A visit to the “natural cemetery” in Swan Valley

Posted at 9:30 AM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-22 11:30:52-04

(NEAR CONDON) Henry and Joan Meyer made their home in the Swan Valley almost 67 years ago, raising four children and creating a lifetime of memories in a place they consider paradise — and they never want to leave.

"For us, going to town is the worst thing you can do," laughed Henry, who runs Natural Cemeteries of Swan Valley.

Together they built their home here and worked the land, the 120 acres that sits in the shadow of the Swan Mountain Range along Montana Highway 83 – and when it’s their time to go, they’re still not leaving.

“I thought, ‘Gee, I don’t want to die and have them haul me off to town to bury me, I want to be buried right here’," Henry said.

"We looked into that and found out in Montana you can be buried on your own land, but there’s no assurance that nobody’s going to dig you up or build something right on top of you or anything like that, you know.  And the only way you can do that is to have a regular cemetery," Henry explained.

So that’s what the Meyers created — a non-profit natural cemetery where people are buried without fancy caskets or headstones. They aren’t embalmed. Often, they’re just wrapped in a shroud and buried in a simple pine box.

There’s no manicured lawn, just wild growth and trees, and dirt. Simple yet meaningful markers for the dead, whose bodies return to nature. Really, the way it was done years ago.

"If you get embalmed – well, you know, I mean it’s an accepted practice – but there’s a lot of chemicals they’re putting in your body to do that and then you’re putting those chemicals in the ground and…[it] doesn’t do the Earth any good either," Henry said. "We’re trying to return to the Earth…more or less where we came from, and allow nature to function and grow more trees and stay as it was."

Henry and Joan already have their eternal resting spot picked out, and Henry already has his casket – it’s in his living room serving double-duty as a bookshelf.

"It isn’t something you just use when you die. It’s something you use when you’re alive, so you’re getting two uses out of it for sure. And that way it’s not a total waste of materials," Henry said.

The Meyer children sit on the board of this non-profit venture although it took some time to let it sink in.

“Everybody in the family was kind of like set back at first. I mean, they can understand why there folks wanted to be buried out here because lots of people are buried on their own ranches and stuff, but to make the whole thing into a cemetery was kind of like, ‘Whoa!!” Henry Meyer III said.

Each gravesite is marked with its own GPS coordinates. The graves are at least six feet deep in the rocky soil to prevent intrusion by animals. It’s a perfect piece of Montana where the modest but meaningful farewells take place in the splendor of nature – which is exactly what the Meyers want forever.

"Just trying to preserve the land and have a place for the trees to grow and have a place for the animals to be and keep it this way and those other people are helping me do that in a roundabout way," Henry said. "And so that’s what, to me, what it’s all about."

It costs around $2,000 to be buried at the natural cemetery.

You can find them on Facebook or give them a call at (406) 754-2436 or (406) 754-2449