"Free land," writes Susan G. Butruille in "Women's Voices from the Oregon Trail." "Free-dom. Better health. Adventure. Themselves. Some went because they couldn't not go. Others went because they couldn't say no. Those in the last category were women."
The grave was uncovered and discovered in 1924 when engineers building the Mt. Hood Loop Highway came upon an old wooden wagon tongue and dug up a wagonbox casket. They reburied it and placed a cross at the spot in tribute. Through the years, travelers along the loop placed rocks and flowers there.
We stood there in the clearing beneath the big firs, admiring the grave and soaking in the gravitas - my son and I and our new friend, Ted, who spoke knowledgeably about the grave site and the nearby Barlow Road. It was a toll road built by Samuel K. Barlow in the mid-1840s so emigrants could bypass the daunting raft trip through the Columbia Gorge.
But it wasn't much better than the Gorge.
The pioneers paid $5 per wagon and a dime per head of livestock to get from Tygh Valley, up and over the Cascades and on to Oregon City. The path between the trees included precipitous grades, boulder-strewn canyons and wheel-sucking bogs. It still does. Today, the road from near Barlow Pass south makes for rough traveling.
But the lure of history proved stronger than any sense of caution, so with a tip of the hat to those who went before, we drove a ways along the old Barlow Road, stopping frequently to walk and observe. But not before Mr. Wright gave us the lay of the land. He'd been down this road before.
"My most vivid recollection of that first winter in Oregon is of the weeping skies and of Mother and me also weeping." - Marilla R. Washburn Bailey, age 13 in 1852 (from "Women's Voices").
We hopped onto the Barlow Road from the Barlow Pass Sno-park on state Highway 35 and dodged rocks (high-clearance vehicles only) to the bottom of a valley that opens onto Devil's Half Acre, a high altitude meadow surrounded by conifers in all directions. According to a sign there, emigrants burned the trees so they could get their wagons through. There's an unimproved campground there and a stream that flows across the road.
It's a good place to stretch your legs, poke around and imagine what this rest stop was like when the pioneers were pushing on toward the Willamette Valley.
The Barlow Road continues on all the way to Gate Creek near Wamic, a rough road that will shut down completely when the first snows of winter fall.
On the drive back to Bend through Warm Springs, Madras and Redmond, I kept thinking about the woman buried along the road back up the mountain and the friendly old man who helped put flesh and bones on the story. And this quote on an informational sign there from the son of a former Barlow Toll Road superintendent: "My father remembered meeting a man who had just buried his wife. He buried her in a wagonbox made from the bed of the wagon, and made a crude fence around the grave. She had been very sick, and they had camped there several days before she died. The man had two small children, a boy and a girl, both under five years of age."
I don't believe in ghosts.
But I believe I'll remember Ted Wright for a very long time.