Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

Lonely cemeteries hidden on private properties often hold buried tales worth retelling. That’s what Imbler High School student Faith Burnette discovered as she began her senior project — the restoration of the Kilbride Cemetery on the Burnette family ranch.

Kilbride Cemetery, situated in the Ritter area of Grant County, is the resting place of 20 souls. Its earliest burials are believed to have been in the 1870s, noticed by early property owners as burial mounds without markers. It is also the resting place of Faith’s great-grandfather Benjamin Fred Burnette (1939-2012) and one surprising occupant to Faith, a speedy gelding racehorse called Pin Ears, who made a name for himself in the 1890s.

When Fred Burnette was living, he told his family that Kilbride Cemetery, established in the 1870s, was named by Margaret Hamilton (1861-1934), who was born near Kilbride, Scotland. After she immigrated to Grant County, she became the postmaster of Kilbride Post Office in 1901. Though Kilbride was Hamilton’s choice of name for the cemetery, it was also known by locals as Granite Cemetery, Johnson Cemetery and another name used only by the Burnettes.

“Our family has always called it Willow Creek Cemetery because of the creek that runs near it,” Faith Burnette said. “The cemetery is located several miles up through my great-grandmother’s property in the middle of nowhere on a hillside. From the cemetery, there’s a really pretty view.”

Today, Burnette’s widowed great-grandmother, Jacqueline Burnette, lives on the ranch where the cemetery is located. Jacqueline is on the cemetery board, and her son, Ron Burnette, and his wife, Jolene, who are Faith’s grandparents, are the cemetery caretakers.

Despite their labors, Burnette thought the cemetery was in need of a facelift. The perimeter of the three-quarter-acre cemetery was surrounded by a warped and forlorn-looking, 70-year-old fence. Its entrance was a rusty, dysfunctional gate.

“There was a bunch of damage done by the cattle and the animals and elk around there,” Burnette said. “I thought it was a good idea to preserve history and turn it into a senior project as well.”

So with the help of 14 family members, she set out to give the cemetery a fresher look in honor of her great-grandfather and others who were laid to rest before him.

“My great-grandmother talked about when they first bought the land and moved up there, that there were several mounds where they thought people were buried but there were no official markers,” Burnette said. “Most of the people buried there died in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

 See complete story in Monday's Observer