cove cemetery
Cove Cemetery begins on the drive up the hill before one gets there. In a spot where the road bends sharply to the left (if you’re heading up hill), dug into the road bank under a young ponderosa, is a wooden tablet dedicated to “Fred of Cove,” who was “killed” on March 24, 1929; “beloved by all.” A few stones front the memorial accompanied by a handful of artificial flowers; this seventy-six years after the fact. That he was “beloved by all” seems evident when one considers how long after Fred met his untimely death someone still tends to his marker. Is Fred buried there or is his marker a cenotaph? How was he killed? Where? And if he was so beloved, how come no one knew his last name? And how come he’s not in the cemetery?

Cove was known as Forest Cove until the Post Office decided in 1868 to shorten the name to avoid confusion with Forest Grove—in the days when they had such authority. If you stop by the hot springs (I did; 86°) you might chance to spot an old sign advertising it as Forest Cove Warm Springs. Story has it that it was once in line to be the county seat, but a split in votes between Cove and Forest Cove lost them the opportunity. Stubborn old-timers.

The cove for which the town is named is a bite out of the side of the sky-swept Grande Ronde Valley where it lays up close under the the Wallowa wall of the joyfully named Mount Fanny. Some six hundred people snuggle in this nest of Victorian cottages and nondescripts. Its white cement-block library boasts a neon sign (open Tuesdays and Thursdays); and Cove houses one of Oregon’s finest country churches—belonging now to the Seventh Day Adventists, who maintain camp quarters there—one with wooden flying buttresses and a charming parsonage with peaks above all the windows. The main intersection—well, the only one, really—is dominated by the grade school, high school, and a one-stop-fits-all car wash, gas station, Laundromat, and convenience store.

The Grande Ronde Valley of Union County shouldn’t be confused with the Grand Ronde Valley of Yamhill County. Right away you’ll notice the difference in spelling. That’s how you tell them apart. The Grande Ronde has the river. The Grand Ronde (pay attention, now) has the reservation.

Cove Cemetery is a “luncher”: a good place to plan a picnic lunch. It’s worth spending a lot more time than I had. Aside from the grand arch (matched by one at the entrance to Lower Cove Cemetery), there’s plenty of evidence that the cemetery is a point of considerable community pride: most noticeably a bevy of massive stone benches recently scattered around the grounds and a number of groundskeeper buildings. Also unusual in a rural cemetery are two half-high personal mausoleums, one of which is new. Top design award goes to a brass trio of cross (with a sword haft), anchor, and heart to be found on the cemetery’s west side. It’s not an overly literary four acres, nor does it have a plethora of unique stones, but its management and care and tall trees and commanding views make is unusually comfortable.

A motif running through a number of graves is mention of war duty. Despite the usually short duration of such engagements, they were of enough significance to be the only memory recorded on their stones; oldest being that for John Smith (1839-1912), who fought under the command of Col. Grigsby at the Battle of Nashville in the Civil War. More unusual is the marker for Grace Byrnes (1921- ), who is, not only not dead yet, but wants to be remembered as having been a B-17 inspector at Douglas Aircraft from 1941-1945 during WW II.

Hidden in the middle of a bush is, arguably, the most intriguing of the “military stones”: that for Corpl. Newton Myrick (no dates), who served in Smith’s Utah Cavalry. It’s an early government issue stone. Aside from missing dates, the meaning of Smith’s Utah Cavalry is the most tantalizing.

Smith was Lot Smith, a Mormon pioneer and war leader, who fought both for and against the U.S. during his career. Lot participated in all the major Mormon military maneuvers of the day. He mustered with the Mormon Battalion in Iowa in 1846 and accompanied it on its march to California. The Mormon Battalion is the only military unit in American history organized on religious grounds. (The Utah History Encyclopedia reports that the battalion “while moving up the San Pedro River in present-day Arizona,… was attacked by a herd of wild cattle. In the ensuing fight, a number of bulls were killed and two men were wounded.” You can believe that or not, as you wish.) In the late 1850s, as a member of the Nauvoo Legion, Smith carried on a scorched earth policy against advancing federal troops; whereas by 1862 the government was again hiring Smith to pull together a 90-day force to protect the Overland Trail. It’s that force in which Mr. Myrick served.

Lot Smith was a fervent polygamist who kept his eight women in line with a violent temper. He fathered fifty-two children and is said to be the current ancestor of some 10,000 people. Sort of a Genghis Kahn of the Mormons. He was eventually outdrawn by an Indian neighbor in a dispute over grazing rights.

Directions:

Take French St.(which becomes Mill Creek Rd.) southeast from the intersection in the middle of Cove to the first drive on the right (south) one half-mile out of town. There is a sign.
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