Cemetery History

The Clackamas Pioneer Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Clackamas County.  The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office establishes its founding as 1850.  Once settled amongst farm fields, today the cemetery is tucked in an industrial park off of Highway 213 in between Interstate 205 and SE 82nd Avenue on Ambler Road.  Across the street from Papé Rents and next door to Neptune Pools, it is hardly the eternal rest once envisioned by its earliest inhabitants.

William Tyndall Matlock and his wife, Elizabeth Jane Ballard Matlock, informally allowed the Baptist Church to use the property.  In about 1854, the Baptists, led by Revs David Hubbard and Hezekiah E Johnson, erected a meeting house there.  The Matlocks formalized the relationship in 1865 when they gave the church a deed to the property for the meeting house and an adjoining cemetery.  The meeting house eventually burnt down.  In the 1960s Emily Chapin described the incident to a relative as follows:  “The church burned when Emily Chapin’s grandfather Sol Imel...and some men were digging a grave and other men were shingling.  An old man decided to burn the discarded shingles and the fire crept underground to the church.”   Emily goes on to say that the church was rebuilt in town.

By 1880 all remnants of the church were gone and the property fell into disrepair.  In 1889 Rudyard Kipling toured the cemetery on his way from Portland to fish in the Clackamas River.  He wrote about the experience in Book II of “From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel”:  "Sometimes we crashed through bracken; anon, where the blackberries grew rankest we found a lonely little cemetery, the wooden rails all awry and the pitiful stumpy headstones nodding drunkenly at the soft green millins."  A group of women and teachers came to the rescue, caring for the cemetery until 1909.  In 1910, a community group assumed care.  The last member of the group, Mike Anderson, is now aged and his daughter Ronita Lussier is the caretaker. 

The distinction of the oldest marked burial in the cemetery belongs to John Capps who died in 1862.  His simple death notice published in The Oregon Argus on 5 April 1862 states:  “Of Consumption, at the residence of Isaac Capps, on Sunday, March 30, John Capps, aged 25 years and 10 months.”  John was the son of pioneers Isaac Capps and Jemima Hubbard Capps who brought their large family of 14 children to Oregon via the Oregon Trail in 1845.  All of their children, save one, died of consumption and many are buried at Clackamas Pioneer in a tidy row of simple graves.  John was married to Mary Elizabeth Craghead, the daughter of Amanda Newbill Craghead.  Amanda was the second wife of Francis L Talbert and the step-mother of Daniel Talbert for whom Mount Talbert is named. 
The cemetery is home to many illustrious - and not so illustrious - pioneers of the county and their descendants.  The Matlocks are there, and the Talberts as well as the Johnsons.  They are joined by the Starkweathers who came to Oregon in 1850, the Faubion and DeShazer families who came in 1856-57, the Hickeys in 1869.  Some of the headstones attest to their journey; like James Roots who was “Born Mar 1, 1819 at Kent, England Married at Chatham England 1849 Emigrated to U S in 1854 Enlisted in the U S Army in 1862 Crossed the Plains in 1869 Died Oct 22, 1902.” 

The cemetery is home, as well, to 71 Veterans of the armed services:  2 from the Indian Wars, 30 from the Civil War, 1 from the Spanish War, 14 WW1, 10 WW2, 2 Vietnam with the remainder serving during peace time.  Civil War Veteran Captain William Henry Smith was born and grew up in Washington County, Ohio.  At the age of fifteen, his family moved to a farm in Missouri.  When the war broke out, William enlisted as a Private, working his way up through the ranks until he became Captain of Company L, Second Missouri Cavalry.  They engaged in many battles and military operations throughout the war in both Missouri and Tennessee.  When the war was over, William moved west, settling in Oregon and working in the saw mills near Oregon City.  He married Louise Rivers, and together they had four children.  Captain Smith died in 1926 and wife died two years later.  They are both buried at Clackamas Pioneer, not far from the front gate.  Volunteers are now working to install 6 brand new VA markers for Veterans currently lying in unmarked graves at the cemetery.  When the markers arrive this summer, a ceremony will be held to dedicate the new stones. 

A team of researchers has spent the last year researching cemetery records, documenting burials and mapping the cemetery.  The new map will be installed just prior to Memorial Day 2017, as well as a new up-to-date listing of all known burials in cemetery - both marked and unmarked.  The website findagrave.com has been updated with pictures of all the marked burials, death certificates, obituaries and pictures for all known burials at Clackamas Pioneer.  Memorial Day will also see all the known Veterans graves marked with flags.  Additionally, volunteers plan to conduct tours of the cemetery with the proceeds going to the cleaning, repair and preservation of the cemetery’s gravestones.  Contact CCFHS for more information or to sign up for a tour.    

Clackamas Legacy, Volume 30 Number 2, April - May - June, 2017 (written by Karol Miller)