Cadaver dog team searches suspected unmarked ‘poor farm’ gravesite
HELENA (KPAX) - Another team of trained cadaver dogs searched what is suspected to be the final resting place of people who died at the Lewis and Clark County Poor Farm on Wednesday.
This time, the dogs alerted multiple times to the scent of human remains.
A different team of dogs searched the site at the end of May, and while they showed interest in different areas, they did not alert to anything.
Conditions on Wednesday were different from those at the end of May — the grass was cut short, and the ground and vegetation were drier.
“This is a place where people who had a hard time in life or at the end of their life would up,” Helena-Lewis and Clark County historic preservation officer Pam Attardo said of the suspected graveyard.
Lewis and Clark County opened a poor far at the site of the present-day Florence Crittenton Cooney Campus in the late 1800s.
The Poor Farm housed the elderly who had no one to care for them, people who were disabled and unable to work, and orphaned or abandoned children.
According to Attardo, the poor farm originally buried residents who died in a swampy area, and then they were moved.
“There is historical record that there are bodies here—probably up to 350 or more people here,” Attardo said. “We have names, we have ages, we know who they are, it’s just where they are located.”
Records indicate the field on Benton Avenue between Flagstone Avenue and Chert Place is likely the final resting place for residents who died at the Poor Farm.
Additionally, results from searches with ground-penetrating radar and two teams of cadaver dogs lead historians to say they are fairly certain this is the final burial site.
Attardo said some residents of the subdivision where the suspected burial site is located have expressed interest in installing a marker to note the significance of the site.
“They are unmarked, so it would be nice to have some sort of recognition of who is here,” Attardo said.