J R Graves was the 11th born child of 14 born to Walter and Rebecca Ellen Lett. He was named for a Baptist preacher that was admired by his parents. He was known as "Graves".
When a young lad, he first worked with his oldest brother, Beverly Ward Lett, doing threshing in the summer months and mining in the winter. After the death of his brother, he frequently helped out Beverly's widow Laura with tasks around her home on Moffet in Joplin, Missouri--he lived about 4 blocks from her family, who had two young daughters, Edna and Belva.
On May 11, 1902, in Cherokee County, Kansas, he married May Rudolph. And they lived in Joplin. He went back to working full time in the mines, and four years later, in 1906, he was caught in a cave-in at the King Jack mine. He was rescued, but the injury to his lungs could not be overcome, and he died. His widow, whose birth name was Mary and who had 2 nicknames--May and Mollie--had been previously married, and two of her husbands had died in mining accidents.
(Note: This article was kept by Edna Lett Stauffer, and although it is very descriptive and dramatic, it is included here not only as a memorial but to aid in understanding the perils of working in the mines at the time.)
Joplin, Missouri newspaper dated February 21, 1906:
"RESCUED FROM MINE ONLY TO PASS AWAY
Graves Lett, King Jack miner, succumbs to terrible experiences of long entombment in the earth.
"Keep it up fellows. I'm alright, but my leg is broken." Like a voice from the tomb, came these words from Graves Lett, imprisoned beneath many tons of earth and boulders in the King Jack mine, north of Chitwood, yesterday morning. It gave the score of men working in feverish haste to reach him renewed energy and in a short time they had dragged, from beneath an overwhelming burden of earth, the man who had passed through an experience never before coming to the lot of a Joplin miner. But the strain had been too great and Lett passed way yesterday afternoon, his death due, not to the injuries he had received when 50 tons of earth fell on him, but to the deadening effect of polluted air which clogged the circulation of blood in his body.
The escape of Lett from instant death was miraculous, and not until his voice was heard beneath the weight of rock and earth was there hope that beneath it would be found aught than a mangled and lifeless body of a miner.
Rescue of the imprisoned man was accomplished yesterday morning, after Lett had been imprisoned by huge boulders for 20 hours. He was conscious all the time, and escaped without a broken bone. He was working directly under an arch of stone and boulders formed by the cutting of a drift through a pillar that formally stood in the drift. The score or more of workmen engaged in the work of rescue yesterday morning were suddenly startled by a voice coming from the broken ground beneath their feet. It was the voice of Lett, who cramped and doubled by the pinioning boulders under the arch that had saved him from instant death, was cheerful and hopeful. His words were an encouragement to the workers and they attacked the diminishing pile of fallen earth with more determination than before. At 11 o'clock they were within reach of the imprisoned man, who said that he was alright except that one of his legs was broken.
Tenderly, the rough miners lifted the weakened man from his place of confinement, bore him to the shaft and hoisted him to the surface. His first request was for a drink of water which revived him to a wonderful extent and he was placed in W. K. Hurlbut's ambulance and removed to his home at 2129 Carter St. in Blendeville, a part of Joplin, Mo. Physicians were summoned and an examination revealed not a bone was broken and the bruises were of such minor nature that, at first, no fears were entertained that he would not recover.
In an hour after being taken home, however, the great strain, under which he had been placed, began to tell and it was evident that he was growing weaker. The heart beat strongly, but the lungs were in a terrible condition from breathing again and again the limited supply of air that existed in the small drift in which he was pinioned.
The battle for life, became not from injuries, but for the restoration of the circulation of the blood. This was futile and at 2:15 o'clock yesterday afternoon Feb. 20, 1906, about four hours after he was rescued, the Spirit fled and the tragedy of the King Jack had been completed….
State Mine Inspector Walter Ragland, Budd M. Robinson and J. D. Kemp, manager of the King Jack, were in the ground all the time, assisting the miners. The amount of earth moved was almost incredible.
Graves was buried at Pittsburg, Kansas, with short burial services being held at the residence prior to the departure of the train for Pittsburg. The Improved Order of Red Men, of which Lett was a member, conducted services at Blendville and accompanied the body to Pittsburg cemetery where they again had charge.
Lett was the third husband of the surviving widow, whose first husband was also killed in the mines by a fall of earth in a shaft."
The following notes were added by Edna (Lett) Stauffer:
"While he was yet living, his brothers, Bert and Samp, were able to see and talk with him. The pastor of the Connor Ave. Baptist Church talked with him also and while Graves had never made a public confession, he told the pastor, Bro. Smith, that everything was alright with him.
His insurance was paid to May Lett, by the Fidelity Mutual Aid Association of San Francisco, California, handled by James C. Lane, manager of the company in Joplin, Missouri."
DEAD MINER BURIED HERE
Remains of Victim of Joplin Mine Accident Brought to This City and Interred in Mt. Olive Cemetery.
The remains of Graves Lett, the Joplin miner who died from the effects of being entombed alive for over twenty-four hours in the King Jack mine, by a cave-in at the mine on Tuesday, were brought to this city this morning and interred in Mount Olive cemetery.
The body was accompanied to this city by a delegation of Red Men from the Joplin lodge, of which the deceased was a member. Upon the arrival of the train at the local station a delegation from the local lodge of Red Men, united with those who had come in from Joplin and together they accompanied the remains to their last resting place
The deceased was a brother-in-law of James Gibson, the liveryman, and a son-in-law of Mrs. Sarah Schoppa, of North Catalpa avenue.
The Pittsburg Daily Headlight, Pittsburg, Kansas
22 February 1906, Thursday, Page 5
Mary Gibson Huston Ficken Packard Rudolph Lett Ewing Bowman
1862–1924 (m. 1902)
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