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New signs will mark Applegate Trail, cemetery

New signs will draw attention to the Applegate Trail and a cemetery near Emigrant Lake that is the final resting place for pioneers killed in the Rogue Indian Wars.

The local Hugo Neighborhood Association & Historical Society convinced the National Park Service that the Hill-Dunn Cemetery and the route of the historic Applegate Trail near Emigrant Lake outside Ashland are worthy of more attention.

The National Park Service has provided the signs, while the Oregon Community Foundation gave $10,000 to pay for cement pads for the signs, according to Joe and Leta Neiderheiser, who are active in the neighborhood association.

Also known as the Hill Cemetery, the cemetery is named after pioneer Isaac Hill, who donated land for the burial of settlers and soldiers killed during battles in the 1850s with American Indian tribes in the Rogue Valley.

"It's one of the first cemeteries in Oregon," Joe Neiderheiser said.

Isaac Hill donated the land after his 19-year-old nephew Isham Keith was killed in a battle along a tributary of the Rogue River. Keith's body was moved from the battle site to the cemetery.

Mrs. A.H. Russell of Ashland wrote about the incident in 1922. Her writings were discovered behind a kitchen cabinet in a Medford home in the 1960s.

"He was first buried on the battlefield while the company was surrounded by Indians," she wrote. "Some men dug a grave with the knives carried in their scabbards while others fought the Indians back. The shallow grave was covered with rocks and brush."

A company of men later brought the young man's remains to Isaac Hill's land, where the body became the first to be buried at the new cemetery, she wrote.

During the battles, Mrs. Russell said about 20 people were buried at the cemetery, which grew to hold many more bodies over the years.

After years of fighting and massacres on both sides, the Rogue Indian Wars resulted in the forced resettlement of most local tribal members to reservations in northern Oregon in 1856.

In the 1950s, about 156 bodies in the lower part of the cemetery were relocated uphill so their graves wouldn't be inundated by water from an enlargement of Emigrant Lake by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, according to Mail Tribune accounts of the time.

Isham Keith was among those who were moved, marking the third burial of his remains, the Mail Tribune reported.

As for the Applegate Trail, the settler route was forged as an alternative to the Oregon Trail, which brought settlers along the Columbia Gorge and down into the Willamette Valley. The extended Applegate family had traveled to Oregon via the Oregon Trail in 1843, but met with tragedy on the Columbia River.

"They realized they couldn't get their wagons down through the gorge," Joe Neiderheiser said. "They built rafts and put their wagons on the rafts. They got into rapids around The Dalles and one of the rafts capsized."

Two boys and a man in the party drowned.

Lindsay and Jesse Applegate later helped pioneer the alternate Applegate Trail, which cut across Nevada and up through Southern Oregon. I-5 traverses much of the trail route today.

Joe Neiderheiser said one of the three new signs near Emigrant Lake will point out the route of the Applegate Trail.

"It's to let people know where the trail came through," he said. "Most people don't have a clue."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

This historic photo shows Mary Dunn and Ann Russell at the Hill Cemetery near Emigrant Lake outside Ashland. Southern Oregon Historical Society #08797