Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2019

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Monument honors two local Civil War veterans

For eight decades, side-by-side graves at Woodlawn Cemetery have been occupied by two all-but-forgotten soldiers.

In time for Veterans Day, the site has been turned into a monument for Southern Nevada's only two known Civil War veterans, thanks to the efforts of a Las Vegas couple and the generosity of a local mortuary.

The graves of Union soldier William Keith and Confederate soldier Joseph Graham, who became friends in their later years, recently got military markers -- more than three-quarters of a century after their deaths.

"When I saw the new markers and the original one together I got goosebumps," said Leonard Becker, a veteran and local Civil War buff, who along with his wife, Emmaline, championed the effort to get the military markers.

"It now is truly a monument."

"Em" Becker, senior vice president of the California-Nevada Daughters of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, said she was surprised at the response she received after the story of Keith and Graham ran in the May 25 SUN.

"We got responses from as far away as Rhode Island, and several offers to help us get the military markers," said the past president of Las Vegas DUV Tent 79.

"We even heard from a charter member of our (DUV) chapter, Marilyn White, who had moved away and lost touch. She had moved back to Overton and, after reading the story, rejoined (the organization)."

The Beckers and officials from the Daughters of the Union Veterans will gather at 9 a.m. Saturday at Woodlawn for a public dedication ceremony for Las Vegas' newest monument.

Four "living history" re-enactors from the Southern Nevada Civil War Historical Society -- two dressed in Yankee blue garb and two in Confederate gray uniforms -- will fire three volleys in memory of Keith, Graham and all Civil War veterans.

The event will have special meaning for the DUV, because the monument has been established during the local organization's 50th anniversary.

The Beckers, who for several years searched local and national archives to learn about the two soldiers, credited Palm Mortuary Assistant General Manager Terry Lamon for obtaining the markers. The Beckers had failed in attempts to cut through a jungle of military red tape to get the stones.

"It is a difficult process going through the Veterans Administration, even for us," Lamon said. "So we had the markers duplicated by a local company (Nevada Granite Co. of Henderson)."

He said the gift of the markers is valued at $1,000.

Lamon says he has a special interest in the Civil War, as his great-grandfather fought for the North. He inherited his muzzle-loader rifle.

Lamon says he knows of no other Civil War veterans buried locally.

Neither does Linda Roskens, a secretary at Woodlawn, who, along with cemetery foreman Jerry Wilson, expedited the paperwork and poured the cement to turn the grave into a monument.

"We have 26,000 people interred here," Roskens said, noting that Woodlawn is the oldest cemetery in town. "These are the only Civil War markers I have seen."

Although the Daughters of the Union Veterans have been holding Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies at the grave site for 48 years, little was known of the lives of Keith and Graham until the Beckers did their research.

What they learned was that the two men met in Las Vegas in their old age and became good friends.

According to the Dec. 18, 1920, issue of the Las Vegas Age newspaper, Keith "found a friend to bring him comfort and companionship, J.M. Graham by name, a veteran of the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy."

They had never met in battle. Graham fought in Virginia, while Keith fought in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Joseph Moore Graham was born Oct. 20, 1838, in Virginia.

He enlisted as a private in the Virginia Cavalry and served until Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

The 1910 U.S. Census says Graham was living in Rhyolite in Nye County. He later moved to Colorado and probably was a miner or a prospector. Graham moved from Buena Vista, Colo., to Las Vegas in the mid-1910s. In poor health, he stayed at the home of his son, J.W. Graham, Leonard Becker said.

On April 2, 1917, Graham died of pneumonia at 78 years, 5 months and 18 days.

William Boone Keith was born March 30, 1840, in Noble County, Ohio. He came from a family of iron workers who made bells and ironware used by the early pioneers.

On Sept. 14, 1861, Keith enlisted as a private in Company K of the 12th Iowa Infantry. He was captured at Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., on April 6, 1862, during the battle of Shiloh.

Keith was released as part of a prisoner exchange on Oct. 17, 1862, and rejoined Union forces, only to suffer a serious right thigh wound on July 14, 1864, at Tupelo, Miss. He was discharged Feb. 9, 1866.

In 1911, Keith moved to Las Vegas from Nebraska, where he apparently was a farmer.

The Beckers only recently learned through the Keith Genealogy Book Project in Houston and other sources that he had relatives living in Las Vegas for many years following his death and still has relatives in the Midwest.

Keith's daughter, Estella "Eva" Keith Bender, who was born in 1869, also moved to Las Vegas in 1911. She had one son, Clyde Bender, who also is deceased.

Donna Courtney, Keith's great niece, today lives in Delhi, Iowa.

She says the family Bible makes only one reference to her great uncle's military years, noting that in the prisoner of war camp he was fed meat that "was infested with maggots."

"I believe he (Keith) moved to the desert for health reasons," said Courtney, 77, who has studied her family's genealogy. "A lot of people moved to the drier climate because they had arthritis or respiratory problems."

After Graham died, Keith went to Woodlawn Cemetery at what is now Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue and bought plot Nos. 410 and 411.

Keith obtained from Virginia the ashes of Graham's wife and buried them with Graham in plot 410, Leonard Becker said.

Keith then erected a granite shaft grave marker that reads: "Civil War Veterans 1861-1865. Arrayed in the conflict, in strife and dismay/One wore the blue, the other the gray/Time brought its changes, the men came to know/The joy which true friendship, in life can bestow."

Courtney said an obituary in the Manchester (Iowa) Press notes that Keith actually chiseled those words into the stone.

On Dec. 11, 1920, Keith died at 80 years, 8 months and 12 days. His wife, Mary Louisa Griggs, did not accompany Keith to Las Vegas. She died in 1931 in Stamford, Neb. Her remains were not interred in the Las Vegas grave.