Gravestones could be final monument to Boone family's tragic story
Nearly 150 years after he was gunned down in front of his son in a frontier dispute about wandering sheep, pioneer road builder and ferry operator Jesse V. Boone could finally get a permanent headstone on his Marion County grave.
All it took was a little inspiration, some enthusiasm from volunteers and a lot of effort by history buffs on both sides of the Willamette River. They're working out a plan to install markers on the Butteville graves of Boone, his wife and three (possibly four) of their children.
It's also going to take about $4,000 and hours of volunteer time.
Members of the Wilsonville Boones Ferry Historical Society and the Butteville Pioneer Cemetery Association have asked Oregon's Parks and Recreation Department for a $2,896 historic cemetery grant to help fund the project that would create and install markers for Jesse Boone, his wife Elizabeth (Fudge) Boone Creery (she remarried), daughters Alphonsa and Alma, and sons Montgomery and Albert. (Another daughter, Minerva, probably died sometime in the 1870s, but there is scant record of her burial.)
Most of Jesse Boone's family are buried in unmarked plots at the southwest corner of the pioneer cemetery on Schultz Road Northeast, east of Champoeg State Heritage Area and south of the area where Jesse and Alphonso Boone's ferry once crossed the Willamette River. Only a monument for son George Law Boone (who moved to the Oregon Coast and died in 1918) stands near the family gravesites.
Both groups plan to raise between $1,000 and $1,300 for the effort. A cemetery monument company has been contacted to work on the project. Oregon's Historic Cemeteries Grant committee meets Friday, June 5, to review and approve grant funding.
"I think one of the important things about this is when you have two organizations, one from the north side of the river and one on the south side, getting together to accomplish this, it indicates how important it is to both sides," said former Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan, who helped craft the grant application for the Wilsonville Boones Ferry Historical Society.
It's also a fitting tribute to a tragic story of the entrepreneurial Boone family, Lehan said, which was struck by murder and, in seven short years, lost more than half of its members. Records of what happened to two of Boone's young sons have disappeared into a maze of probate files and court cases after the deaths of their father and mother in the 1870s.
"It's a very sad story," Lehan said.
A deadly confrontation
Jesse Boone died in a shotgun blast March 24, 1872. He was 48 and left a wife and six children.
According to official accounts, Boone's neighbor, Jacob Engel, fired the shot during a dispute about wandering sheep and access to the river. A flock of Engel's sheep had wandered into Boone's pasture (something that happened several times), and one of Boone's sons was trying to drive them out when Engel threatened him with a double-barrel shotgun. The son ran to the river and returned with his father. During a confrontation, Engel fired one blast, killing Jesse Boone.
Engel, a bachelor, owned about 500 acres of farmland, lots of livestock and was rumored to have thousands of dollars buried on his property. He fled into the forest after the shooting. Nearby residents found him a few hours later and turned him over to authorities in Oregon City. He was convicted of the murder. In April 1872, Engel was sent to the state penitentiary. He died there in mid-July.
Jesse Boone's original grave, and those of his children and wife, was in an old cemetery closer to the center of Butteville, Lehan said. The cemetery was moved at least once in the decades after Jesse Boone's murder. Bodies were reburied at the Schultz Road location.
Lehan said wooden markers might have been put on the Boone family plots after the move. They deteriorated, and because few other family members remained in the area, the markers likely were lost to time, leaving the graves unmarked, she said.
'Shorter than the old road'
Butteville Pioneer Cemetery's project stretches across more than just the Willamette River. One of the Portland area's busiest streets, Boones Ferry Road, was named for the Boone family. Butteville is also near the Marion County site of the Boone family ferry that for decades carried people across the Willamette into rural Clackamas County and Wilsonville.
Alphonso Boone, legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone's grandson and father of Jesse Van Bibber Boone, established the ferry in 1847, a year after the family emigrated along the Oregon Trail from Montgomery County, Missouri. Alphonso and his family owned a 1,000-acre farm near today's Charbonneau area. Their ferry rowed customers across the Willamette to a road that stretched into Portland.
When Alphonso died in 1850 during a family California gold mining venture, Jesse Boone returned to Oregon and improved an old trail through parts of Clackamas County into a passable 15-mile plank road wide enough for wagons traveling between Portland and Salem. Nearly every week, a three-line advertisement at the bottom of the Weekly Oregonian newspaper's front page touted Boones' road as "a good one and ten miles shorter than the old road."
Boone's ferry operated until the mid-1950s, when Interstate 5 was constructed south of Portland near the route of Boone's original road. After Jesse Boone's death in 1872, his wife Elizabeth was granted a license to run the ferry. When she died four years later, the ferry license was sold to a succession of operators.
In 1870, Jesse Boone sold several acres of land for $5 to be used for a school. In 2001, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District opened Boones Ferry Elementary School on the Southwest Wilsonville Road property, 131 years after the transaction.
Only one monument honors Jesse Boone's road-building efforts. A large engraved marker dedicated to his memory was installed by the Boone Family Association in October 1937 near the intersection of Southwest Boones Ferry and Taylor's Ferry roads in Southwest Portland. Jesse's 78-year-old son, Van Daniel Boone, unveiled the marker during a ceremony.
Boone Bridge over the Willamette River south of Wilsonville is named in the family's honor. It was constructed close to where the ferry operation crossed the river.
CEMETERIES SEEK FUNDS TO REPAIR HEADSTONES
Nearly two dozen historic cemetery groups around the state applied for funding this year to do a variety of projects. Oregon's Historic Cemeteries Grant committee meets Friday, June 5, to review and approve grant funding during a 9 a.m. teleconference.
• Other regional grants include Canby's Zion Memorial Cemetery, which sought $3,600 to help with a $12,000 project to repair 35 grave markers and clean another 125 markers in the cemetery's historic section. Hubbard Cemetery is asking for $5,000 to help with a $9,000 project to clean and reset 29 headstones of veterans and their family members buried there.
• In Columbia County, Scappoose's Historic Fairview Cemetery sought $3,314 to help with a nearly $4,000 project to repair and restore nearly three dozen headstones.
• Yamhill County's Masonic Cemetery in McMinnville is seeking $3,084 for a $3,855 project to repair and reset more than 60 leaning or broken headstones and monuments in the 23-acre cemetery's oldest sections. Eight of the leaning monuments are large and considered a hazard to visitors. It's part of a long-term restoration project that began last year and continues to 2031. Dozens of Yamhill County leaders are buried there, some under towering monuments. The cemetery's earliest burial was in the 1853.
• In Polk County, the Burch Pioneer Cemetery Association is asking for $8,000 to help with a $13,202 project that would restore the cemetery near Rickreall. The cemetery on about an acre in the middle of a field has nearly 144 gravesites that have fallen into disrepair. Many of the cemetery's gravestones are damaged or missing. Many of the region's agricultural pioneers are buried there. The first was Reason Virgin, who was buried in 1849, a patriarch of the Hill family working to restore the cemetery.
That project includes using ground-penetrating radar to find many unmarked graves or others missing headstones. A survey also will set the cemetery's original boundaries.
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