By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
MEDICAL SPRINGS Gravestones at the Big Creek Community Cemetery mark the passing of generations of people who came to the vast country between the Elkhorn and Wallowa mountains.
Mary Lou Wirths great-grandparents, Issac and Mary Spears, are buried on property officially established as a cemetery about 1894. According to the grave markers at the site, Sara was born on July 8, 1913, and died on June 6, 1905. Isaac Spears was born Dec. 15, 1818, and died July 1, 1882.
Wild roses and iris planted many years ago add color to the cemetery, which sits on the rocky, sagebrush-covered hillside just east of the home of Mary Lou and Buck Wirth on the Medical Springs Highway.
The most recent headstone is placed in memory of Ruth Marie Duncan who died on April 11, 1998. Her ashes were buried in the grave site of her husband, Rosco Duncan, who died in January 1986. Mrs. Duncans dog, Rastus, was buried with her in 1999 when he died, according to her daughter-in-law, Claire Duncan.
Claire traveled to the cemetery Monday with her daughters, Colleen Downing and Kathy Casper, to place flowers on the 10 Duncan graves. Her husband, Gene, also visits the cemetery annually and has since he was a boy, she said.
Other visitors Monday included 79-year-old Dennis Fuller, former Baker County judge, and his wife, Mary, 81, who moved to Brigham City, Utah, 10 years ago. They were joined by Dennis cousin, Dorothy Eubanks, of Walla Walla, Wash.
Eubanks, wholl turn 74 this summer, said she has been visiting the cemetery since she was 6.
Grandpa made a big thing about it on Memorial Day, she said.
Fuller, 79, explained that he and Mary Lou Wirth are second cousins.
Her Grandma Fuller and my dad were brother and sister, he said.
Fuller was born on nearby Beagle Creek and brought his wife to Baker County from Utah in 1946, he said.
The Wirths, wholl celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary this year, have spent their lives on their Medical Springs ranch. They have lived in the same ranch house not far from where they both grew up for 44 years and have no plans to leave the area.
Its a good life, Mary Lou said. All of my family is here.
The couple have two sons, John and Jim, who have continued ranching nearby, and a daughter, Vickie Foster of Baker City.
Although many of their relatives are buried in the Big Creek Cemetery, Mary Lous father, Ford Dolby, and her husbands father, George Wirth, both are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. Their mothers, Mary Dolby and Glenola Wirth, are still living.
The history of the cemetery can be traced through documents filed with the Baker County Clerks Office on April 12, 1957. Statements were taken at that time from people who knew about the transaction creating the cemetery because apparently no other official documents were ever filed.
According to Elsie Emele, whose father was James Sams, the non-profit Big Creek Cemetery Association bought the parcel of land adjacent to her fathers property from Amanda C. Bowman.
Florence Harsins statement declares that Bowman, her mother-in-law, bought the property from a Mr. Worley with funds which she had inherited from her fathers estate and then sold a portion of the property to the Big Creek Cemetery Association shortly before July 16, 1894.
The land had been used as a burial ground even before the official sale of the property, according to Harsins statement. After the purchase of the property, the cemetery association fenced the land. The cemetery lots were not sold, but were set aside for the families of the area, according to Harsin.
Hulda Bowman, another of Amanda Bowmans daughters-in-law, also issued a statement to the county clerks office about the establishment of the cemetery.
She added that James Sans granted the cemetery association a right of way across his property to allow travel to and from the cemetery.
That agreement is still honored today as cemetery visitors travel across the Wirths property to decorate the grave sites each Memorial Day.
During Mondays visit to the rocky hillside, the Wirths considered their final resting place.
Dont you like this spot right here, honey, Mary Lou asked her husband pointing to a spot overlooking their longtime home.
I wonder how hard it is to dig, Bucky wondered, knowing firsthand about the rock-hard ground from his experience digging graves for others at the cemetery.
Im going to have to bring some trees up and get them planted, Mary Lou said, thinking of the need for shade.