A Link To Past: Pullman Graveyard Offers A View

PULLMAN - Up the steep hill off Fountain Street, tucked between Sunnyside Park and the frame of a house under construction, lies a piece of Pullman's raw pioneer history.

It's a shriveled and tattered piece, one acre smaller than its original size, overgrown with weeds and lilac bushes, and cut up by footpaths.

From the gate of Farr Cemetery, Pullman's first graveyard, one gets an unobstructed view from Sunnyside Hill all the way to Moscow Mountain and into the lives of the hardy souls who settled the rich Palouse hills.

Sometimes called Old Pioneer Cemetery - although descendants of some of the city's original settlers never knew it had a name - the hilltop is the final resting place of some of Pullman's first prominent citizens.

Henry J. Webb, whose 4-foot headstone - along with his son's - stands sentry to the small remains of nearly 81 graves, is often called the father of Pullman.

He was Whitman County's first doctor and worked to start the State College of Washington, now Washington State University. He also served as president of the Bank of Pullman and helped talk the railroad into coming through town.

Sarah Jane Boone Farnsworth, niece of frontiersman Daniel Boone, is also buried somewhere on the hilltop.

As with most things old and forgotten, folklore swirls around the cemetery, leaving unsettled what's true and what isn't.

John Ballweg, who interviewed several residents about the

cemetery while he was the city's parks and recreation director during the early '70s, says many wagon trains buried their dead at Farr because it was a free cemetery.

``The only other choice was burying them along the trail, and the next wagon train would come along and run over the grave,'' Ballweg says.

Even the cemetery's origins are unclear. The best guess is that the area's first pioneer, Bolin Farr, sectioned off his land, part of which became the Farr Cemetery sometime between 1882 and 1891.

Farr came to Three Forks, as Pullman then was called, in 1875 and essentially served as the land office as other settlers moved in. He either donated part of his plot for the cemetery or sectioned it off.

Lore aside, the dates etched into Farr Cemetery headstones tell more about Pullman life, strangely, than death.

Settling the Palouse took its toll on children. Of the 32 people known to be buried at Farr, 11 were children and about half of them died before their first birthdays.

The young fell victim to measles, typhoid and any number of other diseases easily cured now, while adults often succumbed to the harshness of frontier life.

John Layman, the first person believed to be buried at Farr, died at 19. Records show he became ill after hauling wood from Moscow Mountain. His funeral was held in the unfinished church he was working to build.

Eva Brosten, 83, of Potlatch tells the story of one man for whom there is no headstone.

Her grandfather, Charles Benton Wilcox, came to the Palouse in 1887 with two sons and a new wife. The family settled into the Stewart House, which once served as the post office and drug store.

In June 1887, the house caught fire. The blaze spread through downtown, destroying all the town's businesses. It was Pullman's first big fire, according to the historical accounts of Lula Downen, daughter of one of the city's first settlers.

Wilcox died less than a month later. On his way home, up Missouri Creek, his horse shied, throwing him from his cart, Brosten says.

``He always liked high-stepping, snorting horses,'' Brosten says. ``It's my opinion that he had a tire that needed repair.''

Wilcox's two sons returned to Oregon to be raised by an uncle, she says. His wife and daughter moved to Tacoma, too broke even to buy a wooden headstone for him.

Brosten wants a marker for her grandfather's burial site, as was his children's wish. In fact, she wants one listing the names of all those buried in unmarked graves.

She donated $9,000 two years ago to the city in hopes of getting such a memorial.

But the city said it has no plans to erect a plaque or marker with the names of all the dead.