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Government & Politics

Yellowstone County Honored Indigent Deceased With Graveside Ceremony

Yellowstone County is one of very few counties in Montana that is responsible for burial of residents who passed away without family or financial resources.

On Wednesday, more than two dozen remains were given a solemn burial in county’s Riverside Cemetery.

Reverend Joe Windham, associate pastor at Harvest Church gave the commendation to the dozen or so people present at this year’s ceremony at Riverside Cemetery.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Denis Pitman, a funeral director, and two years ago he helped to change how the county handles indigent burials.

“We judge a society by how they treat their dead, and in Yellowstone County we have stepped up and truly honor our dead,” said Pitman.

These people can be John Does. Some of them are people who had no resources when they died, or no family or friends to take care of final arrangement.

“And then there are a couple of them that are just people who were left on the shelves at funeral homes,” Pitman said. “Nobody ever came and claimed them. And so we have offered all of the funeral homes that if that happens if they want to bring the cremated remains out here it’s probably more appropriate they are buried in a cemetery than languishing on a shelf somewhere.”

One set of remains this year had been at a funeral home since the late 1980's but the rest were from the last few years.

The county funds these burials, paying funeral homes $1,500 for the cremations.

On Wednesday, one by one, the cremains of 28 people were carefully placed in individual graves the county’s public works department had opened the day before. 

There are no markers but each final resting place is identified thanks to Yellowstone County’s Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. On Yellowstone County’s webpage,, is a cemetery mapping site that can identify where remains are interred.

Those buried in this cremation garden are identified by a grid mapping system, said Janet Reynold, a GIS analyst with the county.

“So here," said Reynolds, “these cremains, the lot is like a row number and then the lot number, like A-1 or something like that.”

County Commissioner Pitman says the county is also fundraising for a monument to further identifying those interred here.

“Hopefully by next year we will have a monument up with all of their names on it. And then be able to add more to it as we need,” said Pitman.