Enoch: Veterans buried in Reeves Memorial Cemetery

If you drive east on French Avenue and veer onto Muddy Creek Road, you will come to a V-intersection with Old Muddy Creek Road.

About a quarter of a mile north on Old Muddy Creek, you’ll find a pair of entrance posts on the east side of the road. This is the historic entrance to Reeves Memorial Park, a cemetery “dedicated to the colored people of this community” in 1939.

That July, Luther Reeves had purchased approximately 5 acres of land from the heirs of James Hall and opened Reeves Memorial across the road from and in competition with Daniel Grove Cemetery.

The next year, he acquired an adjoining tract “used by Clark County as a burial ground.” Reeves was also proprietor of the Winchester Monument Company on West Lexington Avenue.

He sold the cemetery to H. K. Walling in 1953. It is uncertain when the cemetery ceased operating as a business.

Unfortunately, as has happened to many privately-owned cemeteries over the years, the grounds were not maintained and eventually turned into a tangled jungle of honeysuckle, hedge apple and weeds.

In 2010, with help from a Department of Local Government grant and labor of the Public Works Department, the grounds were partly cleared and many graves saw the light of day for the first time in many years.

However, the honeysuckle, one of our area’s most invasive species, returned with a vengeance, and it was back to square one.

Two years ago, Janice Martin led a volunteer crew from the local VFW Post 2728, who took on the job again — this time with permanent eradication of the honeysuckle.

Work resumed this spring with Janice’s husband, Randy Martin, leading a group of volunteers from Right Angle Lodge 233.

Although a huge amount of work remains to be done, Randy has been keeping the weeds in check with regular mowing.

The community is indebted to these folks for all their sweat and toil, but clearly their heroic efforts cannot continue in perpetuity.

By the most recent count, 134 graves have been recorded and photographed. Family members are now able to find their loved ones and visit again. Last week I noticed several graves marked with new flower arrangements.

The earliest grave located so far is for John F. Hodgkin who died September 21, 1939; the latest is for Marie Massie Williams who died March 15, 1987. The greatest number of burials were in the 1940s and ’50s.

Nearly a quarter of the gravestones — 30 found so far — belong to military veterans. There may be several explanations for this high percentage.

First, many of those buried here came from poor families that could not afford a gravestone. The U.S. military provided a free headstone or grave marker for veterans.

Those buried at Reeves Memorial include veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II and Korea. It seems appropriate to tell some of their stories here.

Oliver Brooks (1874-1939) and George W. Williams (1872-1952) both served in the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War.

After the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898, Congress declared war on Spain. The military was strictly segregated at that time.

Several all-black units, notably the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, were called into action. Known as “Buffalo Soldiers,” these men had previously served on the Plains in the Indian Wars.

The Army formed four new black units, the 7th through 10th USVI, which they called the “immune regiments.” They recruited volunteers from the black population in the South and the Ohio Valley, thinking, erroneously, that these men would be immune to the tropical diseases encountered in Cuba.

The 8th USVI was recruited in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Each company had 82 enlisted men, one black lieutenant and two white officers. Companies I and K from Winchester were mustered into service in June 1898 at Fort Thomas, Kentucky.

They went to Camp Thomas near Chattanooga for training, but never received the call to duty in Cuba. The war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed in December 1898.

The 8th was discharged from service in March 1899. The men of the 8th experienced prejudice in Chattanooga and were disappointed to find that Jim Crow laws still applied to men in uniform.

Of a more serious nature, police roughed up some of the men when their train passed through Nashville on the way home. The New York Times reported that they “presented a battered appearance” when they reached Louisville.

Ollie Brooks returned to his wife Ella in Winchester. He earned his living as a hod carrier and, later, as a horse trainer. He suffered a heart attack and died at his home on North Highland on the last day of 1939.

George Williams married Fannie Rankins in 1913. They raised two sons and two daughters, while he farmed. George was an officer in the Union Benevolent Society No. 1 and a member of Allen Chapel CME. He died at the VA Hospital in Louisville in 1952.

William Taylor (1880-1939) enlisted in the 48th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, one of the all-black regiments formed during the Philippine-American War. Reporting on leadership of the two units, the adjutant general noted: “It is believed that the best equipped men of our colored citizens have been commissioned in these regiments.”

An even greater demonstration of official confidence, however, was the fact that all the companies were commanded by black captains.

Taylor’s unit, Company G, had 60 men from Kentucky, including 22 from Winchester: Allen Childs, John Clemens, Thomas Downey, Samuel Duncan, William Fulda, Isaac Gipson, Robert Haggard, Richard Hunter, Fred Kohlhass, George W. Mills, Andrew Poston, William T. Romes, Robert Simpson, Arthur Taylor, Lee Taylor, Thomas Taylor, William Taylor, Spencer Turner, Henry Watts, Parker Wells, Joseph Williams, and Theodore Wilson.

The 48th arrived in the Philippines in January 1900, and was stationed in Northern Luzon. They were engaged in numerous battles in the mountainous region north of Manila.

After a year and a half, the 48th and 49th were the last volunteer forces to return to the U.S., in June 1901. Of all the volunteer regiments in the Philippines, they had the least desertions and the least reports of abuse of the Filipino people.

The units experienced their share of racial problems, and their African American officers were treated like enlisted men.

After he was discharged, William Taylor returned to Winchester. He married Rosa Vaughn in 1912. After she died, he moved to Cincinnati. While living there, he succumbed to heart disease in 1939.

Harry Enoch, a retired biochemist and history enthusiast, has been writing for the Sun since 2005.