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Questions that just can’t be answered

Recently, a reader from the Applegate wondered about a two-month-old child who is buried in the Jacksonville Historic Cemetery, lying alone, her parents and any other relatives long gone.

I remember the presentation my wife and I made in the cemetery a few years ago. It was about the many children found in the cemetery that early residents called “The City on the Hill.”

We tried to answer the frequent question visitors have of why there were so many children buried here.

Were you to wander through this cemetery reading headstones, the chances that you could not see a child’s grave within a minute or two is nearly impossible.

Nineteenth-century parents lived with an unspoken fear. Rarely would all of their children survive. That possibility of losing one or all of their children was never far from a parent’s mind.

It was often spoken of as a parent’s “sad affliction.”

Although there are no exact figures, scientific studies show that in 1850, 23% of children died before their first birthday and one out of every three children died before their fifth birthday.

With better care and access to better medicine, things did improve, but not by much. Even in 1900, 13% of children died before their first birthday — and one in four children died before they were 5.

Most people assume that these 19th century children died from disease or complications of childbirth, but that would be a mistake.

Even before they were drawn together in classrooms, where close contact meant the spread of germs and disease that could suddenly erupt into an epidemic, children lived in a dangerous world.

There were accidents — falling into a hot bucket of mop water, accidental shootings and poisonings, drowning and more.

You may wonder why parents were able to move on and leave their children behind.

Perhaps there was a better opportunity for the remaining family members somewhere else — or a new marriage after a spouse suddenly died. There are many, many reasons — but don’t assume that just because parents knew their children might die young that these lonely children were not loved just as dearly as their surviving siblings.

Not every parent who left the area could express their pain at the loss of a child, but many carefully chose a marker for the child or children’s graves.

A sample epitaph, published in catalogs available to 19th century monument carvers, tried to capture a parent’s emotion in just four lines:

“She was but as a smile

Which glistens in a tear;

Seen — but a little while,

But — oh — how loved, how dear.”

Our reader was interested in a distant relative, Maud Flory, daughter of Abraham and Mary.

Little Maud died of cholera in 1885 at age two months, 18 days, while living near Griffin Creek.

The reader was puzzled. “I can’t figure out why the family would be there, especially with a very small baby.”

After arriving in Oregon in the early 1850s, Maud’s parents spent most of their lives in the Willamette Valley and a brief time in Washington.

There was no apparent Southern Oregon connection except Maud’s death. So far, all newspapers and other records show the family remaining in northern Oregon.

Looking back, it’s always hard to find the “why.”

History rarely reveals answers about the average person’s day-to-day life. Sometimes, there’s nothing left to do but be content with those unanswerable questions.

But then again, never stop snooping for an answer.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “The Silent City On the Hill, Jacksonville, Oregon’s Historic Cemetery.” Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.