Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Tragic Demise of Mary L. Sargent

"Mary L. Sargent's Headstone at Lompoc Cemetery" Digital image. Photographed by Elizabeth O’Neal, November 23, 2007. Privately held by Elizabeth O’Neal, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Santa Barbara Co., California. 2008.

My little bunny and I were out hopping around the Lompoc Cemetery last fall when we ran across this lovely, well-preserved headstone. The inscription reads:

Mary L. Sargent
Aged21 Y's & 8 D's
Murdered by Indians
Apr. 2, 1881
I had seen Mary's headstone on several previous trips to the cemetery, and had always wondered about her story. This time, I asked the cemetery manager for a bit of Mary's story. Apparently, it was quite a scandal!

Says the Lompoc Historical Society:

[Mary] had left on horseback to go to a neighbor for eggs in the Santa Rita District. Her horse returned without her that evening. A search party was formed and her body discovered in a shallow grave. An Indian sheep herder was held as suspect, since the footprints at the scene matched his. His clothes were also bloody, and there was blood on his lariat. He denied doing the deed and blamed it on another man, whom he could not identify. He was found guilty on the spot and hanged. The Chumash, who inhabited this area before European arrival were a peaceful people. The only instance of violence was an Indian revolt at La Purisima Mission. The sheep herder was of Chumash descent and had come from the Santa Cota Reservation in Santa Ynez.
Can you imagine anyone being found "guilty on the spot" today?

One of the things that struck me about this headstone (other than the "murdered by Indians" declaration) is that it is in such tremendous condition, and almost completely free of mold, moss, lichens and other nasties that grow on gravestones in moist climates. So many of the historic headstones here are rendered nearly (or entirely) unreadable, but Mary's stone is in practially pristine condition.

Perhaps her stone receives special care? I'll have to ask someone the next time I visit.

You can read more about Mary Sargent's tragic demise here.

Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth O'Neal