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Cemetery tour highlights drifters, saloon keepers

Lives of lesser-known Talent pioneers buried in the Stearns-Wagner Creek Cemetery (name corrected) will be highlighted in a walking tour there presented by Talent Historical Society board President Jan Wright at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 28.

Histories of the Beeson family and other city leaders are well-known, said Wright. “I’ll talk about the ones that didn’t make the history books. The miners, the trappers, people who never got married. They hired out their services for the Beesons and Mr. Talent.”

Located on Anderson Creek Road, off Wagner Creek Road, the three-acre cemetery includes the original Stearns area on a hilltop to the south and the former Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery below the hill that was deeded to the Wagner Creek Cemetery Association in 1980.

Stearns cemetery was created in 1857 when Judge Avery P. Stearns was buried near “Uncle David Stearns’s wheat field,” according to the association’s website. The land was given to the association in 1886 by the family and has served as the town’s main cemetery.

Miners and laborers buried in Stearns, such as Jim Briner and Jack Force, did seasonal work elsewhere but used Talent as a base where they spent winters in small cabins and worked for area families. Wright has Briner’s diaries from 1907 to 1924.

“Briner was a back-country miner," said Wright. "He just kind of lived off other people. He never had a house; he just lived up Wagner Creek in the canyon."

Wright also will talk about early saloon keepers the Garvins and the Thurbers and show photos of some of those interred.

“Jack Force lived to be over 100. He was born during the War of 1812 and died in Talent,” said Wright. “He was one of those kinds of people who was a drifter and didn’t have a home and lived off of people.”

Spiritualists buried at the site who held séances to bring back spirits of the recently departed also will be presented.

“There are accounts in diaries we’ll talk about. A lot of people were practitioners of spiritualism,” said Wright. “It wasn’t considered a permanent state of being.”

While the Beesons were buried in the cemetery, some prominent families left town and were later buried elsewhere, said Wright. A.P. Talent’s remains are in Ashland.

There are 626 interments in the upper section and about 300 in the lower, said Jerry Reichstein, association president. About five to eight burials are done each year. There is a Stearns family plot and the earliest headstone dates to 1862, he said.

A new granite memorial stone honors the Stearns family land donation. A $1,145 grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department paid for the stone earlier this year to ensure that the message on an original concrete stone that has deteriorated remains. A previous grant paid for a survey on the lower, former IOOF section to accurately pinpoint corners of that property.

Stearns is not a perpetual care cemetery, so upkeep is by families and volunteers. Families must make their own arrangements to open and close graves.

To reach the cemetery from the intersection of Main Street and Wagner Creek Road, follow Wagner Creek to Anderson Creek Road nine-tenths of a mile. Turn right on Anderson Creek. The cemetery is one-tenth of a mile on the left, just past Allen Lane. Footwear to accommodate uneven terrain is recommended

Information on the cemetery can be found at www.stearnscemetery.org. Web address for the Talent Historical Society is www.talenthistory.org.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.