A Little Bit of Local Memorial Day History: Old North Fork Cemetery has tales to tell

By Jean Mathisen Haugen, Lander Historian

(Lander, Wyo.) – Milford, also known as North Fork, was once a lively town about four miles north of Lander.  It nearly beat Lander as being designated as county seat in 1884.   North Fork was started in the early 1870’s and Asel “Ase” Wilson started the first flour mill in the area there around 1878.   Ase Wilson is also buried in the Wilson/Wilcox/Masonic Cemetery which lies to the east of the old town on North Second Street Road.    Wilson was born October 12, 1845,   He ran away at the age of 15 to take part in the Civil War, lied about his age in order to be in the Union Army, and became a drummer boy.  After the war he came west.  He started the flour mill at Fort Washakie, then a flour mill at North Fork;  had a sawmill in Sinks Canyon; and tried his hand at gold mining at Ace Wilson Gulch on Twin Creek.  His mother, Julia Sherman Wilson, born May 11, 1811 is  buried near him–she was a second cousin of the Civil War General, William Tecumseh Sherman.

In the western end of the cemetery, are graves of the Wilcox family–Ase’ daughter Lois  Wilson was quite likely the first white child born at Fort Washakie. She married a Wilcox.   Many members of the Wilcox family are buried there.  Nellie Avery Doane and her son, Charlie Doane are buried in that section. Nellie died shortly after arriving at Milford in 1891 of tuberculosis.

In the middle section of the cemetery is the grave of Charlie Harrison who first owned what is now the Armstrong Ranch.  Harrison was an early settler and helped build Fort Bridger, Camp Stambaugh, and Fort Washakie.

At the eastern end of the cemetery is the Masonic section.  Here in an unmarked spot is the grave of Lena Canary Borner, younger sister of Martha Jane Canary, known to history as Calamity Jane. Lena married John Borner in 1874 and settled in the Borner’s Garden area towards Sinks Canyon. Lena died of injuries from being kicked by a cow in 1886 and John, who was an active Mason, buried her at the Masonic Cemetery.

Nearby are the graves of Dr. James Irwin, the first Indian Agent at Fort Washakie, his wife, and the grave of his son, Frank Irwin, who was killed by raiding Indians at Atlantic City in the spring of 1870.  Worried that his son’s grave would be left in a ghost town, Dr. Irwin had his remains moved to the North Fork Cemetery in 1888.

It is a quiet place and only a few trees shade a grave or two–but perhaps the wind tells the long forgotten stories of those who lie at rest at North Fork.

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