aka Lower Lake

Lake County, California

HERNDON FAMILY CEMETERY - About 1856, Nathaniel Herndon set aside a two acre plot for a cemetery for his family, friends and relatives. Related families were Hale, Grigsby and Copsey.

The graves of the following have been identified, either from the tombstones read many years ago, or from family information. Several other remains were moved from this pioneer cemetery to the Lower Lake cemetery in the early 1900s, when there was talk of closing this cemetery. Many of the tombstones that were transcribed years ago, have been vandalized or have disappeared altogether.


In 1854 Nathaniel Herndon and his family made the dangerous journey from Missouri to what is now known as Lower Lake.According to the prolific local author and historian Henry Mauldin, the Herndons were members of the Copsey wagon train led by Doc Mathews. This journey held the hopes and dreams of one of the largest contingents of pioneers to ever migrate to Lake County. Forty oxen driven wagons made the arduous trip along with all the worldly possessions of several families determined to start a fresh life in the new territory of California.
In 1856, also according to Mauldin, Nathaniel Herndon set aside 3 acres of his large homestead that it might be used as the last resting ground of his family. Little did Herndon know at the time, it would become a community burial site containing the remains of many of the early pioneers of the area. Names such as Adams, Asbill, Copsey, Dean, Dillard, Green, Hutchinson, Kirtley, Mitchell, Morris, Scarf, Thurston, and Wilson are all known to be buried in this hallowed ground along with the Herndons. Even George Patch, the last known traditional leader and shaman of the Koi Tribe (part of the Pomo Nation) is known to be buried here. Local lore also indicates that this "family plot" contains the remains of a several paupers unable to afford a proper burial. It is also likely that the infamous flood of 1868 added to the population of the site as an outbreak of Cholera surely would have led to hasty burials there.
According to longtime resident Dick Lewis (former local mortuary proprietor) and Laura Lee Thomassen(a former local resident and Copsey descendant) some graves had carved redwood planks or simple wooden crosses as late as the early 1960's. These markers have long ago rotted away and returned to the earth, much as their owner's simple wooden coffins and physical remains have. It is these wooden markers that are a mystery. Although fragments of these wooden markers have been found, (some charred) none are complete.
No known formal registry of burials has yet been located to determine who all these souls were and how many are actually interred in this historic site. Thankfully though, there are several ornate granite, and beautiful white marble monuments remaining. In the case of the Green plot, massive examples of local limestone pioneer craftsmanship are in evidence. In addition, several have the Oddfellows handshake carved into them. Some have plot boundary stones placed around them made from local limestone, such as the Green plot. Some residents recall iron fencing that was also used as plot boundary markers, but alas, have long since disappeared. Some of these monuments are in remarkably good shape but many are in need of cleaning and several are fractured due to vandalism. This author is of the opinion that several are broken due to the 1906 earthquake which caused a great deal of damage in the area of Lower Lake. The affected headstones, have no apparent impact marks, but all seem to have a uniform, almost identical crack which literally cuts them in half as if broken by a violent,quick movement. Yet another mystery to be confirmed.
Over the years, a few surveys were done in an attempt to record for posterity, the names of those interred at this historic site. Lenore Clark of the Lake County Genealogical Society compiled a physical survey back in 1980 which tallied twenty-seven names. Dan Roman and Miguel Lanigan confirmed this list and mapped out locations in 1993. In 2003 Karin Kopperhaver submitted a list to rootsweb.com. Thirty-seven names, not including possible doubles and family members reentered in the District 1 Cemetery on Lake St. in Lower Lake and possibly other locations. Kathi Alvey and Anita Crabtree of the Lake Co. Genealogical Society have confirmed many of these but research is ongoing through obituaries and other official sources.
The largest contingent is, not surprisingly, the Herndons with eight known burials and an unknown amount of Herndons moved to the more modern District 1 Cemetery. One Copsey, Wick, the elder statesman of the Copseys and Alice an infant Copsey burial, both with beautiful marble headstones (Alice's disappeared 5 years ago as this author recalls). Six Copseys were removed to the District 1 site. Also worthy of note is the Asbill Clan. All that remains of this well known pioneer families plot is Tyre and Sarah, again the eldest of the original family. Between six and eight other Asbill family members were also removed and transferred to the District 1 site. Another mystery: Why were several members of these families removed, leaving behind the elder members and earliest burials at the Herndon Cemetery? Probable that others were moved too. A curious situation.
The Herndon Pioneer Cemetery has had it's share of owners in the past. We know that the site was sold along with a large parcel of the former Herndon homestead in 1863 to Erastus Day, just after Lake Co. became it's own county, separating from Napa County. We know that Charles Wilson purchased fourteen deeds which included the cemetery on 5/16/1888 for five dollars in gold coin. Five months later,the enterprising Mr. Wilson then resold twenty properties,including the cemetery to the Getz brothers for one hundred dollars in gold coin, a substantial profit in those days.This was the era of the grand resorts and mineral bath spas that brought the gentry of San Francisco to the county.The Getz Bros. were likely speculating with hopes of a land boom in the area, as they formed a corporation known as the Clearlake Land Company. This entity was maintained until 1933 when it dissolved, selling all holdings with the exception of three shares. No provisions were made for the Herndon Cemetery at the time of this formal dissolution.Consequently,the cemetery was an untaxed, unmaintained site with no known deed or owner. Local lore is that the three outstanding shares left over from the Clearlake Land Co., were the deed to the cemetery but the deed and owner have not been located, as of yet.
The Herndon Pioneer Cemetery has had it's share of trials and tribulations. In 1983 the Lower Lake District 1 Cemetery located on Lake St. proposed that the three acre Herndon Cemetery be sold, that all buried there be removed to the District 1 cemetery and this beautiful three acre parcel could then be sold with the proceeds going to expand the District 1 Cemetery. An uproar of great magnitude ensued between the District 1 Cemetery Board and members of the Copsey, Tremper, Enderlin, Kenyon, Herndon, Myere, and Brown families. Also enraged were the local chapters of the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and the community at large. The Board and Sexton of District 1 Cemetery were under great pressure to abandon the proposal and eventually did so. During this time the Native Sons and Daughters dedicated a plaque to the site which is situated at the entrance to the Herndon Cemetery on Stagecoach Rd. This group also pursued but did not complete state Historical Designation status and unfortunately both organizations are inactive at present.
In 1993, an attempt to restore and protect the site was spearheaded by Dan Roman and Miguel Laningan along with the Lower Lake Community Action Group and BOS District 1 Representative Helen Whitney. This group of concerned citizens and officials approached the county government with it's concerns over this much neglected and threatened Historic Cultural Resource. No formal action was ever taken by the BOS due to lack of funding and title to the site, according to Dan Roman.
Now to the present. This author began researching and speaking to community groups about the Herndon Pioneer Cemetery in the spring of 2004 with very positive responses from all, including District 1 BOS representative Ed Robey. In May of this year I contacted an excellent national organization dedicated to preserving cemeteries known as Saving Graves. Sue Silver, California Representative of this orginization has been instrumental in protecting several endangered Pioneer and Gold Rush Era cemeteries across the state. Sue informed me of section 3105 of the old Political Code. This was a code that precedes the current Health and Safety Code and for which much of our current codes are based on. The Political code dates back to the early days of our state and in some cases supersedes current codes. Section 3105 of that code basically states that a cemetery used for five consecutive years, with six or more burials is considered to formally be a cemetery and that it is either under jurisdiction of the city or town where it is located or in the case of unincorporated areas (such as Lower Lake), under the jurisdiction and control of the BOS of said county as part of the "Public Trust". Cameron Reeves, County Counsel to the BOS reviewed the law and other case precedence and concluded Sue Silvers contentions to be correct. On September 27th, 2005 the Lake County BOS agreed to take responsibility for the Herndon Pioneer Cemetery in Lower Lake California by a vote of 5-0.I commend the Board for it's decision.The county has given maintenance responsibilities to the Parks Department and may put a new fence around the site.
There is still much to do. Additional research and an aggressive restoration of the monuments are much needed priorities that will be left to historic and civic groups along with this author. We welcome any information or assistance members of the public at large can offer. Benjamin Franklin once said " Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you about your people". Let's give Ben some good things to say about Lake County.
(Author Kevin Engle is a resident of Lower Lake, a board member of the Lake County Historical Society,a member of the Lake County Genealogical Society,a member of the Cultural Resources Committee (a sub committee of the Heritage Commission) and a proud 11th generation American. He can be reached by e-mail @ konoctikid1@webtv.net.)

If anyone has additional information of this area, please contact me.anitajc@pacific.net