The story of westward migration during the 19th-century is one of triumph and tragedy. Thousands of graves dot the western United States, where pioneers succumb to disease, hunger, and accidents. Most have been lost to time, but along Highway 20 in the Sierras is one lone grave that receives thousands of visitors a year.
Many modern roads and highways follow the same routes used by overland emigrants during the 1800s. Such is the case for Highway 20 in the mountains above Nevada City, California. Motorists who stop to visit this grave will find a monument dedicated to a “pioneer who crossed the plains to California.” While nonetheless tragic, the true story of Julius Albert Apperson differs from the plaque’s description.
Apperson was born in nearby Nevada City. His father, Milton, purchased this land and had just finished building the family’s home. The children were instructed to burn the leftover wood, and in the process, two-year-old Apperson’s clothes caught on fire. He died a few days later and was buried on the edge of their property, adjacent to the Emigrant Trail. The family moved away shortly thereafter, but local residents looked after the grave.
Over the course of the next century, a headstone was placed and a fence was built to protect this ground known simply as The Lone Grave. The route of Highway 20 was even altered so as not to disturb the site. In 1971, a monument was erected. To this day, visitors leave toys and stuffed animals to honor the short life of Julius Albert Apperson.