For the last few years, I have been researching locations near my home that seemed to have historical significance re farming, the Oregon Trail, early settlers, neighborhood developments. Names like Guisto, Zimmerman and Wilkes had come to the forefront. I had come across these pioneers’ grave sites in nearby ‘Pioneer’ cemeteries.
My fascination with cemeteries and photography is partly imagery and imagination, but also the historical questions of who, why, how etc.
This marker for William Wilkes has been particularly interesting to me. I live in the Wilkes neighborhood. I have Wilkes Creek in my back yard, burbling downhill toward the Columbia River. I did a little research on William Wilkes and one thing lead to another….the marker for a dead pioneer child near Wilkes Elementary School. I recalled this marker, but never gave it much thought until recently.
“…..Mrs. Sales states that her father Mr. Doc Hartley, a pioneer to Oregon in 1846, and who lived in the area, told her about the people who came late one evening and camped by their spring. Their little girl, about eleven years old, was very sick. The father and mother of the child had only one team of horses and a wagon. The child died during the night and was buried the next day. Mrs. Sales’ mother helped care for the child and her father helped make the coffin and dig the grave.”
As sometimes happens in these events, where the little girl was buried is not where this boulder and memorial plaque now stands. She died nearby and was buried to the North near the Freeway/Union Pacific Railroad right of ways. When construction demands bumped up against the gravesite, a nice outcome was a marker was created and moved South to its present location to memorialize the little girl, the Pioneers and history in the area.
“The school children soon learned of the little pioneer grave near the school house, and their young hearts ached for the little one, so all alone. During the summer months, the children of Paulus & Helen Benter Fisher kept the grave bright with flowers. The grave soon acquired a small white picket fence. Through the years the children of the school would place flowers on the grave on Memorial Day. The child has never been forgotten.” (Information Source)
“In 1949, Lee Mathews, a former student of Wilkes School, and a member of the Children of the American Revolution became concerned that the gravesite would be destroyed during construction of the Banfield Expressway (Interstate Highway 84), and wanted to see the site marked permanently. This process took ten years with a temporary marker placed in 1953, shortly before the highway was completed. The Union Pacific Railroad having acquired ownership of the land, gave the land to the Children of the American Revolution. This organization donated the site to the State of Oregon. To mark the site, the railroad hauled in a large rock from Starvation Creek on the Columbia River. Finally, on May 22, 1955, a bronze plaque was mounted on the rock as a permanent marker, and was dedicated.
In 1989, the Children of the American Revolution was contacted and informed that the construction and widening of I-84 would make the site inaccessible for maintenance or visitation. Many interested people and the State Highway Department formed a plan to move the rock, with its plaque, to its present day location.”
In this day of revisionist history writing, it is a good thing that there still exists a fleeting glimpse of history. The outing to the cemetery for photographs lead to finding William Wilkes grave and further enquiries lead to the little girl’s memorial marker and a glimpse at grief, loss and the Oregon Trail. Such a loss as they neared the end of the trail’s long journey. I can’t imagine.