I went in search of a ghost town, a lost city called Luper. She’s gone now, but what I found was one of the oldest pioneer cemetery’s in Lane County, dating back to mid 1850.
I found the parking lot for the Luper Pioneer Cemetery on West Beacon Drive just off of Prairie road. I parked my car in the tiny lot, grabbed my gear and headed through the pedestrian gate. I took one of the fliers there; it said the “hike” to the Luper Cemetery was about half a mile in.
My camera case slung over my back, my water bottle sloshing in it’s carrier I trudged along. It was the nicest day Eugene has seen in quite some time (just this past Saturday). I noticed a bird flying high and over the field towards the end of the road. I thought it may have been a red-tailed hawk, those are pretty abundant in the area. Then I spotted another. They weren’t hawks at all, they were bald eagles. The first one I saw was a baby, not mature enough to have gotten his telltale signs of a white head and tail feathers (it takes them about 5 years to grow the white feathers), his mom teaching him to fly.
I never tire of watching Eagles, such a majestic bird. Soaring high above me, seemingly teasing me as they headed away from the cemetery to continue their lesson.
The “hike” is really a nice walk down a gravel road, lined with fencing, barbed wire topping it off. I made my way towards the end, around a curve and then another and finally as I rounded the third bend I found my destination. A lone car was parked and I wondered how it got there as the gate was locked. Another gate enclosed the tiny cemetery. I read some of the information on the board before I headed in. It is documented that 17 people from the Oregon Trail have been buried here.
Luper Cemetery is now in a restoration phase. A sweet little area of about 160 gravesides. I meandered throughout the cemetery along the wood chip path, a donation by Sperry Tree Care. Throughout the cemetery, there were many broken headstones, some placed and “glued” back together, other remnants of the headstones were placed in a pile, some lay on the ground as if they were pieces to a puzzle waiting to be put together.
As I walked around, there were names from our community that stuck out; Bristow, Bond and Maxwell to name a few. Bond seemed to be a prominent family as there were many headstones with this last name lined in a row. There has been repeated vandalism at the cemetery, as disheartening as that may sound, the latest just this past January. I can’t fathom why anyone would want to do such a thing. Many volunteers have worked together to bring the cemetery back, cleaning it up, taking out over grown vegetation and such, in addition to repairing the headstones.
While I was researching information about the cemetery, I came across this poem written by John Hamilton McClure. It is through his eyes as an 8 year old as he traveled across the plains to Oregon in 1953, written when he was 70 years old. I have only included an excerpt from the poem, as it is quite long.
By J.H. McClure
It was in 1853 we came across the plains,
And of the group who formed the train but three of us remains.
And time is passing swiftly by
And we are growing old
So anything we wish to tell had better soon be told.
“In Knox County, Indiana, my story will begin
And nearly all the company were more or less of kin.
And we, at least the most of us,
Started from Shaker Prairie
And at that time it was sickly there…
A hot bed for malaria.
“And milk sickness and there things too numerous to mention
So sickness and hard times, no doubt, first drew our folks attention.
So stories of a goodly land
Toward the setting sun,
And they resolve to seek that land.
It was called Oregon.
“They sold their homes and household goods,
And bought some cows to drive
Along with them to have a start of stock when they arrived.
They rigged ox teams and wagons and spent a week or two
In training of the oxen for the work they had to do.
“But when all ready for the start
We told our friends goodbye,
We could not then our feelings hide,
Tears were in every eye.
Fore we were going far away, Ah, would we see them ever?
Our hearts and minds both seemed to say,
No, we will see them, never.
Click here to continue his poem. It is quite long, but it is a piece of our history written by a man through his eyes as a child as he crossed the Oregon Trail.
It is very peaceful at Luper Cemetery. There is a post with information on it stating the direction and why the headstones face the direction that they do. I am not sure if all cemeteries are like this, but it is good information to have. I always get confused on where I should walk, not wanting to disrespect anyone by walking on their grave.
Please click on the link here to the Luper Cemetery web site for so much more information. Here you will find a list of internments, photographs of the ongoing restoration project, history and ways that you can help. Should you have any questions or comments this would be a great resource.
Where did Luper come from? History shows that Luper, Oregon was named after James N. Luper, a pioneer who came across the trail. Luper was born in Illinois. By accounts of his daughter, Luper purchased the area in 1870. Luper was an actual town (unincorporated) and was a shipping port. You can see the newly constructed replica of the station as you drive down 99 just on the other side of the tracks near the large stand of trees, just look for the big read building. I went to capture a photograph of the original station, and in it’s place found the new replica.
Luper is listed as a ghost town now. I couldn’t find many remnants of the town to be honest, but I did find a wonderful little piece of our history, which has been under our noses for about 165 years.
It was hard to leave the cemetery, but it was even harder to stay. I wondered what their lives must have been like, the hardships they had seen and I wondered about the perseverance that drove them west. Without these pioneers who packed up their belongings and headed west so very long ago… Well things may be very different.
See you out there!