“I will bring thy seed from the east and gather thee
from the west. I will say to the north: Give up: and to the south:
keep not back: bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the
ends of the earth.” Isaiah 43:5
-inscribed on the monument of Rowland Hall,
born in New York, 1827-1885
I came to Medford, Oregon for a couple days mainly to visit Crater Lake. However, when I got here my host convinced me that it would be covered in snow and was not particularly worth going to all that trouble. Considering she lives here, I didn’t contest. So she pointed me in another direction, the cemetery in nearby Jacksonville. I spent four pensive hours wandering between the stones in the cold drizzling afternoon; the pathways were covered with dried oak leaves and acorns, the shredded bark of the fascinating madrones, and the occasional patch of spotted oak galls that popped and crackled when you stepped on them. Some of the grave sites were sprinkled with a curious red volcanic rock.
I once felt when I went to cemeteries a certain eeriness, like watchful sorrowful eyes leering from around every tree attempting to catch my eye. It’s been some time since I’ve been to a cemetery and I no longer feel that looming sadness. The presence I felt here was not of death but of extreme pride and heartache. These were the idealists, the pioneers who sought better lives for themselves and their families no matter what the risk. Many of those buried here were natives of Germany, England, Prussia, and Switzerland. Those in the Catholic section towards the back on top of the hill were mostly natives of Ireland. Even if they were from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, or New York, many of the stones proudly bore this information.
I found the inscription on Rowland Hall’s stone quite inspiring words from a pioneer’s point of view. Upon discovering where they originated, I was surprised that I did not find Hall’s stone in the section designated for those involved in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. This secret society was formed sometime in the 18th century in Baltimore after splitting from the Order that originally was in England. They claimed to be the descendants of the Israelites exiled from Babylon; Isaiah 43:5 is associated with the scattering of these people and the hope that they will gather again.
It is possible that Rowland Hall was at a time associated with the IOOF despite being situated in the City section of the cemetery. Though the cemetery is split into sections, even a small humble Jewish section; there is quite a bit of overlap between the IOOF and Masonic sections even as they are distinctly separated by signs and pathways. The most common symbol of the IOOF is a three link chain, which adorned many of the stones in that section. But in many cases, this symbol was seen in both sections paired with the standard carpenter’s square. The IOOF also had their version of the female auxiliary, Order of the Eastern Star, which was called the Daughters of Rebekah. I found only one of the symbols for the DOR, represented on Alice Ulrich’s stone. Her husband had the corresponding three chain links.
“There is no detah what seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian,
portal we call death.”
It was not just the superfluous Masonic and IOOF symbols on the large white marble pillar that caught my attention but this poignant inscription and its obvious spelling error. It is not surprising to find this passage from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Resignation” here. It is in keeping with the traditional Masonic values of rebirth and transcendence after death. Longfellow wrote this in 1849 after the accidental and tragic death of his wife, Fanny. This young man, originally from Baden, Germany as many of these families were, Louis A Bilger, died at 22 in 1895. He lay in a crowded family plot, well-honored with marble and thoughtful inscriptions. The spelling error I suspect was intentional. I did double check to see if I was simply seeing it wrong but I was not. Though “detah” is meant to be “death,” I vaguely recall an aspect of Masonic belief in which each design or artistic representation of themselves there needs to be an intentional imperfection to keep the magical influence behind the act powerful and positive. Whether they are related, many indigenous tribes of South America also believe similarly. When weaving a basket or a rug, they will take at least one step to make sure the perfect pattern is broken. It’s just a theory.
There was a large rather unexpected concentration of Germans throughout the cemetery. There were many in the generic City section but also a specific section for those that belonged to the now defunct Independent (German) Order of Red Men. This was the most unkempt section; many stones were broken and doubled over themselves and certain spots were slightly sunken in. I imagine there are no longer any funds for this particular order as it’s now extinct but there were a number of new graves that suggest there are descendants that still enjoy the honor of their ancestral commitment to the
organization. Stemming from the Improved Order of Red Men originally born from the Sons of Liberty involved in the Boston Tea Party, the German members of the organization branched off to form the Independent Order of Red Men in 1850 and conducted all business in the German language.
In my opinion, both IORMs made a spectacle of themselves, taking on the mocking appearance of Native Americans with costumes and wigs and establishing their societies as tribes and counted days as moons. They were revolutionaries in practice but from a contemporary point of view they stand as a disgraceful mockery playing upon the conflicts Natives already had with their invaders.
The first grave stones that caught my attention when I arrived in the cemetery were those of Baby Clara and her mother Katie R., the first and possibly only wife of James C. Birdsey. They were associated with the original Improved Order of Red Men, kept across the dirt road from the German faction. Baby Clara and Katie were buried to the far right of the family plot. Katie died at 26, possibly giving birth to Clara or even George R. “Birdseye” who was buried to the far left next to James C. Birdsey Jr and his father. George Birdseye was born in 1883 and Katie R.’s death year is missing the last digit so it is possible that she survived long enough to have George. Her husband, James, died four months before his son, James C. Jr was born who only lived ten years. George R. Birdseye lived until 1965 so he was likely the only person to carry on the family name, though he added an ‘e’ to the end probably because it had a more Native American connotation. Of course, this is also speculation.
The heartbreaking stories were plentiful here. As one would expect, there were piles of children. In the Crain family plot, Joseph and Susannah, respectably pioneers of 1851 and 1852, were covered with individual concrete slabs and one small slab half that size was designated for their children. There were no names designated so it’s impossible to tell how many children are buried there.
The children of Frederick and Dorothea Pflugh were given one stone for four children. They did not all die at the same time; the deaths ranged from 1867 to 1879 and each of them were different ages when they died, between 1 year to 11 years. Another stone sits just to the left for Amelia Matthews who lived from 1876-1956. I speculate that she might have been one of the Pflugh’s children that survived to adulthood. I did find a name change document from 1879, in which “Emelia Pflugh” was adopted by her stepfather, Frederick Otten, as her mother, Dorothea, died in 1879 at 36 and her father died at 41 three years before. Emelia’s last name was changed to Otten. Perhaps she later married but was still buried with her parents. I can’t remember but the Ottens might also be buried there. It wasn’t uncommon to see two prominent names in one family plot.
John W. McKay, a farmer from North Carolina emigrated in 1852. He and his wife 26 years his junior, Sarah A. Slagle also had a multiple headstone for their children. Three were on a single headstone, ages ranging from 3 days to 17years and during 1862 to 1883. There was another child close by that survived to 30. I was surprised to see his wife’s maiden name on her headstone. This was the only instance I saw of this.
William Bybee, the head of one of the most prominent pioneer families, came from Kentucky originally to California and became a very successful businessman from gold to hogs to politics. His family plot is of course overflowing with marble but he was not saved from despair. Out of the eleven children he and his wife, Elizabeth, had only five of them survived to adulthood.
Kaspar Kubli from Switzerland also had a definite but modest role in the area as a storekeeper, printer and telegraph operator. His home is still preserved for tourists to see. Kaspar had a son that would go off to Harvard and become a high level klansman and politician. I imagine at the time he would be proud of his son’s accomplishments but he did have to endure tragedy like all the others; the death of two daughters. Manerva was 9 and Frances was 8; they died 20 days apart in 1871 potentially from an accident or contagious disease.
These are the stories, and the speculations I could make from them, that caught my attention at the cemetery. I got a quick glimpse of the pioneers: the pride, the hope, the grief, the greed and the power. Honor is hard to discover in the dead, at least here, when families dissolve so quickly and new families emerge. I found three women buried alone without their husbands or any children: Ann, the wife of Earnshaw; Cecelia, the wife of Richard Brown; and Martha A., the wife of WK McKissick. Ann was only 19 when she died in 1861. It seems likely that her husband remarried and was buried with his new family. Martha A. was not as young when she died in 1867 at 39. Her husband likely also remarried and perhaps she was childless or they survived and were later buried with their father. Martha didn’t seem completely abandoned though. On the base of her grave was a beautiful quartz crystal. Cecelia was 77 when she died 1873. It seems unlikely that her husband would remarry as the others did. So where is he? Perhaps he was buried with a first wife? I find it interesting how people have made different choices about burial and what that might signify. It’s next to impossible to pass any sort of accurate judgment. I was feeling the grief and confusion these people had to deal with. I imagine they made their choices as they felt were most honorable.
But let me end with the story of John S. Lacy. When I saw his family plot, it was clear he made a tough decision that made me very happy to see. His first wife, Sarah, died in 1867 when she was 40. Their two children must have died in an accident or from disease as they died 9 days apart, one at 1 year old and the other 9 years old. The two kids were buried next to Sarah and Sarah was buried next to John’s second wife, Marya, who died in 1892 at the age of 62. John was buried next to her in 1907. His other family and descendants were in the next row of the plot. He had no issues putting them all together. I appreciated his courage.
As you might tell, I really enjoyed speculating about the different families I met in this cemetery. The art of many of the stones was quite beautiful as well. It was very clear how courageous this group of people were. Some stones mentioned they were killed or “murdered” by Indians. I felt very uncomfortable with this thought. While it’s likely true, these pioneers came into an area that was already inhabited and threatened their way of life. Their losses were simply a result of defensive measures. I have very little sympathy for them, especially if they need to mention in stone. They were casualties of their own choices.