By Sharyn Cornelius
In the spring of 2010 volunteers from the Millville Historical Society took on the daunting task of cleaning up the Bates Cemetery on Ranch Road. The half acre pioneer burial site was almost totally impassible due to a knee-high growth of Vinca vines and dozens of Trees of Heaven each surrounded by scores of suckers. The graveyard had also been severely vandalized over the years; only a few tombstone bases remained to show that people had once been lovingly interred there
During their first day of weed-whacking and tree-falling on May 15, members found a shattered grave marker belonging to Rebecca Bates (1812-1880) beneath the tangle of vines. At their second workday, Historical Society members were joined by Alvin and Jane Bates of Silver Springs, Nevada; Alvin is the great-great-grandson of Rebecca and Salem Bates. At the end of the day, the Bateses loaded the pieces of the tombstone into the trunk of their car so they could take it home and attempt to repair it.
By the time the heat of summer overtook them that first year, the Historical Society volunteers had removed most of the Trees of Heaven and poison oak and piled the brush on the eastern side of the property, intending to burn the piles during the winter. When they learned that the property lay within the City of Redding, which has a very short burn permit window, they decided to chip the refuse instead.
But due to various injuries, surgeries, and other health issues, work stalled during the 2011 dry season, with the result that by the spring of 2012, the Vinca vines and hundreds of Tree of Heaven suckers had grown back, and the giant brush piles were still there.
This time around the Millville Historical Society decided to spend some of the money they had made from their three history books to hire outside manpower to accomplish the task. They hired Sal La Russa and Adam Doelker to grind down all the tree stumps and Larry Cornelius to chip the brush piles and mow the resurgent ground cover.
During the stump grinding operation La Russa and Cornelius unearthed a second large tombstone fragment. (photo at left) From the months of birth and death legible upon it, Historical Society members were able to determine that it belonged to Salem Bates, husband of Rebecca and patriarch of the family for which the cemetery is named. They immediately notified Alvin Bates, who was overjoyed to learn that his great-great-grandfather’s gravestone had also been found.
Once the cemetery had been thoroughly cleaned up, Historical Society President Rod Miranda and member Glenn Campbell helped Cornelius put up a five-foot high chain link fence around it with a locked gate to protect it from any further vandalism.
Over the next few months, a monument containing all the names of those known to be buried in the Bates Cemetery, donated by Jim Allen of Allen and Dahl Funeral Chapel in Palo Cedro, will be installed and plans for the dedication ceremony will be announced. The date has tentatively been set for Oct. 6, 2012.