Thursday, March 26, 2009

Skamania County
Cemetery District #1


Bob (names changed to protect my lapses) was working diligently wiring sections of the chain-link fence to the railings when he saw me, waved, and asked, “Find what you’re looking for?”

“Well, since I wasn’t looking for anything in particular,” I answered, “I guess I did.”

Wearing the uniform of a sexton, jeans and a duckbilled cap, Bob sauntered over for some conversation. If there’s one given among cemetery workers it’s that they’re willing to chat at the drop of a shovel. They’re particularly willing to chat with someone who’s merely visiting out of curiosity rather than lamenting a recently departed soul. They’re always proud of the maintenance they do, and they want to share it with you.

Cascade Cemetery

Bob does an exceptional job. Slim and energetic, smiles come easy to his angular features and his eyes twinkle as he lists the accomplishments of his four years on the job. He talked about a columbarium niche wall they’re erecting in the center of Wind River Memorial.

“When I came, there was $2000 saved for that project. They’ve been wanting one for years. I paid cash for the one we’re putting in. Thirty-two thousand dollars. It’ll be more like $40,000 when we’re done. I still have that $2000 in the bank.”


There are ten cemeteries in the Skamania County Cemetery District, double the amount I was expecting. “When I came on the job,” Bob said, “only a few of the cemeteries were being well maintained: these here in town and Stevenson down by the river, pretty much that was it. I said, nope. Our mandate is to take care of all the cemeteries, so I give them all equal treatment.

“I had one lady call up in tears. She said they couldn’t find the grave they were looking for until they realized that it was now out in the open and not covered up by the brush and weeds anymore. They were so happy!”

Underwood Chris-Zada

The cemeteries reflect that attention: they all look alive and well-tended. Each is a respectable cemetery in its own right, and a few are over-the-top delightful. Stevenson Cemetery, hugging the bank of the Columbia, has a location to, well, die for; whereas both Berge and Underwood Chris-Zada fairly ooze charm and attention to detail. Eternity looks pretty good from there.

“Ten cemeteries?” I asked. “You got a map for those cemeteries?”

“Nope, but I’ve got their addresses. Want ‘em?”


“Hop in. I’ll give you a ride to the office,” he offered, and then backed his truck up the hundred or so yards to a small building.


“Used to be, when I first came here, all the files for all ten cemeteries fit in one file cabinet,” he smiled, as some seven or eight filing cabinets crammed the office. “A lot of files seemed to have just gotten lost, and we’re working to resurrect what we can.

“We bought our own back-hoe this year, so we can open and close our own graves. We used to have to farm that out,” he boasted. “Bought that with cash, too.”

Bob wrote a couple notes on the copy of the addresses he gave me and walked me back to my car, where he set to repairing the fence again.

Cascade Cemetery

“Be sure and visit the Indian cemetery at Bonneville,” he told me. “It’s called the Cascade Cemetery, but it’s got some important people buried there. It’s maybe going to be on the National Registry.”

Snow still covered the ground in the shade, crunchy patches not a quarter of an inch thick, and the air wasn’t cozy warm yet, but spring was definitely in the air and Bob was busy making his charges the best they could be. I hadn’t planned on heading back past Bonneville, but now I had no choice. Gotta go see the important people.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Claim to Fame
Old Carson Cemetery

Old Carson Cemetery

What follows is the introduction to my Old Carson Cemetery set on Flickr. Most of my introductions don't merit blogging, but this story seemed a little more interesting than usual.

Old Carson Cemetery

If Carson has any claim to fame, it’s that the mother of my twins lived there briefly as a child.

Other than that, it’s hard to fathom why this unincorporated hamlet with a couple thousand people scattered up the valley should merit four cemeteries, but it does. This is the granddaddy of the public ones. It’s not but an acre big, and half of that was covered with a crust of snow when I visited. It has uprights, like a decent cemetery should, and a comfortable cover of older trees and bushes, which when I visited were in the process of being cleaned up after the winter’s winds. It’s not by accident that the cemetery across the road is called Wind River Memorial.

Carson’s larger claim to fame is the location of a hot springs, which was developed by one Isadore St, Martin, who the Home&Abroad Web site describes as “an entrepreneurial pioneer and local guide”; though he obtained his deed to the property via the Indian Homestead Act of 1875, the purpose of which was “to encourage Indians to engage in farming” and “provided 160 acres to the 21 year old, head of household, provided ‘that he has abandoned his tribal relations and adopted the habits and pursuits of civilized life.’”

Absolutely, that! We don’t want any unrepentant Indians stealing our land.

But I would venture that by his last name Isadore was not a local Indian but rather a Métis, and he probably came here as a trapper rather than what we think of as a “pioneer.” I’ll wager he came in no wagon train. He may well, though, have been a guide and he certainly was entrepreneurial. He also left a cemetery, q.v.

Old Carson Cemetery

And I’ll toss in a further “could be.” This cemetery also contains the remains of one Mary Roemaine, whose epitaph claims her as a “descendant of/ 1st settler of Oregon Territory/ Etienne Lussie & Felicite Niute”; and without getting into the boast of being “1st settler” or whether it was Lussie or Niute (my money’s on Etienne), I’ll further guess that Etienne was also a Métis and most likely connected to St. Martin in some manner; and I’ll go one step beyond and speculate that both men could have been refugees from French Prairie after the fateful vote was taken to join Oregon to the United States instead of Canada. Once that vote was sealed, the appropriating of the Métis lands began in earnest and their exodus from the farms they’d wrested from the wilderness was ordained. Isn’t democracy grand?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Getting There

Mt. Solo Cemetery

One of the great mysteries of the world is how does one find graveyards? It’s not as easy as one would think. There is no master list of graveyards. Here in Oregon we have a magnificent tome, Oregon Burial Site Guide, by Dean Byrd, et al, that lists thousands of such gravesites, even if they can no longer be found, often with directions limited to section-and-range numbers. Nothing like tramping around someone's back forty: “Don’t mind me; I’m just looking for a cemetery,” you shout with a friendly wave.

On a national scale, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) maintains a list of geographical features, including cemeteries, for every place in the Union. At their Web site there is a form for searching that database, where you can look for all the cemeteries in a given county.

Or, more accurately put, all the cemeteries in the USGS database for any given county; and that is by no means all the cemeteries for any given county. From where the USGS gets its data is somewhat of a mystery, as well, although most of the Oregon data originally comes from an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) study from 1978 by the aforementioned Dean Byrd (which led him to do his subsequent volume). Regardless of from where the USGS data comes, it’s woefully inadequate, more so in some places than others, but always with both significant and minor cemeteries being ignored. In other words, it’s a good place to start, but it’s never wise to leave it at that.

Furthermore, you can count on the accompanying maps never being correct. Cemeteries are almost invariably not where the little pointer says they should be. Sometimes one can actually see where the cemetery is from the aerial photos, but often as not one has no clue.

Eddyville Cemetery

That being said, I no longer use the USGS site, finding the ePodunk Web site easier to access and with the identical information; they obviously borrowed the USGS database lock, stock, and barrel. But the ePodunk maps are no more accurate than those of the USGS (well, how could they be, if the USGS is their data source?). I will often open Google Maps to the same location as the cemetery for which I’m searching, as printing their maps can be quicker and less wasteful than printing ePodunk pages.

Once you’re into Google Maps, there are other tricks for finding cemeteries. One is to search for roads named “Cemetery Road,” which will turn up lists of roads that include the word “cemetery” within them, such as “Iman Cemetery Road.” There are three cemeteries in Skamania County, WA, for example, that are accessed by roads bearing their names and the word “cemetery,” none of which are listed by the USGS, but all of which show up in a Google Map search.

But Google Maps goes further than that; it also searches tags on all geo-tagged photos in Flickr and displays those results. If, for instance, you were to write the words “cemetery,” “any county,” and “any state” into the query box on the Google Map page and hit “search,” Google would show you every location that someone has photographed, geo-tagged (which means located on a map where the photo was taken), and tagged with the word “cemetery.” Google will search beyond the confines of the county which you specify, but the results will all be from the same general neighborhood. I know that they’re pretty thorough, because when I’ve used it, my photos from Flickr show up. You’ll see how it works when you get there, if you haven’t used the site already.

Creswell Pioneer Cemetery

There are other sources. Local history societies and genealogical groups occasionally compile cemetery lists, but they’re highly erratic and rarely have adequate directions. Find a Grave lists a lot of cemeteries, but few of them are mapped, and when I just went and checked the location of three sample cemeteries, all three were incorrectly located. More are photographed to some extend, but not much more. Cemeteries are not, of course, Find a Grave’s priority, so it’s not surprising that information about cemeteries, per se, is lacking. I’ve also run across personal cemetery Web sites that list, perhaps, thousands of cemeteries, but in the end it turns out very few are adequately described, have sufficient directions, or have been photographed. In other words, grandiose claims can lead to disappointing results.

What’s definitely true is that random driving around the countryside may whet one’s appetite for cemeteries, it will never provide a full meal; they’re too well hidden or off the track beaten. Finding them takes sleuthing.

Unless, of course, you live in this part of the Oregon Territory where you can find cemeteries by visiting the site of Dead Man Talking. The whole point of the Flickr site is to make finding the cemetery easy. That and letting you know what to expect once you get there. What a concept. Come wander the stone forest with me.

Jewell Cemetery