By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Abijah Keith received full graveside military honors Saturday at the Quay Cemetery in Quay Valley on behalf of a country that no longer exists, the Confederate States of America, 84 years after his death.
Keith served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War and returned to Texas at the end of the war in 1865. There was no ceremony to discharge many Texas outfits at the end of the war. The soldiers just packed and returned home, according to a biography of Keith that appeared in printed programs for Saturday’s ceremony.
The ceremony was designed in part to make up for that omission, according to Gwen Gray, Quay Valley, who coordinated the event, said.
Men in Confederate uniforms fired cannon and muskets as part of Saturday’s solemn ceremony conducted by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans that includes Gray’s husband Rex, who served on the cannon crew in Saturday’s ceremony.
The cemetery was decorated with the colors of U.S., Confederate and regimental flags that lined a pathway to Keith’s modest gravestone.
Even with the temperature well over 90, participants wore wool Civil War era uniforms and some of the ladies wore 19th-century garb, black and gray, buttoned down from head to toe.
The ceremony was an occasion for a reunion of Keith’s descendants.
Jim Keith, Abijah’s great-grandson, lives in Tucumcari. Four of Jim Keith’s uncles came, including Leroy Keith, 94, who actually remembers Abijah Keith, his grandfather. Leroy Keith ceremoniously received a Confederate flag that was unfurled and refolded over Abijah Keith’s grave toward the end of Saturday’s ceremony. Leroy’s brothers Harold, Melvin and Tommy Keith also attended the ceremony, traveling from Colorado and Iowa to attend.
Gwen Gray said she was extremely pleased with the ceremony. She wore a period costume and participated in the ritual.
“We’ve been organizing this event since May of last year,” she said. Sons of veterans members, she said, “love to go to places like this to do ceremonies.”
Representing the Union Army, at least in uniform, was Gwen Gray’s brother Tim Massey of Greeneville, Tennessee, editor of the Civil War Courier, a national newsletter for Civil War buffs. He wore the uniform of a Union Army captain.
Several members of the confederate veterans group traveled from the Amarillo area to participate, including Chuck Hartline, who provided the artillery pieces. With patient coaching from Stratford, Texas, resident Rocky Sprott, who commanded in the uniform of a Confederate cavalry officer, they performed saber maneuvers, musket loading and firing, and basic military commands.
Master of ceremonies Sam Cornelius observed that Abijah Keith had lived in three countries. When Keith was born in 1842, Texas was an independent republic. When Texas joined the union in 1845, he was a resident of the U.S., and when Texas seceded from the union, Keith found himself a citizen of the Confederacy.
After the Civil War, Abijah Keith served as a Texas Ranger in the 1870s. In 1909, he moved his family to a homestead in Quay Valley, where he lived the remainder of his life. He died on Jan. 10, 1930.