Driving north on State Route 99 through California’s Central Valley isn’t always a travel bright spot. But keep your eyes open and pioneering history may pop out at you – such as the Liberty Cemetery from the 1850s.
I was traveling up the freeway near the small farming town of Galt, trying to keep my mind occupied as sun-dried weeds, majestic oaks and brown grasses were just a blur out the window. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a very old cemetery marker in the middle of a weedy field next to the freeway.
I glanced up just in time to see the exit — Liberty Road just south of Galt – and just had to find a way back to do a little historic travel exploration, being an historic cemetery fan. A few loops and wrong turns – with just vineyards and farmlands along the freeway, this wasn’t easy – but I finally got back and pulled up beside a big gate with the lettering “1852 Liberty Cemetery.”
I slipped through a small pedestrian pass-through and walked across the dry weeds toward the Liberty Cemetery markers I could make out across the brown field a few dozen yards away. All I could hear was the roar of passing trucks and cars as I entered the burial ground of pioneers.
1852 pioneers in Liberty Cemetery California
According to an historical plaque just inside the gate placed by E Clampus Vitus (Tuleburgh Chapter #69), the once-bustling town of Liberty, California, was established in 1852 by C.C Fugitt. It first was known as “Davis Crossing,” then “Fugitt’s,” and finally became “Liberty.” The town was an important stage stop between Sacramento to the north and Stockton to the south, as well as between San Francisco and the Gold Country to the northeast. That’s because horses needed to rest about every six or seven miles on their travels.
In Liberty’s heyday, per the plaque, it once had three mercantile stores, two blacksmiths, a wagonwright, livery, cobbler, dentist, church, school and hotel, covering what is estimated to be about 32,000 acres. But Liberty’s glory days came to an abrupt end in about 1869 when the depot for the new Central Pacific Railroad was awarded to the town of Galt. The Liberty Cemetery is all that now remains of the town.
Galt Historical Society cares for Liberty Cemetery California
Situated on five acres of land, the plot is owned by the Galt Historical Society, which also cares for the cemetery. But vandalism happens when such a place sits without nearby residences or buildings, surrounded by farmlands and vineyards and shrouded in the roar of freeway 99. Some 425 graves have been recorded there, and some are likely below the freeway today, but in the cemetery you can’t find that many. On this website of national cemetery records, you can see a list of many of those buried there.
Some grave markers are crumbling, some are just chunks of stone, some are broken in pieces, and some are so worn the writing cannot be read. The Historical Society thinks there are many more unmarked graves.
Children and soldiers at Liberty Cemetery
There is a simple marker for a “Geo. Wilson,” labeled only as “U.S. Soldier.” There are other simple markers in the Liberty Cemetery California for toddlers and children, beloved wives and husbands. Some have called it “the cemetery of children,” since so many children are buried there. Traveling and living in the rugged West was tough for kids. Since June 2014, there is now a “Liberty Flag Pole,” dedicated by the same chapter of E Clampus Vitus, “In the honor of liberty and freedom.”
When traveling through Central California, break up the drive on State Route 99, with a stop at the Liberty Cemetery California.
How to get to Liberty Cemetery California: Heading either north or south on State Route 99, you will see Liberty Road (exit 273) either about a mile before or a mile after Galt (depending on which way you’re going!). Head to the east side of the freeway and right next to the freeway alongside Liberty Road is the gate. Information boards are right inside. You’ll need to walk a few dozen meters across the field to the markers.