— By BRIAN SMITH
WILLOW PARK — The first historical marker honoring a black cemetery in Parker County was unveiled Saturday morning.
Lawson Daniel Gratz (Gratts), a Buffalo Soldier who served during the Civil War and former Annetta resident, was honored with the marker at Willow Springs cemetery. More than 125 family members and members of both the East Parker County Genealogy and Historical Society and Parker County Historical Commission were on hand for the unveiling.
Parker County Judge Mark Riley said Gratz “truly dedicated his life to the area.”
Harold Lawrence with the Parker County Historical Commission, said the marker is an important tribute to African Americans in the county. He also said work was underway to ensure the Mount Pleasant Colored School in Weatherford would receive a marker within the next two years or so.
Willow Park Mayor Richard Neverdousky said all Buffalo Soldiers were known for their courage and patriotism, so it was only fitting such a marker was unveiled by Helen Eldredge Gratts, the family matriarch. In honor of the event, members of the Dallas County Buffalo Soldier re-enactor group were on hand to honor their fallen brother.
Gratz’s great-grandson and family spokesman Josef Gratts began looking into Lawson Gratz’s history many years ago. The work was slow but he found out many interesting things: Lawson Gratz was born a slave in 1836. He, along with thousands of former slaves, decided to join the Union Army for a chance at a better life. He volunteered for service after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and was assigned to the 114th United States Colored Troops. While many black soldiers did not see action, the 114th was different and fought in many battles, including Richmond, City Point and Hatcher Run. Because of his ability to read and write and work with everyone, he was promoted to sergeant before a year.
Lawson Gratz was believed by his command to have gone AWOL on four separate occasions, leaving for three to four months at a time, but was always brought back into his command. He was actually, according to Josef Gratts’ research, found to be a black dispatch, who were by orders of the War Department dispatched behind Confederate lines and indicate how many men and what kind of equipment they had.
“By being a black man he was able to pass as a worker in the fields or any number of situations that any black man would be doing at that time in the South,” a press release stated.
After the Civil War, he spent time along the Rio Grande River helping discourage French operations in Mexico. He later joined the 10th Cavalry Division. He then fought against Indians in several battles between 1867 and 1875, fighting many of those years with just one eye as a result of a training accident.
Lawson Gratz eventually made his way back to Texas, where he worked as a farmer, hide hauler. He made his way to Annetta in 1882, where he was a farmer. He suffered a heart attack in 1909 and died at the age of 73.