In the town of Fairplay, Colorado, lies a hidden gem. Many think of the historically accurate and restored 1880’s town located in downtown Fairplay as the towns gem. Yet what many of its passerby’s and travelers miss, is the pioneer cemetery; where many of the town’s historical key players are laid to rest.
The cemetery itself is located right off of highway 285 and it sits on a hill overlooking Fairplay and the valley surrounded by the mountains, that it calls home. There are many Victorian era tombstones, many unknown dead, and a semi abandoned feel encouraged by the landscape itself. The massive amounts of unmarked graves, overgrown, and dirt buried headstones, combined with the old family plots almost buried by foliage and trees add to the abandoned feeling of the towns pioneer cemetery. Just as the restored 1880’s town tells the story of the many people who played a role in Fairplay’s and South Park’s creation in general, the graveyard too tells a story of the many pioneers and families who resided in the mining town and the old wild west.
Something else that is not readily talked about when it comes to the settling of the wild west, is the role of its many gritty and hard-working women. Many people today know of buffalo bill, or billy the kid or atleast have heard about them. While few know the tall tales surrounding the women who made some of the toughest sacrifices and played some of the largest roles, in creating a new way of life, in the wild west. One of the treasures in our history is found within Fairplays cemetery and it is quite literally, the fulfillment of the American Dream.
Maria Guirard and her husband Adolph Guirard were French immigrants who settled in Park County in 1861, in the end they successfully and effectively set up one of the oldest to date and most successful ranches in the county. By Adolphs death in 1875 the Guirard family had amassed 640 acres of ranching land and 10 children.
Maria Guirard is historically noted as being a robust and determined woman and this is displayed by her ability and determination to continue the running of the ranch after being widowed. Not only did she continue to run Buffalo Peaks ranch with 10 children to take care of, during this period she also attained over 5,000 acres and created one of the largest fortunes in South Park.
It is her, that a tall tale of the west is born from. Known for raising sheep and having planned for the railroad to cross her property, it was inevitable that the ranch and the railroad have an eventual run in. It is said, that the railroad killed a herd of Maria Guirards sheep and refused to compensate her for their death. The local tall tale also states that everyday, after the railroads refusal to compensate her, Maria would take mutton grease and grease the railroad tracks that ran uphill on her property. Eventually, the train stopped being able to get up the hill on Maria’s property and the railroad having taken notice of who’s property it was that the train could not successfully go up, offered to compensate her for the loss of her herd of sheep. After the railroads compensation it was said that the train no longer had any issues getting up the railroad track on Maria Guirard’s property.
Maria Guirard was a pioneer woman who laid the foundations for women to come. Earning her very own tall tale and leaving behind one of the oldest to date ranches that exemplify the way of life in the west. You may not have heard of her before this and even if you pass through the small town of Fairplay Colorado, you may not find the pioneer cemetery at the top of your list to visit but it is a hidden gem. A hidden gem that displays the ardor and spirit of America. The sacrifices of the men and women before us to survive, live and thrive. They risked it all, for a new way of life and it is one that has changed extraordinarily little on mountain. Supplies can be costlier or harder to find, the wind is fierce, the work is typically physical outside of the businesses in the heart of town, the winters are known to be harder then the work you can find, but the people are gritty hard-working folks who care for one another and it serves as a reminder to our roots.
Here is to the tall tales of the west, the picturesque Rocky Mountains that play such a huge role in the way of life in Colorado and mutton grease.