OAKLEY — The gravestones that speak the loudest bear etchings worn away by harsh mountain winters and no one left to care.
The five cemeteries here sprang up as a necessity soon after the first settlers arrived in 1878, said Marge Woodhouse, treasurer for the Oakley Valley Historical Association. Mormons from Utah and ranchers were the first pioneers to see the valley and want to call it home.
The Basin, Oakley, Marion, Island and Warm Springs Creek cemeteries sprang up to serve the needs of the various communities in the valley, said Woodhouse. With only two graves, Warm Springs Creek is the smallest.
Frank Carl Bedke, who came from Germany, was one of the first settlers in the valley and was laid to rest in Basin in 1916.
“When you are walking through the cemeteries and looking at the markers you can tell a lot about the people,” Woodhouse said. “The younger women probably died in childbirth, and you can tell when the diseases and flu epidemics came through. And there are a lot of children’s graves.”
Island Cemetery was originally on an island in Goose Creek, when the creek — now dried up — flowed from Oakley to Burley.
Florence Wilson, who lived for only one day in August 1882, was one of the first buried there.
Keith Warr, 80, was the sexton for 13 years for the Oakley Valley Cemetery District before his retirement last year. The district cares for all of the cemeteries, except the one at Warm Springs Creek.
Friday, Warr walked around a family plot in the Oakley Cemetery and stooped to remove an errant tumble weed. Like most of the plots in the cemetery, it’s been left to the natural prairie grasses and wildflowers.
Community members come out once a year to clean and care for the plots in the valley’s cemeteries.
“I was really glad to take care of the cemeteries,” said Warr, who lives a quarter-mile from the home where he was born and raised. “I have a lot of ancestors in these cemeteries.”
Someday he plans to find a final resting place in Basin.
“It’s really pretty there,” he said.
Warr’s great-grandfather George Whittle also helped settle the valley and rests in the Oakley Cemetery beneath an ornately carved headstone — and between his two wives.
“He spent a little time in jail for polygamy,” Warr said.
A few rows to the west, two white stone spires mark the graves of Daniel Cummins and John Wilson, victims of the Oakley Valley sheep- and cattleherder conflict, which was a microcosm of the battle for grazing land that played out across the West in the late 1800s.
A portion of the inscription depicts the tragedy and grief of those left behind. “Assassinated while on duty sadly in the early springtime,” it reads.