Nothing Ever Happens in Mayer…Until You Find Bones

C 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

When my husband and I first moved to Mayer, Arizona, the first fifteen people we met uttered the same sentence to us: “Nothing ever happens here.”

For the most part, they were right. Mayer, located south of Prescott, is a sleepy little town that once served as a stage stop and later a rail stop on the road south to Phoenix. There are a few small businesses, residents scattered in town and along the hills surrounding town, and a fine library. That’s about it.

One day in 2014, when I was working for the Prescott Daily Courier, I got a most interesting phone call. A man named Garry Cooper, who lived on the homestead of town founder Joe Mayer, had found some bones in his yard. What follows here are the articles I wrote for the Courier regarding the matter.

Mayer Resident Unearths Skeletal Remains in Yard

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

The digging of a grave for a beloved Mayer pet has led to the discovery that the spot is already taken.

Longtime resident Garry Cooper, who takes in rescue dogs, was recently shoveling out a final resting place for one of his beloved canines. “I have an elderly dog, Cubby,” he says, “and I started digging a burial spot for him.” After digging down two or three feet, Cooper found what resembled animal bones. But a friend who visited last week, and who works as a registered nurse, saw the remains and immediately determined they were human. She advised calling the police.

Local deputies from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in Mayer arrived on the scene and immediately determined the burial was not recent. “We sent out an evidence technician and determined the remains to be of historic origin,” explains Dwight D’Evelyn, YSCO Media Relations Coordinator.

The case was referred to the Arizona State Museum but Todd Pitezel, Assistant Curator for Archaeology Mandated Programs confirmed on Thursday that the Museum “will not be excavating” the body. Pitezel said the case has now been referred to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. “I am consulting with the Hopi and Yavapai Prescott [tribes], and we will figure out what to do,” he says.

In the meantime several questions remain. Are the bones really those of a Native American? Whose body is it? And how did it get there?

When Cooper purchased his property in 1987, it was known as the former second home site of town founder Joe Mayer and his family. Mayer’s first home washed away in the flood of Big Bug Creek in February of 1891, so he rebuilt at the new location a bit further away from the creek. Mayer’s second home included a general store, post office and restaurant.

Mayer’s former home succumbed to fire in the early 1970’s, according to Cooper. Not much was left when Cooper acquired the property except the barn. The foundation posts were supported by metatas, grinding stones of the type local Native Americans would have used. The barn remains intact, and Cooper has since constructed a new house on the property. During various landscaping and construction projects over time, he also has  unearthed various artifacts, from glass and rusted metal to arrowheads and pottery shards.

Some of the items have been found while digging burials spots for Cooper’s other pets of the past, a total of nine in all. But there’s been nothing like this. “The two main leg bones are sticking out of the bank,” says Cooper, who ceased work and has covered the pit until officials can come and examine the remains. On Friday a member of the Yavapai Tribe, who did not wish to be identified, arrived for a brief look at the bones but declined to elaborate on what comes next.

Until an official examination takes place, speculations continue about the origins of the bones. They were found roughly twenty yards from Mayer’s former home. Cooper says the original terrain on the property was as much as two feet higher, so the body was originally buried four to five feet underground. Big Bug Creek, which runs nearby, is situated some twenty seven feet below the site. There are no records that Mayer, the little Frenchman with a big heart who was known for his generosity and kindness, offered up a final resting place for anyone prior to the Mayer Cemetery’s establishment in 1907.

Officials appear to be leaning towards the remains being of Native American origin. The theory is certainly plausible since Hohokam, Yavapai and other early agricultural tribes once inhabited the area. For now, however, the true ethnic origins of the skeleton remain a mystery. Cooper said he did not find any signs of clothing or other artifacts, just bones. He is worried, however, that the discovery might delay Cubby’s inevitable burial. “If my dog dies tomorrow,” he says, “I can’t dig another hole.”

Bones Likely Native American

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Human bones which were recently unearthed in a Mayer resident’s yard are thought to be Native American, according to authorities.

Earlier this month, Garry Cooper was digging a grave for his dog when he found some skeletal remains. Deputies at the Mayer substation called in Forensic Anthropologist and Evidence Technician Katie Hoffman, who determined the bones were indeed human, and very old. Hoffman recommended contacting the Arizona State Museum.

The remains were found on the former home site of town founder Joe Mayer. At one time the homestead included a post office, store and restaurant, but there is no evidence the Mr. Mayer offered up burial space as part of his services. By the time Cooper purchased the property in 1987 the old buildings were gone.

According to a report from the Yavapai County Sheriff, Cooper said the bones were unearthed close to the base of a large cottonwood that was once located on the property. In an interview last week, Cooper likened the tree to a “Centennial Witness Tree” across the street, which in 2012 was verified to be at least a century old. Cooper’s tree was dead, however, and he removed it.

Mayer’s cemetery was not founded in 1907. Because the area was once populated by Native Americans, and because Cooper has unearthed Native American artifacts on his property from time to time, the remains could very well date to before the town of Mayer was established. For now, however, the bones’ origins remain a mystery. “Unless it’s fully excavated, there’s no way to determine the origin,” Hoffman said.

On Thursday Todd Pitezel, Assistant Curator for Archaeology Mandated Programs confirmed that the case has been referred to the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe. But an official investigation to establish the origins of the skeleton may take several weeks or even months. “There’s always a lot of tape around these cases,” Hoffman said. “It can take a great deal of time.”

Mayer Bones Reburied

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

A Mayer resident who recently unearthed human remains now has an official grave on his property, as well as a new burial spot for his beloved dog.

Garry Cooper was digging a final resting place for his ill canine earlier this month when he accidentally unearthed human bones. Investigations by law enforcement and an evidence technician from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, a member of the Yavapai Tribe and officials from the Arizona State Museum concluded the skeletal remains were indeed human, and very old.

On Tuesday James T. Watson PhD, Assistant Curator of Bioarchaeology for the Arizona State Museum, visited the site to document the partially unearthed remains and rebury them. “I just want to see what material is here and what the relationship of the bones are,” Watson explained. “The most important thing is to determine whether the skeleton is Native American. If it is, obviously the tribe has say over its disposition.”

Watson, who makes about a dozen such field calls each year, says the absence of a skull could indicate the bones may have been exhumed elsewhere and reburied. Without observing morphological analysis of the cranium—aspects that would tie the bones into certain groups of ancestral people—there is no way to determine at this time whether the remains are Native American, Anglo or some other race.

Watson’s examination of the site included looking for artifacts that might better identify the remains, which according to him could be hundreds or even thousands of years old. The bones appear to be those of an adult, but it’s too soon to tell whether they are male or female. Upon completing his investigation, Watson planned to rebury the remains and dig a new grave for Cooper’s dog.

Whatever the conclusion when Watson files his official report, there are no plans to remove the bones out of respect for the body. “There is never a good reason to disturb human remains, ” he said. Cooper said he will later plant a tree to mark the spot, so that future property owners will know the bones are there.


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