What is believed to be Jackson County's oldest stone gravemarker overlooks Emigrant Lake and contains the remains of a 19-year-old man killed in the Rogue Indian War of 1853.
Isham Keith's sandstone tomb was the first placement of a stone gravemarker in the county, according to a 1920 account dictated by Ann Hill Russell, who was 15 at the time Keith, her cousin, died. She was the daughter of the man who donated land for the burial site.
The tomb, about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, is located in the Hill-Dunn Cemetery off Highway 66, about a half-mile south of the main entrance to Emigrant Lake Recreation Area.
Earlier grave markers may have been erected in private cemeteries created by pioneer families, cautions historical preservationist George Kramer of Ashland.
"A lot of people were just buried on their farms," says historian Jan Wright. "Later on, when other family members died, they may have bought a plot in a cemetery."
Russell was more acquainted with grave markers than most people. With her husband, James, they founded the first marble works in Oregon south of Portland. She was a sculptor who designed and carved many of the tombstones in Ashland cemeteries.
"Isham P. Keith was 19 years old and the only child of his heartbroken mother, who erected a tomb over his grave soon after his death," Russell said in her account.
"This was the first grave with cut stone in the three counties of Southern Oregon. The work was done by Mr. Goff of Yreka, Calif."
Keith was killed near Evans Creek on Aug. 17, 1853, and buried on the battlefield. Three days later a company returned to the site to retrieve his remains for reburial on a site near Emigrant Creek donated by Isaac Hill.
Keith's mother, Mary Keith of Yreka, had requested that Hill, her brother, bury him on his land. Besides Keith, accounts say, another 17 victims of the Rogue Indian War were buried in the cemetery. But it was not to be a final resting place for Keith and the others.
In 1958, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as it prepared for the Talent Irrigation District's larger dam and reservoir, moved 156 graves farther up the hill into an area already including graves.
While early cemetery records had been lost, project officials were able to identify about 85 percent of the deceased and obtained consent from kin for the reburials. Several of the graves near Keith's have small metal markers with the date of 1853, which indicates they might have been unknown victims of the Indian War.
A smaller granite marker placed at the head of the tomb includes an inscription with information about Keith and a poem of unknown origin. The same inscription and poem are on the sandstone tomb, but they can barely be read.
"Over the years, between the lichen and weathering, it has pretty well made it so that it isn't legible any more," says Juanita Mayfield, former secretary of the Hill-Dunn Cemetery. "We have another piece of granite with the same information."
The oldest marker Wright knows of in Southern Oregon is that of Applegate Trail pioneer Martha Crowley, who died in 1846. Her grave, with a wooden marker, is located near the Applegate Trail Interpretive Center in Sunny Valley off Interstate 5.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.