agency cemetery (warm springs)
The Native American cemeteries of Oregon are a class apart. To what extent they reflect Native American cemeteries in other regions of the country, I have no idea. In this area they look and act like no other. The only other non-Indian Oregon cemetery that I’m aware of that even approaches the agency cemeteries is Hilltop south of Independence, with its exuberance of decorated Mexican graves. There appears to be some cultural affinity between the Mexicans and Indians, but I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it’s mere accident of style.

They both, as Kay would reflect, represent ecological disaster zones with their heavy reliance on plastics and plush stuffed animals; although not all Indian cemeteries are equal in that matter, even if their overall themes and styles are similar. I would rule out the NA cemeteries of Southern Oregon that I’ve visited, namely Friends at Chiloquin and Brown at Beatty, as non-conforming with the cemeteries I’ve visited further north, but those cemeteries — Siletz, Grand Ronde, Warm Springs, and the Mission cluster near Pendleton — all share strong stylistic traits, though they carry them out in very different fashions.

Simply described, Oregon Indian (which I’ll just call “Indian” or “Native American” and skip the “Oregon,” OK?) graves are dirt mounds a foot or more above level that are kept scrupulously growth free, as well is a surrounding dirt apron. The mounds approximate the width and length of their human counterpart. There are mounding, growth-clearing traditions from the American Southeast that have crept as far west as Texas (visit my Afton, TX, set) that are similar to NA traditions in keeping the graves growth free, but the similarity stops there. Southeast mounds are not nearly as pronounced (at least those of Afton) as are the Indian graves and their tradition tends to keep the entire cemetery growth free; whereas the NA concern for what’s growing in the cemetery can stop at the edge of the cleared apron, though not necessarily. The chief difference, though, is, while the American folk tradition maintains the entire cemetery in an austere fashion devoid of any decorations of any kind and frequently relying on simple stone ovals or a scattering of stones at ones head and feet to mark a persons grave, NA graves can be totally overwhelmed by memorial tokens left, and most often carefully arranged, by their surviving loved ones.

The Agency Cemetery at Warm Springs is an extreme example of the Eastern Oregon style of cemetery, which might be called the Buckaroo Warrior school of graveside embellishment for its mélange of Native American and cowboy (“buckaroo” in Oregon, though it's my understanding that Indians prefer being called Indian cowbys) motifs. The Indian cemeteries west of the Cascades are much more contained, but on the dry side of the mountains it’s a free-for-all.

It should be pointed out that Warm Springs is an old and historic reservation, the site of a number of battles between, not just the whites and the Indians, but between reservation Indians and non-reservation Indians.

Well, wait a minute. I could dribble on forever about Indian cemeteries and I will someplace and sometime, but not here. You can see for yourself what Warm Springs looks like. I’ll leave the ramifications of it for elsewhere.

But I should note the confusion about names. ODOT and the USGS use Bruno, I believe, and Yahoo maps says there are a couple or more cemeteries near each other at this same place. What we have in reality is the Agency Cemetery (or “Cemetary,” as their small sign would have it), which is an enormous cemetery complex extending a half-mile or more along a ledge above the Deschutes River Gorge. It is entirely contained behind a cyclone fence that requires one to open a gate to enter; although, in all fairness, the fencing looks fairly recent and could be a legacy of gambling money. Inside the fence the land is divided into family plots perhaps 30 or more feet square, each surrounded by its own fence with its own gate, some of which sport signs with family names. Family plots tend not to share fences, so that there is left a two or three foot walk space between them. Often as not, a plot will have only one or two graves in them as yet. (There are, by the way, a lot of Brunos, buried there, but a lot of Brunoes, as well.)

Some plots, especially those with clusters of old stones, appear to be, or have been, multifamily plots, whereas the exclusive plots appear a more recent innovation.

In any event, what’s there is way too much to see and take in at one time. Kay and I spent two hours there before crawling away exhausted, and the whole back third or more of the graveyard we simply drove past. It’s all too, too much. I can hardly wait to return.

If the cemetery wasn’t enough, it’s location in the crack of the earth that the Deschutes has ripped, is worth the trip all by its lonesome. While we were there, kids were playing along the top of the rim rock high above us, just like the Indians in John Wayne movies. Kay thought it was a disgrace that they weren’t in school, until I pointed out that it was Sunday.


At the end of Ben Ln. north of Hwy. 26 as it enters Warm Springs from the west. Ben Ln. is a dirt lane with no street sign. Find where the road takes off for the Agency Hot Spring, and the road to the cemetery will be the first drive heading in the same direction (north) back west up the highway. It looks like the driveway to a Catholic church and a couple of trailers, which it is as well. Keep on the main track until you get to the main cemetery gate.
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