By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Buck Hollow tells its tales

On Memorial Day, drowsy little cemeteries tucked around Yamhill County will come to life, as relatives and friends arrive with flowers, cleaning tools — and memories.

As they have for 148 years, visitors again will come to Buck Hollow Cemetery five miles north of Willamina. According to a 1981 list of interments, its earliest grave was 1866. The grave is for little Nathan Fendall, son of Charles E. and Amanda Fendall, born Sept. 3, 1865; died Sept. l5, 1866.

Buck Hollow, known also as Fendall, and as Upper Willamina Cemetery, is unique. Surely, it is the only cemetery in Oregon guarded from 12 feet up by a four-point buck. It greets all comers — the symbol of Buck Hollow.

The name “Buck Hollow” is popular hereabout. “Schools of Old Yamhill” notes a nearby school by that name was so called “because of the many deer that crossed school property. The school was known to exist in 1876 when C. E. Fendall was clerk of #37 Buck Hollow District.”

The name also is taken by Buck Hollow Road, which veers east off Willamina Creek Road and ends at Rock Creek Road.

Min Coburn and I, this year on our annual Memorial Day trek to a local cemetery to pay homage to Yamhill County’s founders and greats, chose Buck Hollow, one we had never before visited.

We are lucky on the May morning of our visit. Charlene Brown at Willamina Museum of Local History provided directions to the cemetery, gave us a list of interments and advised that a work party spearheaded by Mike Mendenhall would be present that day, with Mike and Chan Mendenhall available to provide information.

Min and I know we have arrived when, on a gentle hillside adjacent Buck Hollow Road, we spot a large contingent of pickups — the work party. They’re parked near a tidy golf-course-green clearing. And, mounted on two 12-foot poles, welcoming all, is the metal four-point buck created by Chan Mendenhall. In the middle of the cemetery, the buck is like a watchman at the ready, protecting all those who rest here. Says Chan, who attended Buck Hollow School and gets an impish gleam in his eyes when he recalls attempting hooky, says of his buck symbol, “That’s one buck that’s never been shot.”

“So,” I ask Mike, “what historic people are buried here?”

His answer is profound: “Some of the most wonderful people in the world are buried here. And,” he adds, “some renegades.”

Total interments here, according to the Cemetery Inscriptions compiled by Ruth Stoller, Yamhill County Historical Society, 1981, are 202. But that number has since grown. Interments are ongoing, and Mike also explains that many graves are not marked by stones, and so are unknown.

Since little Nathan Fendall was buried here, according to the interment list, some 14 additional Fendalls, including those who became Fendalls by marriage. have been laid here to rest.

Here, too, at this peaceful setting, buffered by majestic firs, are Mendenhalls, Booths, Browns, Bryants, Campbells, Carters, Jameses, Millers, Parkers — and more.

Underneath the metal silhouetted deer is a glass case, containing the Eagle Scout project of John Mendenhall. It lists interments then, at this burial ground, where both Mike and Chan say they also will be buried.

One well-known early pioneer already buried here is Charles E. Fendall. Born in Maryland in 1821, he came to Oregon in 1843, married Amanda Rogers and had 13 children. Charles first took up a claim in Polk County on the Yamhill River, trading it a few years later for “a farm on the Willamina.” According to Charlene Brown’s “A View of the Valley,” he built a fine colonial-style home with high pillars at the corners, which, sadly, burned in the early 1900s.

Brown writes that Charles Fendall kept a pack of hound dogs and enjoyed hunting with them. On one occasion, “A pack of wolves attacked one of his most valued dogs and slashed its stomach until its intestines showed.” Resolute Charles was not going to let his prized dog die. “He held the hound while his wife, Amanda, with sewing needle and stout thread, sewed her up. The dog recovered and was a good hunter for years after.”

One historic person not buried at Buck Hollow is the namesake of the town of Willamina: Willamina Williams. The town itself was named for Willamina Creek, but the creek was named for Willamina. She was said to have been the first white woman to ride a horse across that stream in 1846 when Willamina and her husband, James Maley, were prospecting for land. Maley died in 1847 and in 1848, Willamina married Enos Williams. They settled on land on which Amity was built. Some historians argue that Willamina’s name was “Wilhemina,” but the 1880 Amity census lists: “Williams, Enos C., age 61, retired farmer; and Williams, Willamina, age 63, kps. hse...” — thereby apparently attesting to the fact that “Willamina” is correct.

On the day of the work session, Claudette Morris of Grand Ronde is among those on hand. She’s at the family marker reading, in part, “June P. and Orley K. Brock, Jr.” Each year on this, her mother’s birthday, she comes to tidy the grave site. She will be back again on Memorial Day with flowers. As will so many others.

I ask Mike, “With a cemetery five miles away in Willamina, why would there be a Buck Hollow Cemetery — especially with another little cemetery, Highland, established in 1865, a short distance north?”

Mike attributes it to horse-and-buggy transportation. A mile was a considerably longer distance in those days. This also explains, in part, the proliferation of one-room schools, post offices — and cemeteries.

Another reason people opt for Buck Hollow, Mike explains, is the cost per grave site of $250 — considerably less than some other cemeteries. But a deterrent for some is that Buck Hollow has no irrigation system. Its golf-course green may become brown in dry summers.

As with horse and buggies, one-room schools and little cemeteries, the bonding afforded by those little communities likewise will decline. We shall look back on them all with fondness and nostalgia.

Mike Mendenhall agrees. Things already are changing. He notes. “It isn’t like it used to be when you’d go down the road and everybody waved.”

Not everyone is waving these days.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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