Civil War Veterans Buried In Washington State - Whelan Cemetery

Whelan Cemetery

Pullman, Whitman County, Washington

Whelan Cemetery north of Pullman is a 132-year-old pioneer cemetery that has been left untouched for years.

As a result, it has become home to approximately 100 species of plants.

The four acres caught the eye of the Palouse Prairie Foundation.


“The reason we become very interested in it is it’s the best high quality example of Palouse Prairie in this area,” said Palouse Prairie Foundation Treasurer Joan Folwell.

It is also home to nonnative invasive species that are crowding out the valued Palouse Prairie.

So, the Palouse Prairie Foundation applied for and received a $700 grant from the Washington Native Plant Society to remove the invasive lilac bushes at the cemetery. Folwell said work is expected to begin this fall, with the help of a landscaping company.


She said it is important to protect remnants of Palouse Prairie because it is estimated less than one-tenth of it is left in a region that has been mostly converted to farmland. Folwell said Palouse Prairie supports a whole community of insects and other important organisms.

Whelan Cemetery is not owned by Pullman or Whitman County. The Palouse Prairie Foundation, a nonprofit with about 30 members, applied in 2013 to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to have authority over the grounds. It removed some lilac bushes in 2018 and 2019, and the White Pine Chapter of the Idaho Native Plant Society helps weed the cemetery every year.


According to the foundation, the cemetery was established by Christopher Columbus Branham after he came to the Palouse with plans to start a town northeast of Pullman. However, he died in 1888 before his plans became a reality. It is unclear how many people were buried there, but the last burial took place in 1946. The cemetery was abandoned after that.

It was never cultivated since that time. Folwell said it has become an important site for local botanists who have recorded the many species of plants there.

“Everybody recognizes it for the value that it presents,” she said.
As for the invasive lilacs, Folwell said they were once planted at the Whelan Cemetery years ago in memory of those buried there.

The foundation looks forward to cleaning up the site, which Folwell said is getting more interest from visitors. Folwell called the piece of land “absolutely beautiful” and said it is an attractive destination because it combines beauty and history.

 “And that’s what draws people out there,” she said.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at

This small cemetery was active from 1879 to 1922. There are unknown number of people buried there, as many of the headstones are missing or knocked over and much of the vegetation in the cemetery is overgrown. It is located on a small hill overlooking surrounding farmlands. This is one of the few spots left in the Palouse with native prairie vegetation.

The Whelan Cemetery was established in 1888, nine years after burials started on the property. It served the former small town of Whelan, whose location was a short distance north of the cemetery.

Veterans Buried at Whelan Cemetery


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