Pioneer graves need restoration

Riverview Cemetery has been poorly maintained for years

— The Riverview Cemetery, final resting place for Civil War veteran James Aliason “Grandpa” Stoddard, is covered with sagebrush, cactus and garbage.

Stoddard, who homesteaded north of Omak in 1903, died in 1920. A small American flag is placed on his grave each year, possibly by a veterans group.

The cemetery, also known as Old Omak and Sand Flat, has languished for years at the end of Engh Road, largely untended for more than 80 years. The last burial there was around 1927.

Despite years of neglect, there’s hope for the site.

Omak resident Shauna Beeman, who owns property adjacent to the 2.29-acre cemetery overlooking the Okanogan River, has formed the Sandflats Pioneer Cemetery Association and wants to clean up, fence and mark the site. She filed paperwork with the state in 2009.

“I tried to clean up the garbage,” she said.

Eventually, she wants to put up fencing, a few trees and a sign, and to clear the sagebrush from around the graves.

That last item on her wish list is proving problematic since no one knows exactly how many people were buried there, where the graves are located or how many bodies remain there.

A number of bodies have been moved to nearby cemeteries.

Many of the graves now are unmarked, the years and vandals taking their tolls on both wooden and stone markers.

Besides Stoddard, some of those known to be buried there are Franklin Neal DeVos, who likely was related to The Chronicle’s second publisher, Frank A. DeVos, and two siblings of Omak resident Leda Harlan.

An Okanogan County Genealogical Society roster for the cemetery lists the two as Baby Simpson and Stanley Simpson, with no dates. They were children of Henry D. and Voy (Bailey) Simpson.

Harlan, 79, said the two – who died as infants long before she was born – were Stanley, who was born in 1914 and died a few days after birth, and Dorthey, who died in 1916. Stanley had a heart defect, but she doesn’t know her sister’s cause of death.

She’d like to see something done to clean up and preserve the cemetery, perhaps making it a memorial park with a plaque listing those who are buried there.

“It’s in very poor condition,” Okanogan County Genealogical Society member Eleanor Markel said.

Harlan said she visited the cemetery in 1946 with her mother. The cemetery wasn’t lush and green, but it wasn’t in nearly as rough condition as it is now.

“We went in the gate and up the row to the left” to where the Simpson babies’ headstones were, Harlan said.

Although the cemetery’s founders had disbanded by then, “someone had taken care of it,” she said. “It was natural, but not torn up. You could see the gravestones.”

At some point, after Harlan moved away from Omak in 1952, someone “ran over it, and broke and scattered the headstones,” she said.

Over the years, more vandalism followed.

When Harlan moved back to town in 1972, the place was a mess.

Nearly 35 years ago, members of the Okanogan County Genealogical Society began cataloguing those buried in the county’s various cemeteries. They rediscovered Riverview and started contacting people in an effort to get someone to take care of the cemetery.

In 1979, a group of Boy Scouts planned to organize a cleanup effort as part of one Scout’s Eagle project, but the project didn’t produce much change.

The Riverview Cemetery Association was formed by Omak pioneers Ben F. Ross, C.E. Weatherstone, F.D. Perry, J.I. Pogue and E.E. Copple.

Its Jan. 2, 1912 articles of incorporation, filed with Okanogan County, say the association’s objects are “to purchase, mortgage, set aside, hold and maintain any land, or lands, for public burial ground and to beautify and improve the same.”

Corporation funds were supposed to be set aside in a permanent fund for the maintenance, care and management of the land. Total capital stock in the corporation was $5,000.

The corporation was to exist for 50 years.

All records of how many of the 152 plots were filled were apparently lost when the pioneers’ cemetery association disbanded, apparently some time before the 50 years were up. There is no record of how long the association was in existence after 1912, genealogical society member Jean Cook said in 1979.

The graves are in a “pretty setting with pretty awful surroundings,” she said at the time.

The cemetery evidently was never kept very green because there was no water for the site, Cook and Harlan said. The sand flat once was covered with orchards and beautiful homes, but water from the government irrigation project was shut off in the late 1920s when drought hit.

Harlan said she remembers orchards in the area, including one owned by her grandfather, Alvah Bailey, in the area immediately north of Omache Shopping Center.

Water has since been supplied to the sand flat area, but the cemetery hasn’t been served.

In 1979, one lifetime Omak resident, 73 at the time, told The Chronicle he couldn’t remember the cemetery ever being maintained.

Beeman said she filed through the state’s abandoned cemetery program; Okanogan County Assessor Scott Furman said he supplied the state with verification that the site was abandoned.

Without a curator, no one can go in and clean up an abandoned cemetery, Beeman said.

She also hopes to have someone from Olympia come over and help locate graves with a special machine.

Beeman said anyone who knows the location of graves or who else might be buried there, or who wants to help, can contact her at 509-826-0636.

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