For decades, the gravesite of a former Louisiana governor has been missing. In the mid-20th century, a cotton field replaced the family grave of former Governor Joseph Walker, who died in 1856.
Joseph M. Walker was a plantation owner from the central Louisiana city of Alexandria in Rapides Parish. Walker began his career in the military. He served in the Louisiana militia and likely fought in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. After the war he became general of the state militia. Walker held numerous elected offices. He served in the legislature as a Representative and Senator. He was also Louisiana’s state treasurer and served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1845. In 1850, he was sworn in as the governor of Louisiana.
Walker only served three years as governor. While in office, the legislature adopted a new state constitution which ended Walker’s term in 1853. He returned to his family plantation in Rapides Parish where he died three years later. He and other family members were buried in a small graveyard behind their plantation home. But the graveyard fell victim to the plow and the land was planted with cotton. The headstones and monuments were taken apart and removed from the field.
solving a mystery
A couple of history enthusiasts from Alexandria decided to solve the mystery of the missing grave site. “The site is just lost and forgotten about and deteriorating”, says Michael Wynne. He and Paul Price researched the area.
A friend showed them an aerial photograph from the 1950’s which provided an important clue to the graveyard’s location. Paul Price says the old black and white picture showed an odd-shaped piece of ground. “The ground was darker than everything else around it”, Price explained. It looked like a small graveyard. The team matched that picture to current satellite images, which took them about a hundred yards into the cotton field. There, they found many pieces of bricks, likely used above the family burials. “We finally solved one of the greatest mysteries of Central Louisiana”, said Wynne.
epitaph to a louisiana governor
The marble monument that once marked Governor Joseph Walker’s grave has this inscription.
In Memory of Joseph Walker, born in New Orleans July 1, 1781. Died in the Parish of Rapides January 21st 1856. Aged 71 years 6 month and 21 days. From the year 1822 until near the period of his death, he was engaged in the public service, having been frequently elected a member of the General Assembly of the state, of which he was governor from Jan. 1850 to Jan. 1852. Whether a private citizen, legislator or chief magistrate, he won universal confidence and esteem. He died respected and regretted by all who knew him.
The monuments’ future is uncertain. Multiple heirs of Walker own them. According to Price, the family land was sold at a sheriff’s sale in 1873.