Mission Dolores Cemetery - Atlas Obscura

Mission Dolores Cemetery

The oldest burial ground in the city, final resting place of city founders, Ohlone natives and murderers alike. 


Now one of only a small handful of cemeteries remaining in San Francisco, the tiny burial ground at Mission Dolores was once part of a much larger cemetery, the final resting place of city founders, criminals, and thousands of Ohlone Native Americans.

Officially known as the San Francisco de Asís cemetery, the oldest cemetery in San Francisco (adjoining the oldest building in the city, Mission Dolores) originally ran all the way to what is now Church Street and into 16th Street. The mission was established in 1776, long before the small town of San Francisco became flooded with gold seekers, and expanded into the dunes to surround the site. In several stages, beginning in 1889 the cemetery plot size was reduced, in some cases moving remains into mass graves, in others relocating them to other cemeteries, until finally the modest site is all that now remains.

The unmarked burial sites of the approximately 5,000 Ohlone natives who were buried at the Mission are remembered with a statue of a Mohwok maiden, Kateri Tekawitha, inscribed with the message “In prayerful memory of our faithful Indians,” as well as plantings of native plants and an example of a Native reed house.

Notable San Franciscans buried at Mission Dolores include the first Mexican governor of Alta California, Captain Luis Arguello, Don Francisco De Haro, the first alcalde (mayor) of San Francisco, and William Leidesdorf, one of the city’s early influential businessmen. Less glamorous but no less notorious in their time, the Mission cemetery is also home to victims of the city’s Committees of Vigilance - ruthless crusaders against the crime rampant in the city’s early days. The boxer and ballot box stuffer James Yankee Sullivan, the politician and assassin* James P. Casey (who was hung along with his cohort the gambler Charles Cora by the supporters of newspaper publisher and social reformer James King of William whom he shot) and the notorious madam Arabella (wife of Charles) are all interred at the Mission. The grave and spectacular monument of James King of William was moved out of San Francisco along with most other cemeteries in the early 1900s and can still be toured at its new location at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park. The garden-like cemetery has been restored recently and is open to visitors through the Mission gift shop.

*On May 14, 1856, Casey stopped King in San Francisco and shot him. He died a few days later. Casey was arrested and lynched along with Cora by the San Francisco Vigilance Committee. James King of William was originally buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery, but was later moved to Cypress Lawn Memorial Park after cemeteries were evicted from San Francisco County limits.

Know Before You Go

You have to pay to enter the cemetery on Sundays. It costs $7 ($5 for students/seniors).

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