Julie McDonald Commentary: Kudos to Spogens for Preserving Pioneer Cemetery

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What a relief to read last week that Mark and Lorie Spogen of Chehalis, who logged land near Mary’s Corner, preserved the historic pioneer cemetery where Matilda (Koontz) Jackson buried two of her sons nearly 170 years ago.

Henry and Felix “Grundy” Koontz were two of the eight or so pioneers buried on property off Jackson Highway at 233 N. Prairie Road. So was Schuyler Saunders, the founder of Chehalis, who died Feb. 4, 1861, while visiting the Jacksons.

I can’t imagine the heartache Matilda Jackson suffered when her 14-year-old son, Grundy, died Dec. 7, 1855, of white swelling of the knee. He had survived the arduous trek across the Oregon Trail, where he watched his father, Nicolas Koontz, drown in the Snake River Sept. 7, 1847, only to die of a disease eight years later. As other pioneers fled to blockhouses and forts for protection during the so-called Indian Wars of 1855-56, Matilda refused to leave their small cabin on Highland Prairie because her third son was too weak to move.

Eighteen months later, on June 1, 1857, she answered a knock on the door to learn that her eldest son, 18-year-old Henry Koontz, had slipped from his horse and drowned in the Cowlitz River. Upon hearing the news, she grasped the hand of her toddler, Louisa Jackson, and said, “Come, Lulie, let us walk in the orchard.” Louisa later recalled it was the first time she’d ever seen her mother cry.

Most headstones in the historic cemetery have disappeared, destroyed by vandals and dumped in Onalaska’s Carlisle Lake or used by a man for his fireplace in 1977, but those of Felix and Henry remain.

Rich Curtis, great-grandson of Henry Lucas, who was buried in the pioneer cemetery, bid on the 16-acre wooded property when it was auctioned for delinquent taxes in January. He didn’t want to see the final resting place of his ancestor and other pioneers paved over to make way for development. Others buried in the cemetery were Mary Coppock; John L. Gatson, who died Dec. 25, 1877; G.W. Lewis, who passed away July 18, 1853; and Sarah Jane Small, who died Aug. 14, 1853.

When Matilda’s youngest son, Andrew Jackson, died of diphtheria Feb. 27, 1861, at the age of 10, he was buried in Chehalis at Fern Hill Cemetery, the final resting place of his father, John R. Jackson, in May 1873 and his mother in February 1901. His siblings, Mary and Louisa, as well as his half-brother Barton Koontz were buried there, but the body of his other half-brother, John Nicholas Koontz, lies at Claquato Cemetery.

Before logging the land for their family business, Jorgensen Timber, the Spogens searched with their grandchildren and found the historic cemetery.

“So, when we went to log, we left a very large area around them that we didn’t touch so none of it was disturbed,” Lorie Spogen told Chronicle writer Carrina Stanton.

They logged the land around the old cemetery, bordered by a row of oak trees, and plan to build a fence around it. They also intend to replant the property with trees.

“When you go there, you feel weight of how long that place has been there,” Lorie Spogen said. “It is kind of cool. We have a responsibility of keeping it up and I feel there’s a responsibility to protect it, too.”

Thank you, Mark and Lorie Spogen, for preserving the final resting place of these stalwart pioneers, a priceless piece of Lewis County history.

 

Toledo Riverhawks Mascot

I was happy to see the Toledo School Board adopt the new mascot for the Toledo Riverhawks that I favored. Ron Gaul, the high school’s art teacher, designed the logo that features the head of a strong black-and-white hawk with a menacing red eye and feathers wrapped around the traditional red circle with a T.

While I preferred the Toledo Indians, which reflected the region’s history as the former site of a large Cowlitz village, I knew it was only a matter of time before the district would be forced to change the mascot it had used since 1922. I said as much in a March 2019 column after school officials banned the high school mascot and Tomahawk Chop fight song in response to complaints by Chief Leschi fans and a request from Cowlitz tribal leaders, who described both as “offensive and stereotypical.” My suggestion to change the team’s name while constructing the new high school elicited quite a few angry responses.

But it was time, and the Washington State Legislature overwhelmingly approved a ban on Native American school mascots earlier this year, forcing the change at Toledo.

As Gaul said, ospreys, which nest outside the Toledo Middle School, are river hawks, so the school’s new team name seems appropriate.

And the fierce Riverhawk mascot may well strike fear in competitors at sports events.

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Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.