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More about the Johannesburg Cemetery

Day Trippin' with Mel

If you like old cemeteries like I do, there are a number of them tucked away in various parts of Kern County. One of my favorites is the Rand District Cemetery in Johannesburg (also known as the Johannesburg Cemetery).

In back of the small town of Johannesburg, up the hill and near the mountain (you'll see what I mean when you get there), between Mt Wells Avenue and Sunset Avenue, is the old time – yet also currently used – cemetery. It is unfenced and has dirt roads through it, but it's near residents' homes, so if you visit, please be respectful.

A cornerstone memorial on the cemetery lands – donated by the Rand Desert Museum – declares, "Collected here are the final resting places of some five generations of dream chasers, miners, merchants, ranchers, freighters, madams, promoters, vigilantes, teachers, movers and shakers, loafers and busy bodies; most from somewhere else, from all over the world, all brought here by the winds of fortune, and caught, like nuggets, in holes in the ground."

An information marker also tells us that "The Rand District Community Cemetery" was "established in December 1896 with the burial of William Davis, who was shot and killed in a gambling dispute in Randsburg." It further explains that, "The Cemetery is the final resting place of many pioneers of the District whose headstones and the location of their graves have been lost to the ravages of time."

The graves themselves are fascinating, as desert miners and other assorted people associated with the area seem to be particularly creative in their final resting places. Several are marked with old mining cars and other mining paraphernalia, at least two with motorcycle tanks or handlebars.

Some are family plots; some, sadly, with very tiny graves. Some are marked with modern headstones; some are marked with "unknown" wooden markers. Near the Rand Desert Memorial are listed all the known people who are buried in the cemetery, and names are added when a new occupant may be identified.

The museum in Randsburg is a great place to find out more about the history of the cemetery, and the history of the area in general. One of the docents there loves to tell stories about gunfights between miners and gamblers, and other tales befitting a mining district in the Old West. It's a small museum, but well worth a visit.

Another good source for the history of the cemetery and the area is "The Desert Way with Jaylan and John" (thedesertway.com) and click on the Johannesburg Cemetery. But do plan to go see it in real life.

If you go, remember you'll be in the high desert, and it's still plenty hot. There is a bench or two in the cemetery for resting and contemplation but, despite a couple of scraggly trees, no real shade. Wear good walking shoes if you want to see it all. You'll be walking on gravel and dirt roads, and across rocky, unkept desert terrain. And bring plenty of water with you.

Thanks to the recent rains and tropical storm, the road to Randsburg is closed but you can still get there and to Johannesburg. You'll have to go either on the 58 to Four Corners (Kramer Junction) and then take the 395 west to Johannesburg; or, take the 58 to Mojave and then the 14 north to the 395 East turn off, and take that to Johannesburg.

You still can get to Randsburg from Johannesburg, and a trip around the mountain into the Living Ghost Town is worth a visit to the various antique shops and the museum...most are open only on weekends.

© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel, Tehachapi writer/photographer and avid day tripper – who also welcomes an occasional stay-at-home day – welcomes your questions, comments, and suggestions at [email protected].