Ephraim’s forgotten cemetery stands as a memorial to early Scandinavian settlers and a reminder of violence in pioneer-era Utah.
The events that led to the creation of Ephraim Pioneer Cemetery reflect the tumult of early Euro-American settlement in Utah. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established Fort Ephraim in 1854 near, the geographic center of Utah. These first settlers in Ephraim were far from their homelands; most were converts to the Church who had immigrated from Denmark. Consequently, the settlement became known as “Little Denmark.” When Chief Wakara met Brigham Young in 1849 he invited Latter-day Saints to settle in Central Utah, but amicable relations between Euro-American settlers and the indigenous peoples of the region did not last for long. The Walker War fought between Euro-American Latter-day Saints and Utes brought violence to the Ephraim region from 1853 to 1854, just as Fort Ephraim was being built. The first person from Fort Ephraim to die was a Mr. Manwaring, though the details surrounding his death are unknown. The fort was small and did not have a cemetery in the plans, so the settlers received permission to bury Manwaring in Spring City, ten miles to the north. When the funeral party was just two miles out of Ephraim there came word of an imminent attack. Stuck vulnerably between the two settlements, the settlers went no farther but quickly buried Mr. Manwaring’s body and returned to the safety of the fort. These unexpected circumstances determined where Ephraim residents would be buried until 1905, when residents began using the Park Cemetery in town.
Ephraim Pioneer Cemetery hosts the graves of various inhabitants whose diverse occupations were useful to Fort Ephraim’s functions. They were masons, blacksmiths, stonecutters, millers, harness makers, shingle makers and more. Nearly all the names on the cemetery’s headstones end in the Scandinavian “son” or “sen.” Where a place of birth was added, it nearly always indicates Denmark and occasionally Sweden. The history of violence in the area is also etched on the cemetery’s headstones. For example, the marker for Christian Thorpe indicates he was a second lieutenant in the Blackhawk War, fought between the United States and Sauk leader Black Hawk. Additionally, a granite stone marks the burial site of seven individuals who were killed in 1865. Other cemetery residents were victims of drowning, and disease was also a prevalent threat, as evidenced by the many children’s graves. The cemetery acts as a reminder of the many risks early pioneers faced in Utah.
Approaching Ephraim from the north, it is easy to miss the small clump of trees marking the cemetery off in the distance west of the highway. The cemetery is more than a mile out of town and is accessible only by a dirt road. The cemetery has gone through periods of neglect and renewal through the decades. In 1990, a committee organized to transform the derelict cemetery to a more respectful resting place. In 1995, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers added plaques to inform visitors about the history of the site. In 2017, a local Boy Scout collected old farm equipment from the mid to late-1800s and placed them in the cemetery as part of an Eagle Scout project. Visitors today will see new, shiny replacement headstones for some alongside broken pieces marking the burial of others.