Clues from the past: Museum employee ‘intrigued’ by woman buried near home
“I also felt like she needed to be remembered
and … honored.”
Assistant director for the Museum of Northwest Colorado
On a hill some five miles west of Craig, a mystery lingers.
A group of mourners gathered here in January 1915 to lay to rest Mary Dillon, a mother, widow and invalid of nearly 30 years.
According to her obituary in The Craig Empire, Dillon’s gravesite on the hill was intended to be a temporary resting place. Her body was interred there, at her request, “awaiting the time of removal to McDonald County, Mo., where the wife and mother will eventually rest beside the bodies of husband and son.”
That wish was unfulfilled.
Years, then decades passed. Children grew up, then grew old. Life moved on.
But questions about Dillon’s history linger, and Janet Gerber is trying to uncover the answers.
“I’ve always kind of been intrigued by it, that’s for sure,” said Gerber, assistant director for the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Her curiosity is understandable.
The gravesite of Mary Dillon is about a 10-minute walk from her house.
Gerber has been trying to piece together Dillon’s history off and on for about five years, although she’s known about the gravesite for years.
The parcel where it sits used to belong to the Mosier family, she said, but has since become part of the Gerber property.
So far, Gerber’s been able to determine that Dillon came to Moffat County in about 1885. By the time she came to Colorado, she had been widowed and one of her sons had died.
She lived with her daughter and son-in-law, Adaline and Samuel H. Mosier, at their home near Craig until her death. The latter assumed the title of Moffat County Sheriff the same year Dillon died.
But pieces of the picture are still missing.
Gerber doesn’t know what malady Dillon suffered from that made her an invalid for nearly three decades and almost completely helpless for the three years leading up to her death.
“That’s something I’m trying to find out from the family,” she said, adding that she’s been in contact with Dillon’s descendants.
Dillon may have had as many as six children, Gerber said, but she’ll have to do more research to know for certain.
Gerber hasn’t even found a picture yet to see what Dillon looked like for herself.
She paused occasionally as she spoke to thumb through the file she’s put together on Dillon. She glanced at newspaper clippings and printouts from www.ancestry.com, a website devoted to genealogy.
For many people, this kind of research may be laborious, even frustrating.
Not for Gerber.
“I just really like to know who people are and what they did with their life and who their families are,” she said. “That’s where my particular interest lies.”
Although some basic details about Dillon remain a mystery, what is known about her as well as life in that era offer clues.
“Even though she was an invalid, she still had to be, I would say maybe, a strong-willed woman … just because, for one thing, people had to be fairly strong-willed to survive in the elements that they had to deal with,” she said.
Dillon made her own funeral arrangements, and she chose the spot on the hill.
How her body was transported to that site may be the greatest mystery of all.
On one side, the hill rises at a steep angle that would have made for a difficult climb during a Northwest Colorado winter. The other side plunges down to a lush valley at what looks like a near-vertical drop.
“I’m really intrigued by how they got up on that hill in the middle of the wintertime, because it’s extremely rough terrain,” Gerber said.
She later added, “I assume that they probably would have had the gravesite ready because they knew that she was … failing.
But just to get people and the body up there — I don’t know.”
Nearly a century after Dillon’s death, clumps of sagebrush and cacti grow around the original headstone — a small, flat rock placed upright in the ground — and a border of smaller rocks surrounds the grave.
A new headstone, purchased by the museum, marks the site.
Gerber placed the headstone recently with help from friends Jonathan, Paxton and Synthia Ritchey, as well as the oil and gas company Quicksilver Resources Inc., she said. She added that the Ritcheys, of Steamboat Springs, were interested in preserving the site and offered assistance.
If you step a few feet away, you can see the original homestead down below the hill where Dillon lived with her daughter and son-in-law. The wood is dark with age now, and it stands against a field of green where cattle graze.
“I just wanted to know about … who was she,” Gerber said.
That desire isn’t completely fulfilled yet. But, now, at least, there’s a visible testament to Dillon’s life in Moffat County.
“I also felt like she needed to be remembered and … honored,” Gerber said.