimony to the undaunted spirit of the brave pioneers who forged a living from this once desolate and forbidding land.
On January 24, 1876, over 200 men, women and children were called as missionaries to settle the Little Colorado River Valley. James Brown and Lot Smith were appointed to lead the expedition by President Brigham Young of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The families had ten days to prepare for the journey south. It was necessary that they depart before the melting snow swelled the rivers and streams, making travel impossible.
On February 3, 1876, teams of horses, mules and oxen pulled wagons filled with the necessities of life to establish new communities in the Arizona Territory. The journey took six weeks, covering 600 miles of new and unknown country. On Friday, the 24th day of March 1876, Lot Smith and 115 families arrived at Sunset Crossing. President Young had instructed them to settle near Sunset.
Here the families divided into companies, and held a meeting to decide where each company would locate. They wanted to keep close to one another in the event of trouble. Lot Smith’s company Sunset settled north of the crossing and on the east side of the Little Colorado River. Jesse O. Ballanger’s company (Ballanger’s Camp - Brigham City) settled on the west side of the Little Colorado River north of the crossing. William Allen’s Company (St. Joseph – Joseph City) located 23 miles upstream from Sunset across from George Lake’s company (Obed) on the south side of the Little Colorado River.
Each company organized into the United Order, a cooperative system where all things were held in common, each contributing to the common good and receiving an equal share of the surplus as needed. Their attempts to dam the Little Colorado River were unsuccessful. The river would frequently flood, washing out the dams, flooding the fields and destroying the crops before they could be harvested and stored. Obed, St. Joseph, and Sunset relocated to higher ground and on Christmas Eve 1876, the Smith Company moved into the newly built fort of Sunset.
Sunset was built of cottonwood logs and measured 198 feet square, consisting of 31 dwellings 14 by 16 feet, one dining hall 55 feet by 15 feet, one school room 33 feet by 14 feet, one kitchen 15 feet by 15 feet, two store rooms 14 feet by 20 feet and 10 feet by 20 feet, a granary 8 feet by 12 feet, and a corn crib 10 feet by 32 feet. The fort housed 102 people: 19 men, 18 women, 43 boys and 22 girls.
The first post office on the Little Colorado River was established at Sunset on July 5, 1876. The Post Master was Mr. Alfred M. Derrick. The post office closed November 23, 1887. The local newspaper was called the Enterprise, containing short stories, poems, and news of visiting missionaries.
These early pioneers settled the territory, befriending and sharing the gospel with the Indians. After many hardships, floods and droughts, the pioneers were relieved of their calling in 1881. Many of the pioneers were called to other missions in the San Luis Valley at Manassas, Colorado and to colonize along the Gila River Valley of the Arizona Territory. The last to leave Sunset was Lot Smith, in 1888. Church President Brigham Young died on August 29, 1877. President Young called Lot Smith to the Arizona Territory and no other authority ever released him from his calling.
Today this lonely windswept graveyard stands in memoriam to these early resourceful and resilient pioneering families. If you have any information about the cemetery or the historic forts and would like to share this information, please contact the park.
On February 24, 1863, the Arizona Territory became separate from the New Mexico Territory and when Sunset camp was established on March 24, 1876 it was recognized as a part of Yavapai County. On February 24, 1879 the area was added to the newly formed large portion of Apache County. March 21, 1895 the area became the newly formed Navajo County. On February 14, 1912 Arizona Became the 48th State in the Union.
Historical Cemetery Visitor Etiquette Guide
Courtesy Pioneers' Cemetery Association
Historical cemeteries are important to families and communities. This importance has been recognized in state legislation. They are the final resting place of our ancestors. They have religious, cultural, and research values.
Inappropriate actions, whether intentional or unintentional, may cause irreversible damage to these fragile resources. When visiting a historical cemetery, leave it as you find it. If you find vandalism or maintenance issues, contact the landowner. Cemeteries occur on both public and private land. Local mortuaries and/or cemetery associations will have information on land ownership. Help preserve Arizona's historical cemeteries by following visitor etiquette:
- Obtain permission to be on the land from the landowner.
- Be respectful.
- Follow specific rules established by the cemetery.
- Report damage and/or vandalism to the landowner and/or local law enforcement.
- Take photographs and make sketches rather than rubbings.
- Stand on, remove, move, deface, damage, handle, or tamper with any of the grave markers, fences, rock outlines, graves, or cemetery architecture. These activities may result in criminal violations under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1604; 13-1802; 41-865 and/or civil violations under § A.R.S. 41-856; 41-841 to 41-846.
- Clean gravestones without following prior evaluations, recommendations, and preservation plans completed by professional conservators.
- Make chalk or charcoal rubbings of gravestones.
- Weed, dig, or plant without permission of the landowner.
Download Article & Internment List ( 695 KB PDF)
- Alamo Lake
- Buckskin Mountain
- Cattail Cove
- Lake Havasu
- River Island
- Yuma Quartermaster Depot
- Yuma Territorial Prison
- Dead Horse Ranch
- Fort Verde
- Red Rock
- Riordan Mansion
- Slide Rock
- Verde River Greenway
- Boyce Thompson Arboretum
- Fool Hollow Lake
- Lost Dutchman
- Lyman Lake
- Tonto Natural Bridge