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Rescuing a Pioneer Cemetery

Hagerman Valley Chamber 12/17/09

By Mychel Matthews (view original article here)

HAGERMAN — The oldest graves around here are 165 years old, under a cairn along the Old Oregon Trail near Salmon Falls. Others graves are closer to town.

Johnny Smalley was bitten by a rattlesnake. And Harry Cline, aka outlaw Bronco Pete, was killed by a posse in 1898 when he crossed the river to say goodbye to his girlfriend at Kanaka Flats.

Smalley and Cline and some 90 or so others are buried in Hagerman’s Pioneer Cemetery, among the dozen graveyards in Gooding County.

The Pioneer Cemetery, with only a few dozen marked graves, has been all but forgotten.

“I bet half the town doesn’t even know it’s here,” said Tom Smith, Hagerman Cemetery District sexton.

But one man has taken it upon himself to change that.

“My goal is to get it cleaned up and presentable,” said Hagerman resident Stan Bartlett. Those interred here “deserve more respect than they are getting.”

Why now?

Bartlett has spinal cancer, and he wants to devote the rest of his life to doing something meaningful.

The graveyard hasn’t been used in decades. Some of the graves may never have had markers; others were made of wood and have disintegrated over the years. Few pioneers could afford etched headstones.

“I got out of treatment in the middle of July and started working on it,” the 78-year-old Bartlett said Thursday. “I just went down there and went to work.”

Thomas Jasper Ayres drowned in the Snake River in 1900 at the age of 23. Billy Wilson and Samuel Baker were murdered in 1892 by James Cross.

Some of those buried in the Pioneer Cemetery were moved from a cemetery in Bliss decades ago when the interstate came through the area.

Jimmy Rickert and T.J. Allison are also buried here. Rickert was gathering coal along the railroad tracks in 1908 and was hit by a train. Allison, a 75-year-old gold miner, died in his camp wagon in 1910.

Finding out who lies where has been a challenge.

“I’d like to find a map of all the plots,” Bartlett said. As of Thursday, he didn’t know a map existed.

“He’s going to be thrilled to know I found a map,” Smith said.

Bartlett has cut down encroaching trees and repaired broken headstones. The work is slow and never ending, he said, as he demonstrated how he makes 7-foot swaths through pin grass and crested wheat with his weed-eater.

He carefully traversed the rough cemetery ground, resting occasionally against the broken branch of a tree.

“This place,” he said, “has given me a purpose.”