Ear: Baker

A letter to the Oregon Historical Society, dated June 7, 1979, recently rediscovered in the Oregon State Archives, concerns Oregon U.S. Sen. Edward Baker (pictured), the only member of Congress to die in a Civil War battle.

The correspondence, from Phillip C'de Baca of the Pet's Rest Cemetery, Crematory for Pet Animals in Colma, California, states that they have an historic Oregon "grief cover" honoring Baker in their barn, and that the gravestone had almost been chopped up to make pet cemetery memorials. However, the Oregon Historical Society could buy it back for $400 (about $1,500 now).

Eventually the letter made it to the Oregon Legislature's historian, Cecil Edwards. He called and haggled the price down to $200 (which he didn't have), then appealed to state Sen. Eugene Potts for help. Potts agreed, and drove his pickup down to Colma to pay for, and retrieve the gravestone. Edwards went along for the ride.

A little history: Sen. Baker, a former law partner and friend of Abraham Lincoln, did not resign his Senate seat when he enlisted in the Union Army in 1860, mistakenly thinking it would be a short war.

He died after being shot eight times on Oct. 21, 1861, "killed while leading the forlorn hope at the Battle of Balls Bluff" in Virginia, the inscription states. Also pictured, "Death of Col. Edward D. Baker," courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Baker's widow, who moved near San Francisco, had him buried in that city's Lone Mountain Cemetery instead of in Salem. Nonetheless, Oregon provided a 7-foot by 4-foot marble tombstone.

When the cemetery closed in 1940, Baker's coffin was moved to the San Francisco National Cemetery … but not the monument. Many of the old cemetery's gravestones wound up in San Francisco Bay but not Baker's, apparently. C'de Baca found it 39 years later.

Potts and Edwards drove the monument to the Baker County Courthouse, where it was supposed to be temporarily installed. It's still there. (bit.ly/BakerStone)

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.