echo memorial cemetery
The wayside community of Echo has one of the all-time great pioneer cemeteries in Oregon. An historic little town that likes to think it’s pushing 700 people, and despite being but a mile from I-84 and big signs on the highway proclaiming it a National Historic Site, Echo doesn’t get a tenth of the recognition it should. It’s worth it to pull off and visit the cemetery, forget the main street. Pretty well cared for by rural Eastern Oregon standards, the cemetery is an incongruous island of green in the brown earth tones of what’s essentially a semi-desert. Irrigation provides what farming there is in the area. Echo owes its existence and whilom fortune to being at the spot where the Oregon Trail left the Umatilla River and headed overland to the Columbia. It was a resting spot for the next push. Even today, the Old Pendleton River Road, which follows the Umatilla from Pendleton west to Echo, is a rugged, poorly maintained blacktop that one is happy to be quit of at the end of the trail.

With all that, the Echo Cemetery still might not have exceeded the norm were it not for one man, Joseph Cunha, an Azorian Portuguese who made it to America as a young man by stowing away on a Boston-bound ship. He struck it rich in Echo with ranching, construction, and other business ventures, not unlike a lot of other people in the West; but unlike the others, he memorialized his family in death in grandiose fashion. Instead of mere stones, he had four sculptures commissioned, one for his wife and each of his three children. All the sculptures portray people life-sized, with those for the children on separate pedestals while the woman on the wife’s memorial (Mary Magdelene?) is clinging to a massive stone cross. Below the cross is a photo-ceramic of Rita Cunha (1878-1923), and she is flanked by other Cunhas. The Cunha Farmstead is now an historical site, but it’s the cemetery where the family lives on.


Take the Echo exit off I-84 outside Hermiston, head towards Echo, just a couple miles from the highway. Cemetery drive is last road heading east before one gets into Echo, less than a half-mile from town. There is a sign.
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