Leaving Dv

Wed, Jul 08, 2020

The People of Evergreen: The Arcan Family

To many locals, Evergreen Cemetery is seen as the home of the Día de Muertos Festival, Memorial Day events, or a site for school field trips. However, while Evergreen is home to beloved events and activities it is also a traditional cemetery, serving as the final resting place for individuals from all walks of life.

Established in 1858, the 161-year-old institution was one of the first public cemeteries in California. Up until the mid-1800’s, the surrounding land was home to the indigenous Ohlone natives who had settled along the coast. After Spanish explorers colonized this territory, the area was controlled by Mexico with only about twenty American families living there at the time. However, the discovery of gold in 1849 propelled California into an economic boom, attracting more and more people to the state. To accommodate the growing population, Santa Cruz was in need of a cemetery.

The Imus family were some of the first prominent land-owners, retaining farmland and even what we now know as the Costco along Hwy 1! Mr. Imus decided to donate a portion of his land to the city to become a public, nonreligious cemetery since the hillside was not suitable for farming. Today, we refer to Evergreen Cemetery as the “museum without walls” as it is now maintained by the MAH and serves to honor the rich history of our County. You can read more about Evergreen here.

Some might say that modern Santa Cruz is represented through the diversity of Evergreen’s interred, ranging from doctors to farmers to artists, to even an opera singer! Each person has contributed their distinctive story to help make Santa Cruz the place it is today.

But, who exactly were these people and why are their stories so important?
United States 1849 1850

US States and Territories, 1849-1850

In this new blog series, The People of Evergreen, we will dive into the stories of some of the most notable figures buried at Evergreen. To start, let’s meet the Arcan family. The Arcans were originally living in Illinois when they received word that gold had been discovered in California. And so, with hopes of extreme fortune in their hearts, John and Abigail Arcan, along with their son Charlie, set out for the Golden State in April of 1849.

In October, the family decided to join a wagon party near Salt Lake City, Utah, transporting all of their food, water, belongings and oxen via covered wagon. After hearing news of a possible shortcut to California, the Arcans took the gamble, only to be faced with the tumultuous deserts of Northern Nevada.

While traveling through this ‘shortcut’, the Arcans battled the many demons of the desert, including food and water shortages and extreme weather conditions. Desperate for a way out, the group decided to send their two strongest men in search of help. The men returned 26 days later with just enough sustenance to refuel the group as they set out once again for California.

Abigail Arcan

“Goodbye Death Valley!”

Abigail Arcan

Img 8621

The Arcan Family Plot in Evergreen Cemetery, CA.

When the Arcan family abandoned their camp in Death Valley, they were also forced to leave most of their belongings behind. The thought of leaving behind her most prized treasures did not sit well with matriarch Abigail, who put on every article of clothing she had and tied extra ribbons around her hat to avoid parting with her possessions. She even tied a special family tablecloth around her waist, an heirloom now a part of the MAH’s collection.

Throughout the duration of the family’s travels, Abigail had been pregnant with Charles’s soon-to-be baby sister. Abigail gave birth to her daughter Julia on July 1st, 1850. However, due to the lack of food and treacherous travel conditions, Julia died nineteen days later, becoming the youngest person buried at Evergreen Cemetery.

This story is adapted from the MAH’s 3rd through 5th-grade Evergreen field trip. Learn more about taking your class or building a custom group visit of Evergreen by reaching out via the forms found here.