Scouts brave sopping-wet Saturday to scrub down small pioneer cemetery

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Myleanna Vernon, who helped come up with the cemetery-cleaning idea, sweeps off a grave marker. In addition to this project, the Scouts plan to visit a nursing home to share music, crafts, games and conversation with residents; and also to send Girl Scout cookies to troops in Afghanistan.Last Saturday, local Girl Scouts in the flower of their youth tried to honor people whose youth wilted more than 150 years ago.

Girl Scout Troop 40151, composed of 35 lassies from Forest Grove and Gaston, cleaned up the small Hill’s Cemetery on Springhill Road, just north of the turnoff to Laurelwood.

Working in the rain, they mowed, weeded, pruned, trimmed and scrubbed the quiet pioneer resting place, whose residents range from unnamed babies to a rugged wolf hunter to the man who fought to make Gaston the cheese capital of Oregon.

Lisa Harings, who co-leads the troop with Shawnna Williams, Gretchen Schlag and Chandra Bettis, said more than 50 people came out to clean up in the downpour, including 15 Scouts and their families.

They plan to return to repair broken headstones when the wet weather stops, Harings said.

The Scouts got the idea for the project while learning about the Girl Scout law on respect.

One troop member, Myleanna Vernon, told about visiting her great-grandmother’s grave over the summer and finding weeds that needed to be pulled and flowers that needed to be watered. “We watered so many plants and cleaned some graves,” she said. “We should do that here.”

The cemetery land, now maintained entirely by volunteers, was donated by Almoran and Sara Hill, according to Ken Bilderback, a Gaston history buff who’s working on a book about the cemetery and has posted an online video of the site.

Bilderback said the Hills came out on the Oregon Trail with pioneer legends Joseph Meek and Marcus Whitman — the latter massacred with his wife and fellow missionaries amid tensions with tribes in Washington state — and was also close friends with local politician and businessman Joseph Gale, as well as Alvin Smith, who helped establish the Congregational Church in Forest Grove and whose well-known A.T. Smith House is one of the city’s highest-profile historic NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Summer Hullinger (left) and Matea Vernon, who helped start the project, work at cleaning off a headstone in Hills Cemetery. They were joined by Kathy Alveraz, Kamryn McCloud, Lily Roman, Morgan Cottrill, Ellie Moiser, Ainsley Henry, Haley Calmettes, Abby Johnson, Isabel Minor, Natalia Roman, Kaitlyn Sundblad-Rhoade, Novalee Johnston-Crockett and Siera Case.

Almoran is buried alongside his wife and other well-known Oregon Country pioneers such as William Doughty, a Rocky Mountain fur trader who was responsible for controlling the wolf population that settlers worried would attack their livestock. Doughty was also instrumental in writing Oregon’s first constitution, according to Bilderback. In tightly scrunched letters, his headstone informs passersby of his role in the provisional “goverment,” perhaps misspelling the word because the extra ‘n’ didn’t fit.

Also buried there is Peter Duncan McIntosh, who developed the recipe for Tillamook cheddar cheese, Bilderback said. McIntosh’s attempts to make Gaston the cheese capital of the state were thwarted by the Great Depression, but his gravestone still reads, “Father of the cheese industry in the Oregon Country.”

One of Oregon’s first senators, Samuel Laughlin, suffered the deaths of several wives and is buried near one of them, Nancy Laughlin, who was the first recorded burial in the cemetery, Bilderback said.

But not all plots belong to the prominent. And some remain mysteries, particularly where headstones have broken off.

Others simply read, “Father,” “Our Darling,” “Our Baby,” or “Our Darlings Ruthy and Ruby 1911-1912.”

“There’s a lot of history there. It’s a great learning experience for the girls,” Harings said. “With this project, we’re respecting those who have passed on. The girls see the gravestones of babies and children, and realize how much we have now with health care and other basic needs.”

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