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Landmarks: Mausoleum holds pioneer-life chroniclers

The Strahorn mausoleum is seen on Feb. 26 at Riverside Memorial Park in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
The Strahorn mausoleum is seen on Feb. 26 at Riverside Memorial Park in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Robert Edmund Strahorn, two wives traveled the West

The granite and marble Strahorn mausoleum sits just over a little hill in Riverside Memorial Park, not especially striking at first glance. But up close its two beautiful stained glass windows, each containing images of a torch bearing an eternal flame, are clearly works of art and lovely to behold. From the road, they are obscured by the window bars that protect them.

Even more remarkable are the three people laid to rest within, one of whom wrote an extensive and definitive tome chronicling pioneer life and traveling in the West, as well as the wonders to be discovered in these new territories. They are Robert Edmund Strahorn (1852-1944); his first wife, Carrie Adell Green Strahorn (1854-1925); and his second wife, Ruby Shannon Garland Strahorn (1883-1936).

A native of Pennsylvania, Robert Strahorn moved to Denver as a young man, where he worked as a newspaper reporter, and in that capacity found himself present with Gen. George Custer during the Battle of Rosebud. He headed the publicity department of the Union Pacific Railroad Companies and traveled extensively throughout the West writing about the conditions and opportunities in this largely open space (but he is not the author whose work is so noteworthy).

Robert Strahorn is credited with founding the Idaho towns of Caldwell, Weiser, Payette, Shoshone and Hailey, as well as Ontario, Ore. A founder and trustee of the College of Idaho in Caldwell, he went on to build the Oregon Short Line Railroad from Granger, Wyo., to Huntington, Ore., and was vice president and general manager of the Oregon Washington Railroad & Navigation Co., which constructed the Union Station in Spokane.

He settled in Spokane in 1898 and within a half dozen years he was the promoter and builder of the North Coast Railroad, designed to bring communities from Seattle to Portland into direct rail connection with Walla Walla and Spokane, including short lines from Spokane to Walla Walla and another between Spokane and Lewiston. In the 1930s he owned a significant amount of real estate in San Francisco but lost his fortune in the Great Depression.

As significant as Robert Strahorn was in the development of the West, it was his first wife who may be even more remarkable. Carrie Adell Green was the daughter of a prominent Chicago surgeon and a graduate of the University of Michigan. She studied abroad – and never ever intended to be a pioneer. Yet when she married Robert Strahorn in 1877, she accompanied him as he traveled for the railroad. She wrote about her adventures with humor and insight in the 673-page “Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage” in 1911. Also significant is that the line drawings and color plates in the book were done by none other than Charles M. Russell, who would become known as America’s great cowboy artist.

This woman born to privilege encountered every kind of discomfort as she traveled in crowded stagecoaches, on horseback and train, sometimes finding accommodations in which she and her husband (whom she called Pard) had to sleep 14 to a room – and under a leaky roof besides. She rode on the cowcatcher on a Union Pacific engine to get through tunnels and cross bridges between Cheyenne and Ogden. She traveled and encountered storytellers, sick children, prospectors; through Indian wars and forest fires; to the top of Pikes Peak; down into mine shafts – all the while taking notes and writing. In 1880 when the superintendent at Yellowstone National Park wouldn’t allow her to travel with the men into the park due to an early snowfall, she persisted and insisted – and hence, she became the first woman to tour the park and wrote extensively about the wonders held therein.

All the while she chronicled her experiences. And despite the significant discomforts and dangers she experienced, she always touted the glory and grandeur of the West.

Robert Strahorn married Ruby Shannon Garland in 1927, two years after his first wife died. Also an accomplished woman, she was from a prominent Virginia family and was an artist who spent time in the Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. She opened an interior decorating business in San Francisco, and when she and Strahorn married, they went on a year-and-a-half honeymoon, including a trip around the world.

Robert, Carrie and Ruby are all buried in the mausoleum at Riverside Memorial Park. There were no children from either marriage.