The San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery is located about 400 yards south of the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside. It lies in a narrow space between Mission Avenue and State Route 76, and the thousands of people who pass by each day on these busy roads are likely unaware that some of the valley’s pioneers rest nearby. The cemetery is accessed via a poorly marked dirt road leading west from Rancho del Oro Road. In contrast to the lush and perfectly maintained cemetery in the nearby mission, the Pioneer Cemetery is forlorn and neglected.
The cemetery was placed in use in 1869, its first sad burial being that of a one year-old girl. Its very existence arose out of a need for a burial site for non-Catholics, as they were excluded from burial in the Mission Cemetery.
The land was donated by a local property owner for use as a public burial ground, and the deed was passed on to the San Luis Rey school district as the only active governmental entity in the area. When the Oceanside School District absorbed that district around 1950, it also assumed responsibility for the cemetery. Its maintenance is clearly not a priority for the district.
The cemetery today is loosely protected by an iron-gate and barbed wire fence. On the day we visited, the gate was unlocked and we were able to pass through to walk the grounds.
Some of the graves are identifiable by a hodgepodge of flat and stone markers, the oldest of which have had their engravings worn away by winds and the sands of time. Others are unmarked and seemingly forgotten. There is no landscaping of any kind, and fledgling tumbleweeds are the most prominent vegetation growing among the markers.
The great majority of burials here occurred during the 19th century and first two decades of the twentieth century. However burial on the grounds is still available for those who can prove a familial tie to the pioneers who are buried in the cemetery.
There are two notables who rest here. The first is Andrew Jackson Myers, known as the founder of Oceanside, who passed on in 1907. His wife and four children are buried in the cemetery as well. The second is a genuine hero, Oceanside police officer Daniel Bessant, who was killed on duty in 2006 at the age of 25 while making a traffic stop. He is buried in the southeast corner of the cemetery, and his grave monument is appropriately the most prominent on the grounds.
For those wanting a bit more of the history of the cemetery as well as a fairly complete roster of those buried here, check out this webpage provided by the Oceanside Historical Society: http://oceansidehistoricalsociety.org/SLRCemetery.htm