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Updated Aug 29, 2014 - 4:59 pm

Woman unearths past of forgotten Arizona Indian cemetery

This July 9, 2014 photo shows Gail Sadler standing amid broken crosses in a pauper's grave in Winslow, Arizona. The local historic preservation commissioner has made it her mission to unearth the identities of roughly 600 people buried there and help their descendants reconnect with a lost part of their history. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)

WINSLOW, Ariz. — A dusty, barren field in the shadow of a busy Arizona interstate was for decades a place where children played freely, teenagers spooked themselves on Halloween and locals dumped trash, seemingly unaware of the history beneath them.

Inside cotton sacks, burlap bags and blankets buried in the ground are the remains dating back to the 1930s of stillborn babies, tuberculosis patients, and sick and malnourished Native Americans from Winslow and the nearby Navajo and Hopi reservations.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to know where each grave, some just 18 inches deep, is located at the Winslow Indian Cemetery. The aluminum plates and crosses that once marked them were trampled on, washed away or carried off.

It was no place to mourn, thought local historical preservationist Gail Sadler, before she made it her mission to unearth the identities of the roughly 600 people buried there and help their descendants reconnect with their history.

“If anyone is searching for family, I don’t want these little ones to be lost,” said the soft-spoken child welfare worker.

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