Sidney Saunders was a Confederate war veteran. When the war ended Sid became a successful businessman in the booming town of Monroe. Sid owned a saloon and grocer. However, local talk had it that he made his money from gambling and brothels. Rumors ran rampant when Sidney arrived in town with a woman claiming to be his wife. She was Annie E. Livingston from Morehouse Parish. More rumors flew when it was said that she was of mixed race and that she was actually one of Sidney’s prostitutes. The couple ignored the gossip and soon became Monroe’s most talked about characters.
A son, Willie St. John, was born to them in 1874 before their marriage. Unfortunately, Willie died at the age of 12 in May 1886. Two years after the boy’s death, on August 10, 1888, Sidney’s buildings at Five Points burned to the ground. Fingers pointed at Sidney. Rumor had it that he had burned the buildings to collect insurance money. Sid was put on trial but due to a legal term called plausible deniability, which I’m told means a lack of evidence, he was somehow cleared of all charges. The gossip continued.
On January 22, 1889, Sidney purchased a plot at the Monroe City Cemetery, and exactly one week later, on the 1st of February, Sidney was found with a bullet wound to the back of the head. The death was quietly ruled a suicide. Death didn’t stop the rumors, especially when Mrs. Saunders didn’t bury her husband’s body immediately.… She kept the coffin out behind her house in a shed! The locals would cross the street to keep from walking on the same side of the road as the coffin.
Sid Saunders probably owned more property than anyone else in Monroe at the time of his death, which was probably why his siblings began contesting the widow’s right to inheritance. Mrs. Saunders had to prove that she had been married to Sidney. But when she did prove her marriage, she didn’t stop there. Because Mrs. Saunders had been so despised and degraded among society, she used most of her inherence to erect a majestic granite tomb surmounted by a larger-than-life statue of Sidney. “One large enough,” said a society woman, “That it would almost do for a president.”
Apparently, Mrs. Saunders dearly loved and missed her husband and son for she had her desk and chair placed in the tomb. Rumor had it that she spent her afternoons in the tomb reading, writing, and praying. She even hung curtains over the windows. It’s also apparent that she enjoyed writing poems. She wrote: “I say in heaven; for whereth you are, our boy and you, there is my heaven.”
Inscribed on the base of Sidney’s statue was a message to her fellow citizens: “Trembling and alone I tread life’s dreary strand, beset by envy, strife, and jealousy. But mid it all, God and love of thee, has staid my hand to raise this marble to thy memory.” She also inscribed on the scroll in the statue’s left hand all of words contained on her marriage license.
One day Mrs. Saunders simply disappeared and was not seen again. The widow had moved to Texarkana. After a time Mrs. Saunders made brief visits to the Old City Cemetery. Upon her death, on November 21, 1926, and apparently in compliance with her wishes, the valiant widow was interred in the Saunders’ vault in Monroe. Rumors remained however. The one pressing question people have asked over the years is “Were they married?”
I recently learned of this story from a paper written by Eulalia McCoy, who may have been a student at USL. Thanks to the staff in the Louisiana Room at Dupré Library, McCoy’s article had been safely stashed away for nearly half a century. I needed to verify the story, so after a few key strokes of the computer, I was in touch with Lora Peppers, genealogist extraordinaire with the Ouachita Parish Public Library, who provided me with more than enough information for the above article.
Update: In 2001, researchers have found a copy of Sidney and Annie Saunders marriage register in the records of the city of St. Louis, MO. According to Lora Peppers, the record is word for word what is carved into the monument—stating they were married there March 25, 1875. Ms. Peppers said, “The discovery of the register should have ended the rumors but there is still room for speculation. The register was not filed and recorded until April 24, 1889, fourteen years after their marriage and almost three months after Sidney’s suicide; right in the middle of Mrs. Saunders’ fight with Sid’s siblings. Coincidence?”