Burns Cemetery was established in January 1879 with the burial of George Baker, an early pioneer to Harney County, located in Southeast, Oregon. A lot has happened at the Burns Cemetery in its 135 years. Long gone are the traces of the Willamette Valley and Cascade Wagon Road.
In 1929 Mrs. Archie McGowan worked with the city to have trees planted and arranged for the cemetery to be landscaped and to fence the cemetery grounds. In 1994 Mrs. Goldie Racine bequeathed to the city over $218,000 to be used for the beautification of the Burns Cemetery. This money was not used for many years, as there was a dispute of just how this money could be spent. In 2009, with the help of Goldie’s personal representatives, this dispute was finally settled and the Mayor of Burns, Len Vohs, selected three citizens as an executive committee to review conditions of the infrastructure, maintenance plan, procedures, management of the cemetery, and to create a beautification plan. Their findings were presented to the city on January 25, 2010, and were the beginning of a new long-range plan and many improvement projects.
The cemetery was designated as a historical place by the Historical Cemetery Association in 2010. The Desert Riders Association worked with the Burns Cemetery Committee and moved the Flagpole to a more visible area off Highway 20. The Desert Riders Association also dedicated the Kneeling Soldier and Soldiers Cross Memorial.
Due to storm damage to the trees and as a safety measure a certified arborist was hired to provide an up-to-date evaluation of the health of the trees. Eleven trees were removed, thirty-nine stumps were ground, and thirty new Armstrong maples were planted to form an entrance allee. The Racine Memorial Garden took a large step forward when a local youth, Natalie LaFollette, selected the Racine Memorial as her senior project. A new retaining wall was completed to separate the garden from the shop area and Natalie landscaped the area and added seating.
Because of all the pride the community is showing at the cemetery, more civic groups are becoming involved. The American Legion is now working with the Burns Cemetery Committee to build a pavilion, with eight pillars, to denote the different branches of the service. Also, the Master Gardeners group approached the committee to redo the landscape at the main entrance to the cemetery and to plant planters just inside the walk through gate. This undertaking is scheduled for completion this week.
Lois Taylor, a member of the Burns Cemetery Committee has visited every grave, recorded who does and does not have a marker, added names to Find a Grave, created a spread sheet, and mapped where she has listed names of those buried in the graves. These maps and information will soon be available in the chapel.
Besides this project Lois started with a list of nine known Civil War veterans buried in Harney County and has expanded it to twenty-six, with twenty of them being buried in the Burns Cemetery. Lois has been able to get headstones for two of the veterans, one has been placed on the veteran’s unmarked grave and the other will be erected on a plot donated by the Odd Fellows in memory of his service. The Odd Fellows donated eleven plots in memory of the men and women who have served this county.
Take a road trip this Memorial Day Weekend to visit the Burns Municipal Historic Cemetery or other historic monuments and sites in your town.
Photos taken by Author.