Ruth Owen remembers the long black coats.
It was March. Not too cold. Not too warm.
There were lots of people standing around a small, open grave. A person – must have been a preacher – said a few words. Her baby sister had been stillborn and laid to rest in a coffin hand made by her father.
“We all took a handful of dirt,” Owen recalls, “From dust you come and to dust you return.”
Today, Ruth Owen would like to visit the gravesite. Pay respects to the sister she never knew.
The cemetery where the baby is buried is all but gone. Grown over and neglected. Only a few battered headstones in a tangle of weeds remain.
Owen’s sister is buried in what used to be known as the Artesian City Cemetery, located near what’s now the intersection of 2900 North and 4600 East on the Twin Falls/Cassia County line. In the early part of the 20th century, Artesian City was a bustling little town. It had a large natatorium, a dance hall, bank and restaurant. Magic Valley residents would travel to Artesian to swim and enjoy a picnic in a spacious city park.
All of it is gone now.
By the 1930s the town had diminished. Owen says the school district merged with Murtaugh in 1937. Area residents say the town’s water supply, from the aptly named Dry Creek, wasn’t reliable. According to “Then and Now in Southern Idaho,” a collection of columns published by the Times-News by local historian Virginia Ricketts, the town got it’s start back in 1909 on dreams of artesian wells supplying irrigation water. In 1911 the cemetery was platted and local residents built a 4-foot wire fence around it.
Ricketts says plans were made for a railroad line, but two years later those plans fell apart. The post office closed. Slowly, but surely, the town died.
Owen remembers a placid childhood, running through fields and enjoying grand picnics at the park.
“We’d walk across the prairie and there were white faced cattle,” she says. “I remember it being so beautiful.”
After she graduated from high school in 1942, Owen married and raised a family near Hollister. She wrote and chronicled the history of the Salmon Tract. Half a century passed and she went back to Murtaugh for her 50-year class reunion. She and her fellow classmates who had grown up in Artesian City went to see their hometown. They were devastated at what they found: Nothing. Today all that remains is a remnant of the old dance hall – now a machine shed.
And the cemetery.
The cemetery is hard to find as old landmarks are gone. It’s little more than a pile of weeds with a few overgrown bushes. The headstones were overturned and displaced. After her class reunion, Owen took it upon herself to try to get the cemetery restored and has kept at it over the years. At every turn, a roadblock. She says Twin Falls County officials told her it was in Cassia County. Cassia County folks told her it was in Twin Falls County. No one seemed to know who was buried there. No agency would take responsibility for the cemetery land.
Glenn Bessire grew up in Artesian City and owns the land on one side of it. His father took the sagebrush into farmland in about 1945. He rarely sees anyone at the cemetery. Occasionally, a historical researcher will show up for an hour or two.
Darrell Funk has owned the land on the other three sides for “six or seven years.” He said he’d always heard rumors that graves had been plowed up or that some families moved burial sites. He’s asked for local scout troops to restore it, thinking it would be a great Eagle Scout project. No takers.
The land sits on the north side of the of the Twin Falls County line. A receptionist at the Twin Falls County Cemetery Association said they’d never heard of the Artesian City Cemetery. The Twin Falls County Historical Preservation Committee has no information on the site. There are a few old pictures of Artesian City at the library, but little information beyond that.
The most recent graves are from the early 1930s. Three Medley family graves have been fenced with a tall chain link fence.
Owen, now 83, keeps a folder filled with information about the old city where she grew up and a long list of names of families she remembers living in the area. Every so often, she makes a call or sends a letter looking for more information, hoping for help in her restorative mission. She says she’d like to see it repaired, not just so she could pay respects to her baby sister, but out of respect for the many others who are buried there.