Buried history close to home
by Tori Sheets
Most people's front yards house gardens, pets or lawn furniture, but one Ouray resident enjoys the company of her deceased relatives close by.
Coleen McElroy inherited the family cemetery from her father, who got the land from her great aunt.
McElroy said her graveyard gives some people the creeps, but for her it’s just a part of life. She plans on being buried there along with all of her family who wish to spend the afterlife nestled along the banks of Dexter Creek.
"We'll all be out here, my mother and my sister, it's just not an option to go anywhere else," she said.
The first relative to be buried in Dexter Creek Cemetery was McElroy's great aunt Evie Stadem-Peath in 1940. She was followed by eight other relatives including McElroy's grandparents and father. A family dog also rests in the cemetery.
Two other people are buried on McElroy's land, but their entombment was news to McElroy. Before she built a house next to the cemetery, Colorado Department of Transportation used the land to store equipment while rebuilding the bridge on Dexter Creek.
A man from CDOT asked McElroy's permission before parking the equipment.
"That's fine," she said. "But there's a cemetery and if you guys go anywhere near the cemetery I will have a fit. He pulled out a map and said 'we have all of your plots mapped out including the other two people'."
McElroy was shocked to learn of the two people buried so close to her relatives. Years later while she was attending a parade in Ridgway she said she began a casual conversation with a stranger and learned the history of the unknown graves.
"We just started chit chatting, and those two people are her great grandparents," McElroy said.
The woman's great grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Stough, were the original owners of the house across the street from McElroy's and were the first people to be buried on the property.
"I was like, how the hell did you find me out of this entire crowd, because she doesn't live here, she's from Texas," McElroy said. "She ended up standing next to me and telling me more history on that house and the fact that her relatives are buried in my yard."
McElroy said a Ouray local also told her the hill by her house used to be called Stough Hill.
"It's weird enough to have your own cemetery, it's even weirder to have people you don't know in your cemetery," she said.