Editor’s note: this is the fourth and final installment in a series on the old Rapides cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in the parish of Rapides.
Interred in the Old Rapides Cemetery in Pineville, notable historical figures shaped not only the foundations of the Parish of Rapides and Louisiana, but the United States as well.
It’s a place where Louisiana history can be taught, said Mike Tudor, historian at the Historic Rapides Cemetery Preservation Society. A Spanish commander, US senators, members of Congress and governors are buried there. So are the namesakes of cities.
The cemetery is located on Hattie Street near the Gillis-Long Bridge, better known as the Jackson Street Bridge. The site is where the home of the first Spanish commander Etienne Marafet Layssard of El Rapido Post once stood.
The ancient Rapids cemetery dates back more than 200 years, to the time when the territory was under Spanish rule. There are around 2,300 known graves at the cemetery, but it may only have been a small number of people who were buried there. It is possible that person after person is buried on top of each other.
âThe oldest known grave that’s marked – that’s the keyword – marked – is right here,â said Mike Wynne, another Preservation Society historian.
The burial is that of Pierre Baillo III who died in 1809 when he was 15 years old. He was the son of the founder of Kent Plantation House, Pierre Baillo II who is buried nearby.
âHe is buried here and many of his family are here,â said Paul Price, another historian with the Preservation Society.
Kent House is a Creole-style plantation house built around 1796 on a land grant from the King of Spain. It is the oldest known structure in central Louisiana and one of the region’s top tourist attractions.
The last Spanish commander of the district of El Rapido, Enemund Meullion, who died in 1820, is also buried there with his wife Jeanette Poiret Meullion and the bodyguard Cyprian Escoffie.
âHe was the commander around the year 1800. He was also the last commander under the authority of the Spanish government just before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803,â Price said.
Meullion was a veteran of the War of Independence, although that region and Louisiana were not involved in the War of Independence, Wynne said.
In 1779, Meullion took part in the expeditions of the Spanish governor Bernardo de Galvez to capture the British forts and posts at Manchac and Baton Rouge.
For her service, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a marker on her grave in 1930.
âWhen you think of colonial times, I think of powdered wigs and George Washington,â Price said. “Well, it’s also colonial times here, but it was the French and Spanish colony and there were no states.”
âThere isn’t a story in American history that we can’t find a connection to in this sacred land here,â Wynne said.
The founder of Alexandria, Alexander Fulton, is also buried in the cemetery but in an unmarked grave. He died in 1816.
A large white monument marks the grave of his wife Mary H. Wells Fulton Hooper.
âWe believe he’s buried there,â Wynne said. “He died first. She remarried Thomas Hooper.”
The United Daughters of Confederation erected a monument to mark his grave.
Fulton and William Miller were fugitives from the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania before arriving in Louisiana territory which at the time was not part of the United States, Price explained.
âMiller and Fulton, they were both grain farmers there and all the grain farmers had their own stills,â he said. “And what they didn’t drink they sold.”
To pay off the War of Independence debt, Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, increased taxes on whiskey.
âWell, it wasn’t that popular in western Pennsylvania that anyone who tried to collect taxes was mistreated,â Price said.
Fulton and Miller, Price said, stole a letter carrier and discovered someone was giving information to the government.
Because they stole a letter carrier and due to other offenses, they had to leave Pennsylvania, he said.
For their actions, they were also charged with treason, Tudor said, and they bought property in Louisiana to escape those charges.
âPeople don’t know this story,â Tudor said.
âThey still teach the Whiskey Rebellion as the premier example of the federal government’s authority to enforce the tax,â Price said. âWho resisted the tax? Alexander Fulton. Where did he go ? Here. What did he find? The city of Alexandria.
James Madison Wells, who was governor from 1865 to 1867 during Louisiana’s reconstruction period, is also buried there with his wife Mary Ann Scott Wells and son James Madison Wells, Jr.
âJames Madison Wells is a fascinating character in Reconstruction,â said Wynne.
He was appointed governor and had a big disagreement with Union General Philip Sheridan, who was the appointed military governor of Louisiana and Texas. As a result, Sheridan fired Wells.
âIt was after the Civil War, when the North controlled Louisiana,â Wynne said. “We were in Reconstruction and we were a military district.”
Wells died in 1899 at his Sunnyside summer plantation home in downtown Lecompte, Wynne said. The house still exists and has not been restored.
George Mason Graham, who died in 1891, is also buried in the cemetery. He is known as the father of Louisiana State University because of his commitment to the university and his long service on the board.
LSU began as a Louisiana State Seminary for Military Learning at the original campus site on the outskirts of Pineville. He supervised the construction of the first university buildings.
Graham is also the founder of Tyrone Plantation Home located on Bayou Rapides Road.
His wife Mary Eliza Wilkinson Graham and son Duncan J. Graham are buried next to him. He is also linked to Fulton’s wife, Mary H. Wells Fulton Hooper.
Henry Boyce, Boyce’s namesake, is buried in the cemetery. He was a federal judge and a United States senator.
Captain Chittenden Edwin Ball, Ball’s namesake, is also buried there.
âAnd we’re just telling a few stories,â Wynne said. “It’s just fascinating people here and I’m still learning things every day.”
The Preservation Society, under the direction of Tudor, would like to see a cemetery district that would include the four cemeteries located in downtown Pineville. The Rapids Cemetery, Methodist Cemetery, Jewish Cemetery and Mount Olivet Cemetery would be promoted as a historic tourist destination.
At a meeting of the downtown Pineville Development District, Mayor Clarence Fields said the designation of a historic cemetery district would be deferred to the August 10 meeting of the Pineville City Council.
Wynne and Price have prepared a flyer that highlights aspects of the cemetery for visitors and includes the stories of 26 diverse people representative of the community.
Volunteers are needed to serve as tour guides and help with the upkeep of the cemetery.
âWe will try to have a whole group of volunteer docents to lead these tours, especially for eighth graders,â Tudor said. The eighth grade is when students learn Louisiana history.
The flyer would serve as a catalyst to publicize the cemetery tours to visitors who can self-guide or take a guided tour with a volunteer. It would be available at the Alexandria / Pineville Area Visitors and Convention Bureau.
âIt’s really a diamond that’s always been there, but we’re really going to make it shine,â Tudor said.
Those wishing to volunteer for tours or maintenance can contact Mike Wynne at (318) 487-8805 or Paul Price at (318) 201-5560 or email@example.com.