Two years later, Taft was a rough-and-tumble place where written accounts say many disputes were settled by fistfights, knives and gunfire. One of the town’s reported 500 prostitutes was said to have a parrot trained to proposition men.
Other than a handful of magazine articles, a book and hundreds of old photos, there is little documentation of the town’s history. Carole Johnson, now a Forest Service supervisor whose ranger district encompasses the site of the rediscovered cemetery, remembers a woman who spoke to her high school history class in Superior, Mont., in about 1969.
The speaker recalled that the Northern Pacific passenger train she was riding as a child with her mother was stopped by a snow slide in Taft in 1908 or 1909. She remembered seeing “arms and legs of corpses sticking out of snowbanks” piled high outside a saloon.
“She told us they were killed in a bar fight or whatever, and because of the deep snow in Taft, they were just pitched out the door into the snow drifts to be buried in the spring,” Ms. Johnson said. “Now we know where they buried them.”
The inhabitants of the cemetery are said to include a Montenegrin — known by his fellow countrymen in Taft as “The King” — who was fatally shot in 1907 by an irate railroad foreman. The foreman himself was buried there after he was murdered in revenge, according to an account in the only known book about Taft, “Doctors, Dynamite and Dogs,” published in 1956. The author of the personal memoir, Edith May LaMoreaux Schussler, was the widow of an orthopedic surgeon who worked at the Taft hospital before it was sold for $25 and torn down in 1909.
The town’s last remaining building, the Taft Hotel and Saloon, which was rebuilt after the 1910 fire, was razed to make way for Interstate 90 in the early 1960s. Nobody talked then about the nearby cemetery.
In the years after the legendary fire, the mountainous landscape was redesigned by nature — taken over by towering coniferous trees and thick vegetation.