The city of Washougal has apparently solved one of its oldest mysteries.
Michelle Wright, the city’s public works administrator, recently announced the city’s cemetery board has discovered the body of Washougal founder Betsy “White Wing” Ough buried next to the body of her husband, Richard Ough, in the Washougal Memorial Cemetery.
Richard Ough (1798-1884) and Betsy Ough (1818-1911), the daughter of a Native American chief, were among Washougal’s earliest settlers. Richard built a log cabin on the Washougal River in 1849 and applied for a donation land claim in 1853. The couple eventually sold 20 acres of the claim to Joe Durgan and Lewis Love to plot out the new city.
Washougal historians have long grappled with the question of Betsy Ough’s exact burial place.
“We had not been able to actually find her body in the past, but with ground-penetrating radar, we were able to find what we assume is her body, right next to her husband’s,” Wright recently told Washouthegal City Council members.
In March 2021, the city’s cemetery board used funds donated by a former board member to hire C-N-I Locates, a Vancouver-based underground utility detection and inspection service, to help find Betsy Ough’s remains.
“It was really fascinating to watch,” Micki Mulder, president of the cemetery board, said. “It was kind of like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a lawnmower.”
C-N-I Locates’ findings indicated that a “large anomaly was found at 7 feet deep, just offset of (Richard’s) headstone marker.”
“There’s only supposed to be two people buried in that area — him and her. And we know for a fact that he’s there,” Mulder said. “We just couldn’t confirm (she was there). There’s no absolute way to verify that it’s her remains unless we had an exhumation, and that’s not going to happen. But we verified there is a body there, and it’s right next to him in his lot, and I can’t imagine anyone else would’ve gone in there.”
The discovery represents a significant milestone for the city of Washougal and its history, Mulder said.
“It was always kind of a mystery,” she said. “It’s nice to know that it’s not just a rumor and that we’ve established she’s there. It was really cool to be able to confirm that she really, truly is there next to her husband, and it’s good to know that the family is together.”
The mystery dates back to the birth of the cemetery, which was originally operated by the sons of David Shepherd and, later, the International Order of Odd Fellows lodge No. 194 before citizens successfully petitioned for the city to assume ownership in 1944, according to Mulder.
“The problem with that older section is the record-keeping was sparse at best,” she said. “(Records) weren’t required to be kept. When (the city) took over, all we got was pretty much rumor, hand-written papers and whatever the IOOF produced.”
“When I was working for the city years ago, there were rumors that (Betsy Ough) was supposed to be there, but no one could confirm that she was actually buried there. But one of the ladies who used to be with the cemetery department said, ‘What about ground penetrating radar?’ Of course, it got put on the back burner until we had the money to do it,” Mulder said.
The cemetery board is discussing the possibility of creating a memorial plaque to mark Betsy Ough’s final resting place.
“We have to tread carefully, because we don’t own the use of that property. The family does,” Mulder said. “The policy is that, while the city owns the land, the marker is the family’s responsibility. When you get into the old pioneer cemetery, that becomes a little hard to maintain because people move or die and you’re never quite sure who owns what anymore.”
Mulder said the board may put the information about Betsy Ough’s final resting place on its website or even on a plaque near the plaque that talks about the pioneer cemetery.
“We’ve kicked around some ideas … but I don’t know if we’re going to put anything on the ground where she’s located. We’ll have to see,” Mulder said.
The Washougal Memorial Cemetery is located at 3329 “Q” St., Washougal. For more information, visit cityofwashougal.us/690/History.