I wasn’t expecting to find much at Agua Mansa Pioneer Cemetery. I thought it would be about the size of a small country churchyard. I was thinking in terms of a few headstones with an iron fence encircling it. I was startled as I drove into the gates. It’s is definitely much larger than I thought.Industry has grown up around this cemetery as you can see by the fencing, the trucks and the warehouses. The sun beats down on it, turning the landscape a golden color which blends right in with the sandy soil.
There are about 2,000 graves at this location although many aren’t marked. The old wooden crosses have long ago weathered and fallen apart. The stone monuments are still there but many are in a sorry state.The grass seen above is very dry and prickly. I can’t imagine what it will be like once the hot summer months arrive. I knelt to take some of these shots and discovered thorns in my jeans and shoes. I managed to get a few in my hand too when I placed it on the ground. If you visit, beware of stickers!
Agua Mansa was a town located along the Santa Ana River. It did well and had some distinguished citizens as evidenced by this stone marking the grave of Louis Robidoux.This was a prosperous community and thrived during the 1840s when it was the largest town between New Mexico and Los Angeles. (How can such things be and yet no one has ever heard of it?) But the town met with disaster when the Santa Ana flooded in the 1860s. Eventually the settlers moved away from the river but the cemetery, which stood on a hill safe from the flood waters, remained. The families continued to use the Agua Mansa cemetery well into the 20th century. Many of the stones have dates in the 1920s and 30s. The last burial was in 1963. San Bernardino County acquired the land in 1967. Meanwhile the surrounding countryside gave way to railroads and industrial sites.
One of my favorite things in the Agua Mansa was the old gate. It was tucked away along the outside wall of the visitor center. This was once the main gate but vandals continued to break off figures and so the county removed in favor of a more secure and less tempting replacement. The old gate is beautiful. It depicts the travels of the settlers and the Native Americans as they converge on the church at Agua Mansa. Many pieces are missing but there’s still a lot of detail.It was only by chance that I stumbled across this historic site on the San Bernardino County website. I’m glad I did. Surprisingly it turned into a moving experience. The cemetery is a solemn place, a sad place. I couldn’t help being touched by the sense of history and of loss. Agua Mansa means Gentle Water but here the gentleness has become almost obscurity. The waters are those of oblivion..