Once while passing through Sweet Home, I made a spontaneous side trip to one of its cemeteries hoping to find the grave of a pioneer who interested me. Located in the hills above Sweet Home, that graveyard environment is beautiful and peaceful. If one studies the gravestones, they form a not-so-peaceful picture of early pioneering struggles and conflicting social values.
The surrounding tranquility and peace counters the energy created by studying the gravestones.
I couldn’t find the gravestone that had enticed me to that country cemetery, but the section I searched revealed a progression of 19th Century pioneers. They traveled across the country in wagon trains to reach the west, homesteaders who founded Sweet Home.
Sweet Home, began as and still is a logging town, located in a basin-shaped valley surrounded by mountains and timber. The town was established, in 1852, by the Lowell Ames family (mom, dad, and six sons). Those first permanent settlers were Mormans who fled Missouri and religious persecution. In Sweet Home, they built a water-powered saw mill and were the first to file for land claims. The town’s developing main street followed the irregular path of the Santiam River. By 1870, its population was 199, and by 1900, Sweet Home was known as the toughest little town in Oregon. On every block, there were hitching posts, spring wagons, saloons, and at least one church.
In the 2010 census, Sweet Home’s population was 8,925. Walking through the cemetery stimulates a strong sense of the area’s history, speaks to the determination and grit of folks who were starting new lives, who had loaded belongings into wagons and headed across the country from the settled east to the unknown west. Today, a drive through Sweet Home’s main street and neighborhoods provides a picture of a small but strong community where many residents are relatives or co-worker acquaintances.
Proud descendants of Sweet Home’s pioneers have arranged to share the City’s history.
It’s important that a badly needed road between the Valley and Central Oregon opened between Sweet Home and Sisters–the original Santiam Wagon Trail–a rough, rocky, mountainous path that, at least partially, still exists and is accessible from the Sweet Home side. That original rugged trail through the mountains eventually was superseded by the paved McKinsey Highway.
My casual walk through Sweet Home’s graveyard suggested the grit and determination of early settlers, and also, led me to seek a knowledge of lesser-known Oregon.
Dear Readers: Gravestones stimulate a thirst to know history and progression. Diana