Julie McDonald Commentary: Will Anyone Preserve the Historic Jackson Cemetery?


The final resting place of more than a half dozen early Lewis County pioneers goes on the auction block Jan. 21 for delinquent taxes, which has at least one descendant concerned a new private buyer may pave over the graves.

“This is not just another piece of land,” said Rich Curtis, who lives on Jackson Prairie and is the great-grandson of Henry Lucas, who is buried in the cemetery. “This is a special place dedicated and purposefully set aside as the final resting place of ancestors, pioneers and Native Americans. This sacred ground should not continue to be desecrated and neglected and its heritage and cultural significance put at risk.”

He’s concerned a developer will bulldoze and pave over the cemetery at the center of the 16-acre property or perhaps try to move human remains buried in the ground for more than 170 years.

“I don’t know how that could be accomplished, and I certainly don’t want my relative’s remains treated that way,” Curtis said, referring to disinterment.

At least eight people were buried on property off Jackson Highway at 233 N. Prairie Road once belonging to 1845 homesteader John R. Jackson and his wife, Matilda Koontz Jackson. Two of Matilda’s sons from her first marriage to Nicolas Koontz, who drowned in the Snake River in 1847, survived the Oregon Trail crossing only to die young after settling here. Felix Grundy Koontz was only 14 when he died in Dec. 7, 1855, of white swelling of the knee; his older brother, Henry, was 18 when he drowned in the Cowlitz River June 1, 1857. Both boys were buried in the Jackson Cemetery.

So was Schuyler S. Saunders, founder of Chehalis, who fell sick while at the Jacksons’ cabin and died Feb. 4, 1861. He was in his late 40s.

Others buried at Jackson Cemetery are Mary Coppock; John L. Gatson, who passed away Dec. 25, 1877;  G.W. Lewis, who died at the Jacksons’ home July 18, 1853, of consumption “in the flower of manhood,” according to his obituary; and Sarah Jane Small, who died Aug. 14, 1853.

Curtis’s great-grandfather, Henry Lucas, a native of Lincolnshire, England, immigrated to the United States and arrived on the West Coast in 1861. In 1862, Lucas contributed $1.50 for the relief of federal disabled soldiers. In the late 1860s, he was involved in a legal altercation with George B. Roberts, who managed the Cowlitz Farm for Hudson’s Bay Co., and by 1878, he served as a director in the Lewis County Industrial Association, according to newspaper articles. He participated in the Lewis County Agricultural Association Exhibition, entering horses in 1877 and judging hogs in 1878 along with Thomas Devereese and John Dobson.

According to his Chehalis Bee-Nugget obituary, he settled on what later was known as the Plant place and then lived on Cowlitz Prairie on what became the Contois place. In May 1878, he married Mary E. Cason, who was born along the Oregon Trail near the Snake River in Idaho and as a child witnessed the execution in Oregon City, Ore., of Native Americans convicted of the murders of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Lucas lived the rest of his life on Jackson Prairie, where he was buried in 1903. “Mr. Lucas, who had traveled one and a half times around the globe, was confined to his home with rheumatism during the last few years,” his obituary said. His widow, who later married John George, died in 1916. 

Their son, Henry G. Lucas, who several times was reported to have killed bears, lived on the family homestead near Forest. He married Flossie Conrad Feb. 15, 1909, and served as a pall bearer at the funeral of the Jacksons’ youngest daughter, Louisa Ware, when she was buried at Fern Hill Cemetery in 1938. His wife, Flossie, served as curator of the Jackson Courthouse during the nation’s centennial week in 1953.

The cemetery property fell into private ownership. John Kemp owned it for years, and now the 16 acres assessed at $137,500 belong to Rush Snodgrass of Chehalis, who owes $7,737.84 in back taxes. The taxes can be paid only by someone with a vested interest.

In his effort to preserve the historic cemetery, Curtis has contacted state and county officials. 

Guy L. Tasa, state physical anthropologist with the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, suggested Curtis record the coordinates of the Koontz headstones to map the location in case the last two remaining grave markers not yet destroyed by vandals are removed. 

In February 1953, Onalaska eighth-grader Eddie Coleman found several headstones from the Jackson Cemetery dumped into the old mill pond, now known as Carlisle Lake. He and his friend, Jerry Butcher, turned them over to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office. Those headstones had graced the graves of Small and Gatson. A broken stone bearing Mary Coppock’s name was also found. Kate Gregg, a descendant by marriage of the Jacksons, had reported the headstones missing the previous month, but the grave marker for Saunders remained missing.

In October 1977, a man took some of the headstones and built them into his fireplace. 

In an email, Tasa shared the state’s concerns about the historic cemetery with county Treasurer Arne Davis, Assessor Dianne Dorey, and Chief Deputy Auditor Tom Stanton. He noted the cemetery is protected under several state laws.

“We have received a couple of correspondences from concerned citizens that the property will be developed without regard to the cemetery once it is sold,” he stated. “The cemetery also has a long history of vandalism and disregard.”

Tasa noted the property shouldn’t be auctioned because any development would be reviewed by the Planning Department, which would access state maps indicating the cemetery’s presence.

Stanton said such cemeteries are important to our history. Davis, the county treasurer, said his office will make a decision after consulting with other county officials, including the prosecutor’s office, and let Tasa know by Jan. 17 whether the foreclosure will move forward.

Curtis also spoke with a ranger and a historic preservation planner with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Department.

“Hopefully, the state or county will be willing to consider ways to restore and protect the cemetery in perpetuity,” Curtis said. 

“I think a case could be made to take advantage of the foreclosure to permanently protect the cemetery with the cooperation of Lewis County officials and State Parks. Unfortunately not much time is left to make something happen, but hopefully the county would be willing to delay the auction on that parcel while plans are considered to protect it.”

As an aside, the founders of Castle Rock, William and Elizabeth Huntington, are buried in another abandoned Jackson Cemetery, this one in Cowlitz County a half mile off Delameter Road. Castle Rock resident Barbara Rutherford, with her local Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter, is spearheading efforts to restore the cemetery with about 43 graves. 


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