saint louis cemetery
People who write about the pastoral crossroads of St. Louis like to point out that it was named after the French king and not the Missouri burg, a distinction that eludes the average soul. The cemetery is off the road but plainly visible over the fields. On a slight rise backed by trees, its sparseness wears the grace of age; and the approach down the long open drive gives the visitor time to appreciate the sobriety of the setting. It’s not heavily used, but a few thoughtful people find it now and again and there's a continual procession of new graves; and it’s well cared for, by the congregation, one presumes.

The St. Louis Cemetery is unusual, if not unique, in the layout of its graves. Common practice, particularly in pioneer and church cemeteries, is to orient bodies east-west; and St. Louis, for the most part, follows that pattern; save for a few rows along the north edge where the bodies are laid out north-south.

The church itself is the graveyard for one Marie Dorion, an Iowa Indian married to a Canadian Métis, who came to Oregon with the 1811 Astoria Overland Party, stopping to give birth along the way and then catching up a few miles down the road. The first time her husband laid a hand on her, not as a friendly gesture, she cold-cocked him with a club, convincing him to forgo the habit. Posted in southern Idaho in 1814, Marie set out to warn Pierre, who was away at the time, that Indians were about to attack. She found Pierre, all right, already slaughtered by the Indians. By the time she got back to the settlement, everyone there had been slaughtered too, forcing her to spend a winter with her two young sons in the Blue Mountain wilderness, surviving by killing and smoking her horses. She ended out living in that area, marrying a couple other times, before moving to French Prairie in 1840. For that they buried her under the church steeple.

There is a tantalizing, modern marker that connects back to the Louis and Clark Expedition, this for a child of seven who died in 1957: “Our Darling,” Linda Charboneau. Charboneau was the Métis “country husband” of Sacagewea. Those Métis maidens were tough! Oregon didn’t have founding fathers so much as founding mothers.

St. Louis is toward the southern end of French Prairie, the greatest of the Willamette Valley prairies; which, by the way, were not naturally occurring prairies of the Midwestern sort, but were maintained via annual field burning until the Americans usurped the land and stopped the practice. If you continue on Manning Rd. to the north, it becomes Arbor Grove Rd., which is one of the more delightful ways to traverse the prairie. It bobs and weaves along Case Creek through one continuous nursery to McKay Rd. My suggestion is to drive the road, but don’t tell too many other people about it.

Directions:

St. Louis is an intersection SW of Woodburn, across I-5. Cemetery is behind St. Louis Church, which is on Manning Rd. at the intersection of Manning and St. Louis Rds. St. Louis Rd. runs through the center of Gervais. Driveway (Dorion Ln.) to the right of the church leads to cemetery.
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