Julie McDonald: Pioneer graves atop Boistfort mound threatened a century ago


An unusual mound on the Boistfort Valley southwest of Chehalis proved the perfect place to bury early pioneers — at least until 1887, when a wealthy Canadian farmer bought the property, removed the headstones and plowed the land for crops.

In the early 1850s, Pierre Charles, a Hudson’s Bay Company employee, was among the first whites to settle in the valley. He’s credited with naming it Boistfort, which means “dense forest” in French or alternatively “a small valley surrounded by green hills” or “a French translation of the Indian name of the oak,” according to “The Boistfort Valley: A Southwest Washington Prairie Remnant” by Joseph Arnett, a rare plant botanist with the Washington Natural Heritage Program.

Charles and Elizabeth White arrived in 1852 and, the following December, Elizabeth gave birth to a boy, Cyrus, the first European American baby born in the valley. Elizabeth’s parents, George and Catherine Buchanan, moved to the valley in 1853 and filed a donation land claim for property that included an unusual grassy 2- or 3-acre mound, where they allowed neighbors to bury their loved ones in a corner of the property.

From 1855 until 1887, the mound served as the community cemetery. A 1909 newspaper account said 40 people were buried on the mound, while old-timers set the number at 70. The mound also might have served as a burial place for Native Americans.

One of the early pioneers buried on the mound is Kentucky native Turner Richardson Roundtree, who fought in both the Black Hawk War against Native Americans and the War of 1812 under William Henry Harrison, who later became president of the United States, according to The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XXXI, History of Washington, Idaho and Montana, 1845-1889. Turner Roundtree’s Scottish wife, Mary Adeline “Polly” Ferguson, who was a cousin to Founding Father and Revolutionary War statesman Patrick Henry, is also buried there.

The Roundtrees, who had seven children, settled in the Boistfort Valley in 1853. Their youngest son, Martin, built a three-room cabin beside the Chehalis River near what today is the Pe Ell McDonald Road. Their granddaughter, Mary Adeline Roundtree, had traveled west in 1852 and, two years later, married Centralia pioneer Joseph Borst.

Turner Roundtree was 73 when he died in March 1868 aboard the steamer Carrie Davis while returning home from Claquato west of Chehalis. His wife, Polly, was nearly 85 when she died in February 1880.

The Roundtrees rest beside at least a half dozen of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren who never lived past the age of 5:

• 2-year-old James A. Roundtree, who died of heart disease in June 1869;

• 3-month-old Allen S. Roundtree, the youngest son of Martin and Mary Lucinda (Brewer) Roundtree who died in April 1871;

• 5-year-old Lucy A. Roundtree, who died in February 1874;

• 3-year-old Henry G. Roundtree, who died in March 1874;

• 4-month-old Ulin M. Roundtree who died on Jan. 1, 1870;

• 7-month-old Willis T. Roundtree who died in April 1871;

• and Thomas William Roundtree, who was a year old when he died on March 22, 1874.

Also buried near the Roundtrees are their sons, Martin Dudley Roundtree, who died in May 1871 at the age of 34, and Perry Oliver Roundtree, who died in April 1875 at the age of 38.

Although other pioneers were buried in the cemetery on the mound, it was a descendant of the Roundtrees who decades later spearheaded the fight to preserve the graves so the dead could rest in peace.

In the fall of 1887, Canadian John Hutchinson bought 375 acres from the Buchanans — paying $4,000, the equivalent of $137,800 today. He prohibited additional burials, banned people from visiting the graves on the mound and refused to let them fence the cemetery — yet he also declined to sell them the cemetery.

In response, Edward and Mary Harris set aside land in the southeast corner of the Turner Roundtree donation land claim for a new cemetery, which they platted on Oct. 4, 1888, and recorded on June 17, 1889, according to The History of Lewis County, Washington by Alma Nix and John Nix. The Boistfort Cemetery, which was donated to a local cemetery association, lies across from the mound near the intersection of Boistfort and Wildwood roads.

On Nov. 2, 1895, the Salem Statesman Journal reported that four barns belonging to Hutchinson burned, destroying 150 tons of hay, 11 head of stock and many farm tools. The article estimated the loss at $7,000, which in today’s dollars would be more than $260,000, but mentioned no cause for the fire.

Thirteen years later, in the fall of 1908, Hutchinson, who had expanded his holdings to more than 600 acres, figured the cemetery had been abandoned so he removed the headstones, placed them in the cemetery across the road and plowed the mound to plant crops.

That prompted Pat M. Roundtree to lead his neighbors in a fight for an injunction to prevent such desecration of their ancestors’ graves and force return of the headstones to the graves. Superior Court Judge A.E. Rice heard their plea in April 1909 and, the following month, sided with the residents, saying the headstones could be replaced and the graves fenced off and maintained by relatives.

Hutchinson appealed that ruling all the way to the Washington Supreme Court, which heard the arguments in July of that year and upheld the lower court’s ruling to protect the hallowed ground.

In June 1924, when Hutchinson died from a stroke at 85, a news item in The Tacoma Daily Ledger recounted his battle to plow up the original Boistfort cemetery. He was buried at Claquato.

Cemetery records burned in a house fire, but 11 headstones remain atop the mound, marking graves of early pioneers. In the 1940s, a new owner put a fence around the cemetery, but the land became overgrown. Then, in 1982, the Boistfort Lions Club cleaned up the site, erected a fence and a cross, and built steps at the south side of the hill.

According to the Lewis County GIS parcel search, the mound and adjacent property appear to be owned today by Bragg Holding Inc. of Abbotsford, B.C.

Next week, I’ll share additional early Boistfort Valley pioneers, the Blacks and the Raytons, ancestors of Lois (Orloske) Keen, of Centralia, who told me about the Original Boistfort Cemetery on the mound.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.