By Tony Bamonte
Above, the town of Wallace, Idaho, founded by William R. Wallace circa 1884. Photo courtesy of Tony Bamonte.
Colonel William Ross Wallace was the founder and first mayor of Wallace, Idaho. He was also a Civil War veteran who fought for the Union. During his participation in the Civil War, he was wounded twice in action. Toward the end of the Civil War, Colonel William Wallace served on the staff of General Rosecrans and was in command of the Second Kentucky Cavalry. Following the Civil War, as a vocation, Wallace was involved in the mining industry in a number of states, including Minnesota, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, and another country, Canada. During his final days of life, for health reasons, he moved from Arizona to California.
Wallace’s cousin was Brigadier General Lew Wallace, who was also accomplished in the following ways: He wrote the book “Ben Hur,” which became a tremendous best-seller. It has been called “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century.”
In 1865, after President Lincoln had been assassinated, eight conspirators were arrested and put on trial in a military court. General Lew Wallace was chosen as one of twelve men to sit on the military commission responsible for trying the one female and seven male defendants. Following a two-month trial, all eight conspirators were found guilty of various offenses. Four would be sentenced to hang, three would be given life sentences, and one would receive a six-year sentence. The four were hanged on July 7, 1865.
In late July 1865, General Lew Wallace presided over a military commission that tried and court-martialed Henry Wirz, the confederate commandant of the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp for conspiring to “Impair and injure the health and to destroy the lives of large numbers of federal prisoners at Andersonville” and “murder, in violation of the laws and customs of war.” This was the result of over 12,000 prisoners dying while under his watch in 1864. Wirz was found guilty and was hanged in Washington, D.C. on November 10, 1865.
From 1878 to 1881, Wallace served as governor of the New Mexico territories. On March 17, 1879, Governor Wallace met with, and attempted to offer amnesty to, the notorious outlaw, Henry McCarty a.k.a. William H. Bonney a.k.a. Billy the Kid, for his involvement in the Lincoln County War. Unfortunately, Billy the Kid did not follow through with his part of the deal, and Wallace withdrew his offer. Billy the Kid was shot and killed on July 14, 1881, by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
William Ross Wallace died in 1901, at the Greenleaf Hotel in Whittier California. He was buried at either the Mount Olive or the Broadway cemetery (across the street from each other).
All the burials at the two cemeteries took place between 1888 and 1957. The last burial at the two cemeteries took place in 1958. Also, on that same date, the City of Whittier had the cemetery declared a nuisance, due to lack of upkeep and use.
In 1967, a citizens cemetery committee began contacting relatives of persons interred in both the cemeteries to find out if anyone wished to have a relative moved, or to keep their headstone. Few people responded.
Consequently, in 1968, both cemeteries were cleared of headstones. They were moved to state property at Pio Pico Park, where they were stored behind the Pio Pico Mansion. Both former cemeteries were then covered with top soil and the area that was once the final resting place of Colonel William Ross Wallace and many other Civil War veterans is now called Founders Memorial Park.
In 2001, the headstones were moved to the Whittier Museum, where they were again stacked one on top of the other. There were typically five headstones to a stack, spaced approximately two feet apart, covering a large area of ground.
In 2010, I contacted the Whittier Museum in an attempt to procure Wallace’s headstone for the city of Wallace. I was told, because they were stacked on top of each other, they were too heavy to move in order to look for any information on them. However, they did a search to see if they could find it, with no luck.
In January 2017, I passed this story on to Chuck King. Within a short time, Chuck located William Ross Wallace’s headstone. He learned that, in 2015, officials at the Whittier Museum felt the stacks of head stones were becoming a safety hazard. Consequently, they were given to a private owner.
The final resting place for many of the headstones ended up on the land of Dale Bybee, at the intersection of Sierra Highway and Red Rover Mine Road in California. Bybee arranged the headstones on his property in such a manner to create an authentic-looking cemetery, which he felt was far more respectful than the way they had been stacked and stored for nearly four decades. Chuck again contacted Dale Bybee and learned he did, in fact, have the headstone for William Ross Wallace. Bybee was pleased to be contacted about it and wanted to make sure it was returned to the City of Wallace. Consequently, Chuck King contacted Jamie Baker, a business owner in Wallace Idaho. As a result of King, Baker’s, Bybee’s and numerous citizen efforts, William Ross Wallaces headstone will now become a new and significant monument in Wallace Idaho on June 24, 2017. Learn more about this Founder’s Day event at www.wallacefoundersday.com.