Pioneer Cemetery Tour for the Summer Solstice


It was a chance sighting in our local paper; I’d taken a few idle moments to catch up on the small stack of newspapers that had been accumulating.  A small article caught my eye, which was entitled “Enjoy a ghostly evening in local pioneer cemeteries”.

With visions of poking around in graveyards as the sun set danced in my mind, I asked Daughter Dearest if she would be interested.  She was up for the adventure as well, which was no surprise.  So I called and got the last two reservations for the 5pm tour.

Okay, 5pm–here in Oregon, that isn’t even near sundown.  In fact, the tour would not be in the dark at all.  Oh well–it would still be fun to stroll around the headstones, and there are so many pioneer cemeteries in this area that we could hit quite a few in two hours.

Saturday, June 21, was a gorgeous day.  The weather was perfect, and we were looking forward to this tour.  We would meet at Champoeg Park, a half-hour’s drive away.

I love Champoeg, and the entire area around it.  If you didn’t know you were within an hour’s drive from Portland or Salem, you would not believe it.  Hops and cows and sheep, and old houses untouched by time scattered like diamonds tossed over the landscape.  Champoeg State Park itself is one of the most restful places I have seen, crowded with trees instead of buildings.

The place where we met up was at the Visitor’s Center, so we didn’t go into the park.  There was a handful of folks dressed in period garb (1830s), and I was directed to them to sign in.  I wasn’t expecting such an elaborate staging for this trip.

The answer came in the form of a two-page brochure we were handed.  Turns out we would be going to these cemeteries to hear various short talks from “time travelers” from the 19th century.  More history than mystery–so the expectations were changed, but not for the worse.  Just–lateral, I suppose.

20140621_170427So in a very short time, along came our coach for the tour, courtesy of Newburg School District.  We were a group of about 25 people, of all age ranges.

We were introduced to the topic of the tour with this quote from Mark Twain:  “Be careful of reading health books.  You may die of a misprint.”  Our time travelers would be speaking of their personal experiences dealing with and in the health field of that time.  Now that could get really interesting–for all the hoo-hah we go through with health insurance today, it’s still a far cry better than some of the methods used two centuries ago.

On our way to our first stop, Butteville Cemetery (one I’d always wanted to poke around in), our guide, Janet, told us some of the history and background of the area and buildings we passed.  The driver didn’t know where we were going, though, it seemed, so Janet had to guide her more than talk to us.  Lucky for us we had one of the leading members of the historical society on the bus with us, and he helped fill in some of the info holes.

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Butteville Cemetery was established in 1836, but some of the graves are older; those were taken from the older cemetery in town and transferred to this one.  It was so very quiet–I could see why families would want their family members moved here.  All I could hear was the distant mooing of cows.

I could see a few people ranged around the cemetery, and realized they were our “time travelers”.   It was a bit creepy, I have to admit, seeing them just silently staring at us from behind or beside tombstones.

20140621_173243We were introduced to Dr. Thomas White, a doctor who came west with the wagon trains.  Each person spoke for about ten minutes, and were all very interesting.  I didn’t write any of it down, though.






Each re-enactor had done a lot of research on the history of this area, and chose their favorite character to bring to life.  They were fun to listen to, and their acting could rival anything Hollywood could churn out.

20140621_174104This is Elizabeth Fackler, who talked about her husband, Dr. St. Michael Fackler–what was different about this one was, she had died before him, and was speaking about what she’d seen of his life by observing him from beyond the grave.  That was a bit unnerving…





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This was a woman known merely as “Doctor Granny”–she was a hoot! Best one of them all, in my opinion.  She told us about how home remedies were often much more trusted than doctors at that time.  I don’t know if she was buried at this spot, but I hope so.

Then we were back on the bus and headed for the cemetery at St. Paul.

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Unlike the Butteville cemetery, this one was still in use.  That made me tread softly…

20140621_181358This is a lovely view–if I were to hang out in here after death, I would never tire of seeing Mt. Hood rising over the hop fields.






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This is also the final resting place for the first Catholic priest in the Oregon Territory, Fr. Blanchet.

20140621_181804Here we meet Marguerite Laird Jette, one of the women whose lives revolved around a career in nursing–even though it wasn’t considered as such then.  It was more like a way of life.






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I finally got a still moment, without a lot of people milling about–and got some nice headstone pictures.

20140621_182441This is Dr. William Bailey, who moved around so much that, out of five pictures, this one was the best.  All the others were blurry or only half-composed.

He was another doctor, who had to be doctored himself up at Ft. Vancouver due to a skirmish with a local tribe.  He survived–surprise, surprise!




20140621_183139I really liked this guy–Louis LaBonte.  His talk was on the ravages caused by fevers that ran rampant in the 19th century.  The natives had a treatment that didn’t work at all, and they lost 90% of their population.  The settlers used quinine, and mostly survived.  Quinine was nasty and disgusting, but it kept people alive.  As Louis said, “Better bad breath than no breath”.






Past Mr. LaBonte was this scene–kinda creepy, in a way.

20140621_184203Peter Kittson was a normal, every-day farmer guy–who had to heal his own broken leg–and he showed us just how he did it.  He used a rope, the timbers in his barn, and a pulley.  Ouch…






While he was speaking, the next time traveler turned and paced slowly across the cemetery.  I didn’t know what to expect from him.

20140621_184849This was Dr. John Brentano, who specialized in childbirth.  A kindly man, he stood and spoke to us from amid many headstones–all of which read “Brentano”.  Apparently, he wasn’t on the job 100% of the time…





On our way back to Champoeg, we passed the original cemetery in St. Paul.  Just a small, empty lot, except for one solitary headstone and a very large stone crucifix.  The guide told us that, by the time people decided to restore the cemetery, the headstones were so broken-up that there was no way to put them all together again.  So they did some research, and put the names of those buried there on plaques, and posted them on the back wall.  We didn’t get a chance to stop, unfortunately…

So, that was the tour.  Nothing at all what I was expecting–but more than I had bargained for.  This was the Friends of Historic Champoeg’s fourth year doing this, and the talks and topic are different every year.  Very worth the price of admission!

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One Response to Pioneer Cemetery Tour for the Summer Solstice

  1. bamauthor says:

    Sounds like an interesting way to spend a day!

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