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Oregon cemetery is final resting spot for hundreds of Civil War veterans

By VICKIE ALDOUS | | Published: May 23, 2015

MEDFORD, Ore. (Tribune News Service) — No one is certain why a group of Civil War veterans' graves is clustered together at the Jacksonville Historic Cemetery.

But Jackson County may have paid for the grave sites of veterans who were on their own when they died.

"These were probably Civil War veterans who died in Southern Oregon and the Rogue Valley and didn't have families," said Dirk Siedlecki, president of Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery, as he knelt by the grave markers. "The county used this property to bury them."

Graves of other Civil War veterans are scattered throughout the cemetery in individual or family plots.

Altogether, the cemetery has more than 350 known veteran graves — each with its own story, although details may be lost to history. Of those, 60 graves are for Civil War veterans.

Small American flags will mark the veterans' graves from Memorial Day weekend through Veterans Day in November, courtesy of volunteers from Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery.

The flags mark the final resting spots for veterans from the War of 1812 through Vietnam.

"We have veterans even from the War of 1812 through the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Sadly, we're well represented," Siedlecki said.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and Monday, volunteers will help family and friends find the grave sites of people buried in the historic cemetery located at the top of Cemetery Road, which extends off E Street. People who don't have family members buried there are encouraged to come to honor veterans who have passed away as well as men and women still serving in the military.

The event is one of several tributes scheduled in Jackson County to honor veterans and current military members this Memorial Day weekend.

Siedlecki said it can be difficult to find graves at the cemetery, which opened in 1859, because information is scattered among several recorded sources. Volunteers have access to paper and computer records on grave sites.

Many people travel long distances to visit graves at the cemetery. Some visited the cemetery as children, but have only vague memories of where a loved one is buried.

"They will say, 'My uncle's grave was by a big tree,'" said Siedlecki, standing amid hundreds of towering madrone trees. "It's very rewarding for us, the volunteers. We're usually able to find all the graves people are looking for. It's a good feeling to be able to help them."

Siedlecki said volunteers have been helping visitors find graves on Memorial Day weekend for years. The volunteers continue to find out new information about people buried at the cemetery — and to add to the count of identified veterans.

"We'll have more flags available. We always find veterans without a military marker," he said.

John E. Ross is among the veterans already identified at the cemetery. He was a colonel in the Oregon Indian Wars, living from 1818 through 1890.

His first wife was an American Indian and he spoke native dialects, Siedlecki said.

Conflicts between pioneers and American Indians were a part of life for many of those buried at the cemetery.

"We have a number of markers saying a person was killed by Indians. We remind people there are two sides to all stories," Siedlecki said. "The marker may say someone was killed by Indians, but the truth is we killed a lot more."

Several other people are buried in the Ross family plot, including a descendant who was a Vietnam veteran and an infant marked with a gravestone inscribed with the word "Baby."

There is no body for Turner Neil in the cemetery, only a memorial marker that reads, "Buried in France." A soldier in World War I, he died in 1918 while still in his early 20s.

Hayes B. Taylor died in 1899 in the Philippines while fighting in the Spanish-American War, which raged across the Caribbean and Pacific. It took 11 months for his body to be shipped back home, and when it arrived, his parents didn't have enough money to buy a headstone.

More than a century later, the Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery contacted the Veterans Administration and obtained a marble headstone for Taylor, who died when he was 22 years old.

"This represents what this holiday is all about," said Siedlecki as he stood by Taylor's grave. "So many young men lost their lives in service to our country."

valdous@mailtribune.com

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