A few years ago, as I was guiding a group through the Old City Cemetery in Monroe, someone asked me about two low vault tombs we were passing. I told the person no, but I had always meant to do research. The tombs contain the graves of a man, James L. Graves and his wife Lucretia. Lucretia’s dates inscribed on her marker read Feb. 15, 1826 to Aug. 27, 1893. James’ marker only has a date of birth: September 19, 1833. Without a date of death, it is almost impossible to find an obituary, which would be the best source of information. After conducting one more cemetery tour, I had completely forgotten about the Graves tomb.
The next week, I was asked to research West Monroe’s old City Hall, whose bell was turning a century old. Unfortunately, Monroe’s newspapers do not exist for the time period 1890 to 1909. There are, however, area newspapers that do survive from this time. They sometimes picked up items of interest that were happening in Monroe and West Monroe. I was looking through the Richland Beacon News for February 15, 1908 when this article caught my eye:
Confedearte [Sic Confederate] Veteran Cremated.
J.L. Graves, a Confederate veteran, 75 years old, was cremated in a fire that destroyed two residences in Monroe. It is thought that the flames originated in the bed room of Graves from a candle. The body, burned to a crisp, was found inside the front door, where the victim evidently fell after vainly trying to make his escape. Interment was made in the City Cemetery, the body being placed in a vault built by Graves many years ago for himself. The slab bore an inscription and all dates except that of death. The Confederate Veterans attended the funeral in a body.
I was completely amazed. I wasn’t even looking for James, didn’t know his date of death and had been asked about him only a few days before, only to forget about it. There he was! We have a saying in genealogy, “Sometimes they just want to be found!” It was as if he had popped up and said, “Someone asked about me? Here I am!” I began to dig a little deeper.
James L. Graves was born September 19, 1833 in Georgia. He met and later married Lucretia Shropshire on March 11, 1861 in Ashley County, AR. During the Civil War, he served with the 4th Louisiana Infantry Battalion, Company F, known as the Ouachita Rebels. This Battalion served as President Jefferson Davis’ bodyguards and as guards of Libby Prison. After the war, James was elected Monroe’s town Constable and then to the town council. After his first wife died in 1893, leaving no children, James married a local girl named Lola in Ouachita Parish May 8, 1896. She was 20, he was 62. They would have three daughters: Elizabeth G. “Bessie” (1898), Madeline (1899) and Hilda (1902). After James’ death, Lola remarried and moved the children to Memphis, then to Cincinnati.
For several years during the last half of the 20th century, James’ stone, which sealed up the tomb, began to pull away from the bricks. It became a local curiosity to shine a light in the crack to see the bones. Local authorities had it sealed up again. There are current efforts by local Sons of Confederate Veterans members to add his date of death to the stone.