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Discover the Fascinating Secrets of the Past in Coos County

Wed, Mar 18, 2015

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Wanna know a secret? The historic cemeteries located throughout Coos County tell the stories of the fascinating people and history of our region. With nearly 100 documented cemeteries in Coos County, there is no shortage of secrets from the past to be discovered by history buffs.

Last month, we shared some of Steven Michael Photography‘s recommended stops in the post Historical Cemeteries of Coos County (Part One). Read on for even more excellent destinations to discover our unique stories of the past.

Historical Cemeteries of Coos County(Part 2)

By Steven Michael

Sunset Memorial Park

With over 6,000 graves, Sunset Memorial Park is one of Coos County’s largest and newest cemeteries. The cemetery was established in 1915 when the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery ran out of room. Several graves were moved from the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery and re-interred in the Sunset Memorial Park for various reasons.

The southeast corner of the cemetery is dominated by very impressive upright headstones,  several of which are older than the establishment of the cemetery. It is a common practice here to memorialize loved ones with a photo of person buried there. In the Pioneer section of the cemetery, there are three such headstone found where the photo is printed on porcelain.

f only a headstone could talk, what would it say? Several headstones “do talk” in the form of an epitaph or inscription. Some epitaph are long, while others are short and to the point like this one found on a very elaborate headstone belonging to Mary A. Stambone who died in 1918. The epitaph reads, “May She Rest In Peace”

Or this simple stone that reads, “At Rest”

One of Coos County’s most famous residents is put to rest here in Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery. His name was Steve Prefontaine, known as “Pre”. Steve was an American middle and long-distance runner who competed in the 1972 Olympics. He was a champion runner who held the American record in seven different distance track events.

On May 30th, 1975, at the age of 24, Steve tragically died in a single car wreck when he ran his car into a rock wall. His car flipped over and he was not wearing a seat belt. Steve’s blood alcohol level was .16 percent, .6 higher than Oregon’s legal blood alcohol limit. As a result, the cause of death was determined to be alcohol-related. An unfortunate, tragic death taking a life far to soon. Steve Prefontaine’s headstone is the only upright headstone in the section in which he is buried at Sunset Memorial Park. His grave is visited by thousands each year.

Today, the Sunset Memorial Park is mostly a “lawn” cemetery, with a few exceptions. A lawn cemetery when the headstone lay flat, and make it easier for lawn mowing and maintenance. Though most, who don’t have a loved one buried here, find such a cemetery boring or not attractive, one must get out and walk the grounds to discover the hidden flat beauty. It is amazing what you can discover.

Coos River “Pioneer” Cemetery

Located near the confluence of the Millicoma River and the South Fork of the Coos River, the Coos River Pioneer Cemetery, also known as the South Fork Cemetery, is a well kept gem. Established in 1871, this large cemetery only has 130 known occupied graves.

The Horsfall Family are probably the most prominent Coos County residents buried in the Coos River Pioneer Cemetery.  When the Horsfalls arrived on the south coast in 1889 as missionaries, they found no permanent church buildings in the 2,400 square miles district. The Rev. William Horsfall served as missionary and Dean of the Southern Convocation from 1889-1918.

William taught school at Kentuck Inlet before beginning medical studies. After graduating with a degree medical practice, He returned to Coos Bay in January 1893 and served as a doctor there for the next 64 years. He was one of the genuine old-time pioneer doctors, delivering over 1000 babies. He was on-call day and night and traveled on horseback, by boat or on foot, lantern in hand.

Dr. William married Lydia Eliza Yoakam on April 7, 1896 in a ceremony officiated by his father. The Yoakam family is also buried in this cemetery.

The cemetery has a great mix of different styles of headstones ranging from the large granite cross, belonging to the Horsfall family, to the well preserved decorative headstone throughout. You’ll find several “lawn” style headstones, a few small statues and even a couple of delicate and rarely seen wooden headstones in Coos County.

Even though the Coos River Pioneer Cemetery is still used today, the forces of nature have not been so kind to it resting inhabitants. Ground settling has been a huge problem in some sections of the cemetery. Headstones are tilting left and right, and eventually, gravity will win. There is also a huge infestation of non-native European Ivy that keeps encroaching into the cemetery. Unless measures are taken to preserve such a historic site, nature will win.

The Coos River Pioneer Cemetery is great to visit on warm sunny days. The drive up the river is scenic. The cemetery has big town residents but in a small country setting.

Check back next month when we reveal Part 3 of Steven Michael’s recommendations for the best historical grave sites to visit in our area.  You can also view more of Mr. Michael’s photographs and read the entire article by clicking here.

About the Author:

Steven Michael is an award winning photographer, a published author, and illustrator who has lived on the Oregon Coast for most of his life. He has ventured and explored the entire length of the coast, photographing what he discovers. He is known as the Ambassador of the Southern Oregon Coast. If you would like to follow Steven Michael on one of his adventures or learn more about Steven Michael Photography, connect with him on his Facebook Page or visit his site, Pacific Northwest Adventures.


(541) 269-0215
50 Central Ave, Coos Bay, OR 97420

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