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DISTURBING THE DEAD

(A TALE OF TWO CEMETERIES)

From the Blue Mountain Cemetery Book complied by Sharon Howard and available for viewing in the Sumpter Municipal Museum.

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Like many of the pioneers buried there, the cemetery itself has a colorful history. The Blue Mountain Cemetery, located just outside of town, is one of the most beautiful and natural cemeteries in the state. The peaceful rural setting seems an ideal location yet the current site was actually an afterthought.

After the first big rush it wasn’t long before everyone knew there was plenty of gold in the ground around Sumpter.  In 1898 a group of outside capitalists realized that the ground was golden as well.  Enterprising investors formed the Sumpter Town­ Site Syndicate and began buying up land that was already becoming difficult to obtain.

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Photo courtesy of Baker County Library Historic Photo Archive

On September 20, 1899 Mr. Calder and General Warren made this announcement in the Sumpter Miner: 

“More than 30 days ago we acquired nearly seven hundred acres adjoining and joint lots within the original town site. We have as yet not sold one foot of this land   What is the result?  Why, property values have doubled in value during that period  of time …”

What a monopoly!  The Syndicate made a fortune but recognized a missed opportunity so on November 8, 1899 a cemetery relocation plan was introduced in the local paper:

“These bodies are buried about one half mile east of the business center of town, a section which is rapidly becoming a favorite residence district and it is therefore desirable to have them removed”

The Town-site Syndicate deeded ten acres to the local undertaker and furniture merchant, Eugene Albert Case, for relocation purposes. Mr. Case platted the new cemetery and during the winter of 1899 and spring of 1900, thirty bodies were located and moved to the new burial grounds. A plea went out to the public seeking help in identifying the bodies which were described as “remarkably well preserved.” In some cases “scarcely a change in their features had taken place since burial.

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Photo courtesy of Baker County Library Historic Photo Archive

Unfortunately, no records were maintained for most of the earliest burials and many of the weathered wooden grave markers had become undecipherable.

After the move, record keeping was sketchy at best. Few families could afford professionally carved headstones.  Some of the people who died during Sumpter’s boom years were drifters, transient miners, families passing through, gamblers, peddlers or ladies from the notorious “Tenderloin District.”   Perhaps a line or two in the local papers noted their passing but often those deaths went unrecorded.

Some of their stories may never be told yet others can be pieced together from family histories, census records, news clippings and various historical documents.

Most folks came to Sumpter hoping for a better life. For a few of those early residents the Sumpter Cemetery became their final resting place.

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Be sure to browse through the Blue Mountain Cemetery Book on your next visit to the Sumpter Municipal Museum. Learn more about local genealogy here.

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To see many more interesting historic photos, visit the Baker County Library Historic Photo Archive here.

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