A true story of childhood curiosity and a mysterious place.
|The Indian Burial Ground
The woods are lovely, dark and deep . . .
But that’s about the only thing they shared with the Frost poem. Larry Labo and I discovered they were full of dead people.
Just next to Eaton’s nursery stood a dense, shady stand of trees. The grove of mostly old-growth Douglas firs bordered the highway to Port Orchard for nearly a quarter mile. It was rumored to conceal an ancient Indian burial ground.
Eaton’s Nursery seemed strange to us. A circular drive wound past a ramshackle, two story cottage with a glass-enclosed front porch and a detached garage. In front of the garage, a motley array of potted plants lay scattered about. Behind the house stretched a couple acres of cultivated land, containing a variety of fruit trees and a jumble of overgrown, entangled shrubs.
The Eaton’s themselves added to an air of oddity. Mrs. Eaton was a smiling, diminutive lady who always seemed to be wearing knee-high boots with loose-fitting pants stuffed inside. Often we saw her digging plants out of pots, then repotting them in others. We didn’t have the foggiest notion why. Sometimes we detected her emerging from the mysterious grove bordering the nursery and entering the house through a back door.
Mr. Eaton contributed to the strangeness, too. He was an invalid. Several years ago, he had suffered a near fatal stroke. Now, confined to a wicker-backed wheelchair, he spent countless hours on the enclosed porch staring at passing traffic before nodding off to explore his private, inner world.
Larry and I had heard the story from several sources. The fir grove next to Eaton’s nursery concealed an old Indian burial ground – probably sacred. That’s what the big kids said. Larry was the kind of friend that you tried anything with – at least once. So, one day while playing at his house, we decided to investigate the story. Armed with our curiosity and our ten-year-old imaginations, we sauntered along the highway next to the nursery.
Our pace quickened as we passed Mr. Eaton on the front porch, staring at random cars. Soon we found ourselves next to the wooded area – trees blocking the house from view. Looking both ways to ensure we weren’t seen, we hopped across the ditch and zipped into the woods. Although the sun shone brightly, it was cool and shady beneath the evergreen canopy. Brown fir needles carpeted the forest floor, and the pungent smell of moist earth and rotting wood saturated the air.
After several steps, we spied a small clearing among the trees where shafts of sunlight penetrated to the forest floor. Within the open space, interspersed with salal plants and huckleberry bushes, we witnessed a surprising sight – a weather-beaten, square-shaped, picket fence. Its broken-down gate opened to a grave marker about three feet tall, made of stone with a pyramid top. We saw no markings – no name or date. Surrounding the fenced marker at various intervals, five mounds of earth bulged above the ground, each four to six feet in length.
Our spines tingled with the electricity of the moment. These had to be graves, and, because they were unmarked with no headstones or crosses, we realized they must be Indian graves. Indian graves probably held treasure. At least collectibles. Both Larry and I had heard stories and watched several movies about Indians being buried with all their earthly possessions for use in the afterlife. My mind pulsed with visions of bows, arrows, arrowheads, and spears – an Indian artifact treasure – hidden literally beneath our feet.
We squinted at each other. What if we returned tomorrow and dug up one of the graves? We departed the shady grove and started home, hatching a plan for the next day. Skirting the Eaton’s Nursery, the gaze of Mr. Eaton from the front porch seemed to pursue us until we moved out of sight.
The next morning at ten o’clock we met at Larry’s house. Both of us packed a lunch, and Larry filled his Cub Scout canteen with cool, well water. We didn’t know how long the digging would take, and we didn’t want our parents to worry, or become suspicious, if we didn’t return home in time for lunch. We told our moms of our plan to explore the surrounding woods. This was mostly true. We were going exploring; but what we wanted to explore was located beneath the ground – a pseudo-archaeological dig. With that in mind, we equipped ourselves with shovels. Larry also managed to borrow a pick from his parents’ tool shed. Plus, I packed an old burlap potato bag to carry home our newly excavated treasures.
We headed toward the Indian burial ground acting as nonchalant as possible for two boys carrying shovels, a pick, and a burlap bag. We swaggered with false bravado along the far side of the highway until we passed the Eaton place. We directed our gaze straight ahead, kept our mouths shut, and never glanced in its direction.
On the opposite side of the highway, we looked both ways before making our move. Across the road, over the ditch, and into the woods we scrambled. Once again the sunny morning grew dusky before our eyes adjusted to the gloomy forest. Keeping our senses at attention, we sneaked toward the clearing. After taking some time to examine the burial mounds, we figured since they were heaped above the ground, the bodies would not be buried deeply. We chose the grave farthest from the Eaton house and closest to the road in case we needed to make a hasty retreat.
We started digging. After penetrating the surface layer of fir needles and moss, the ground became rocky. We weren’t making much progress even using the pick. Pick and dig. Pick and dig. We tried to slice into the mound to discover if anything was buried close to the surface. No luck. So, we decided to dig deeper.
We learned that digging was hard work. Soon we were taking a break every ten minutes. The sun rose high enough to drench the clearing with sunlight, and sweat streamed down our faces. By lunchtime we were tuckered out. We sat in the shade and passed the canteen back and forth, taking stock of the situation. We unwrapped the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and swallowed a couple of bites. We figured that unearthing an old Indian grave would be easy. It wasn’t. Our hole was now two feet deep with no sign of treasure or anything else. It was backbreaking work, and I was developing a blister on my right hand. Besides – both of us were beginning to catch a case of the creeps. What if no Indian artifacts existed? What if there were just bones? What would happen to us if we ended up disturbing the dead?
Then we glimpsed a form pass through the Eaton’s back door and advance toward the grove. It was Mrs. Eaton. We froze. Coming to our senses, we hid the shovels, pick, and sack behind some huckleberry bushes and scrambled behind a rotting, cedar stump.
She wore her knee-high boots and trudged toward the special grave enclosed by the picket fence. Entering the grave site through the lopsided gate, she dropped to her knees and started working. She manicured the area, pulling up clumps of grass, and smoothing the fir-needled surface.This grave seemed special to her. When finished, she stood back, appraised her work, nodded approval, and returned to the house.
Larry and I looked wide-eyed at each other, letting the air out of our lungs at the same moment. Working like demons, we threw a little dirt on the disturbed grave, grabbed our tools, and scurried homeward. We never mentioned the Indian burial ground again.
Some weeks later my mom was reading a newspaper account about three boys who were caught vandalizing the big cemetery downtown. The article reported how they had written on some gravestones and had overturned a couple. She stared across the room at me, shook her head, and said, “What are kids coming to nowadays? Desecrating the dead! I sure hope they get what they deserve.”
I could think of nothing to say.