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The mystery of the misplaced tombstone

Who was Eva T. Bowen, and how did her grave marker end up in Lake Oswego?


Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Rich Adams photographed the gravestone he found while on a walk near Meadows Road. The headstone is likely 112 years old.What seemed at first like a macabre discovery has become something of a local history puzzler.

Rich Adams, a web developer and Lake Oswego resident, was out for a stroll on the morning of July 5 with his wife and their two Goldendoodles when they came across the remnants of a grave.

“As we rounded the northwest corner of Carman Drive and Meadows Road, close to where Parsons Farms used to have their fruit stand, we noticed that the area had recently been cleared of some heavy brush,” Adams said.

That certainly wasn’t unusual for a site being readied for development — in this case, what will be Gramor Development’s 62,000-square-foot Kruse Village. Adams described coming across large old pipes. And “long-forgotten farm implements.”

And a tombstone.

“Our first thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a grave! That will certainly bring construction to a halt,’” Adams said.

But the brownish tablet appeared to be leaning against a chainlink fence. It wasn’t buried, or even very intentionally placed. On closer inspection, Adams saw the etching in the stone: a woman’s name, off-center, and a lifespan that ended in 1901.

Thrilling, to be sure, but not necessarily a matter for the police. Adams did a little figurative digging on the Internet, and found out that a near-identical tombstone exists in Silverton, one that marks an actual, final resting place at Bethany Cemetery.

That headstone is slightly more minimalist, reading simply “Eva T. Bowen 1873-1901.”

Perhaps, Adams reasoned, the tombstone near Meadows Road was tossed aside because of a typographical error: Census records indicate Eva T. Bowen was born Eva T. Burcell in 1874 and died in 1902. Her obituary says the same.

But if that’s the case, then both tombstones are wrong, because both of them display identical dates of birth and death.

It could be that the family had a change of heart about font, or decided that their matriarch should have an inlaid headstone instead of the stand-up marker Adams discovered.

There is nothing to indicate that Bowen herself was ever laid to rest in or near Lake Oswego; her funeral was conducted in Silverton.

So who was Eva T. Bowen, the woman who never saw 30 but who had at least two stone markers made in her honor? According to state census records, she was born Eva T. Burcell on Jan. 28, 1874, in Algona, a then-20-year-old town in northern Iowa. Her obituary says that Burcell moved to Oregon with her parents and siblings at the age of 4, eventually settling in Silverton. When she was 20, she married Harve S. Bowen, a farmer and later rancher who was 11 years her senior. Bowen was of pioneer stock himself.

As Mrs. Bowen, she gave birth to three sons, then died four days after the rough birth of her daughter. The little girl survived and was given her mother’s name.

Mrs. Bowen’s death was recorded as “acute intestinal obstruction.” In the florid newspaper prose of the day, her obituary states that “such was the nature of the case that, although the best medical skills (were) employed and every thing possible done for her comfort and relief, her life could not be saved, and the Death angel came as a relief from pain and suffering.”

But this postmortem profile also describes her as “well known and highly respected in this community, where all her bright young life was spent. She was a kind, loving wife, a fond devoted mother and a good neighbor.”

By Harve Bowen’s obituary, it does not appear he ever remarried, although he went on to live another 27 years. But is that really how this story ends?

What was Eva T. Bowen’s connection to Lake Oswego? How did her gravestone end up here? If you’ve got a lead or a hunch, let The Review know so that finally, after 113 years, we can put this story to rest.

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..