Famous and Unusual Gravesites in New Mexico History
“…we exist as long as somebody remembers us.”
--Carlos Ruiz Zafón1
Large numbers of the living are fascinated by the resting places of the dead. Rather than think of cemeteries as dark, foreboding places, many visitors seek their serene surroundings for moments of quiet solitude and reflection. Health enthusiasts enjoy their peaceful walking paths. Historians search for evidence about everything from obscure local events to global crises. Genealogists look for important pieces in their families’ historical puzzles. Artists admire the art and architecture and sometimes capture the beauty of cemeteries on canvas or on film. Authors use cemeteries for the settings of poignant fictional moments. Tourists include cemeteries on their itineraries to add a bit of mystery to their travel plans. Most visitors simply wander up and down rows of headstones, reading epitaphs and imagining the countless stories buried with those now gone. Epitaphs are usually heart-felt and sincere, but one has been of particular interest to me over the years. Time and again, I have seen the words “gone but not forgotten” engraved on headstones, causing me to wonder if that noble vow was truly kept and, if so, by whom and for just how long. If not forgotten, what is remembered about a person and the life he or she lived? Are memories about a life more truth, fiction, a mixture of the two, or, most likely, whatever each generation, with its unique historical perspective, chooses to remember or believe about the dead?
I am most likely to ponder these questions when I discover the headstones of famous New Mexicans. Despite the impressive size of their funerals or the number of friends, relatives, and admirers who may have mourned their passing, even the most celebrated of our predecessors seem destined to oblivion within two or three generations of their deaths. Sadly, most famous lives are like comets that draw awe and admiration as they speed across the sky, only to disappear quickly in the vast expanse of history. Few are remembered even when streets, parks, buildings, or whole towns are named in their honor. Clear proof of the public’s collective amnesia is the fact that few today can recall where our most prominent New Mexicans are buried, no less when they died or what caused their demise.
To help us to better remember our most noteworthy citizens, I set out to discover the present locations of their human remains and, when feasible, to photograph their elaborate or, more often, humble, unassuming gravestones. My quest began over a decade ago. After visiting more than 150 cemeteries (see Appendixes A and B) and covering thousands of miles of roads in my faithful Corolla (now convinced it must be an SUV), it is time to share my research in book form. Despite minor inconveniences (such as extreme temperatures and strong winds) and some harrowing moments (I have developed an aversion to narrow mountain roads), the journey has been intriguing, interesting, and often emotionally moving. At the conclusion of my journey, I can assert that I have probably stood closer to a greater number of famous New Mexicans than any single person in New Mexico history. I have uttered a silent prayer of acknowledgement—if not always appreciation—at gravesites across the state and, at times, across the nation.
My graveyard meanderings grew in intrigue when I came across not only famous, but also unusual gravesites. Reflecting New Mexico’s celebrated diversity, many gravesites were unusual based on the cultural traditions of various ethnic, racial, and religious groups.4 Reflecting New Mexico’s widespread poverty, other gravesites were unusual based on their inexpensive, often innovative materials, ranging from old bed frames to porcelain bathtubs. And, reflecting the wit and humor of New Mexicans in good times and in bad, many gravestones were unique based on their often-comical epitaphs, icons, or designs. In an effort to balance the more somber tone of chapters 2 to 13, devoted to famous gravesites, I offer photos of more unusual, culturally diverse gravesites in chapter 14.
Combined, these chapters form a composite image of New Mexico, filled with heroes, villains, tradition, humor, poverty, and wealth. Cemeteries in towns like Tombstone, Arizona, are little more than crass commercial enterprises, while cemeteries in other states appear like well-manicured parks compared to the variety and seeming disarray of many cemeteries in New Mexico. Of course these are the very qualities that give New Mexico a unique sense of place, making it an ideal land in which to live--and eventually rest--through the ages.
Who are included among the famous?
Determining who should be included among the famous in New Mexico history was a daunting task. After much thought, I decided to employ the broadest criteria. One therefore qualified for inclusion as among the most prominent if (1) he or she was born or died in New Mexico and became famous here or elsewhere or (2) he or she was born or died elsewhere, but participated in at least one major event in New Mexico’s past.
As might be expected in a state of great diversity, the deceased whose gravesites appear in this volume include people of all ethnicities, races, religions, genders, ages, occupations, interests, and regions of New Mexico. (There are even a few noble animals that deserve recognition, if not equal status to humans.)
Whole groups, as well as deserving individuals, are represented, including the famous Buffalo Soldiers, the brave recipients of the Medal of Honor, the efficient Harvey Girls, the victims of Pancho Villa’s 1916 raid on Columbus, the intrepid Navajo Code Talkers, and the long-suffering soldiers of the Bataan Death March.6 Although space does not allow the inclusion of all deceased members of these worthy groups, small samples have been gleaned to represent the many who served so admirably and well, often in the face of great adversity.
The book as a whole is divided into eleven broad categories of noteworthiness: artists, performers, and directors; authors and composers; cultural preservationists; business leaders; educational leaders; sung and unsung heroes; lawmen, criminals, and victims of crime; political, diplomatic, and judicial leaders; religious leaders; scientists and medical personnel; and wartime leaders and victims (to the end of the Indian wars in New Mexico in 1886 and since the Spanish-American War in 1898). Of course many persons cannot be pigeonholed into just one category. Multi-talented individuals like Carl Gorman and Fray Angélico Chávez are therefore listed in one category and cross-listed in one or more others.
In what eras did they live?
Photographing famous headstones requires the existence of identifiable gravesites. This statement sounds obvious enough until one realizes that several cultural groups preferred not to identify the location of their dead with physical markers during much, if not all, of their histories. This was especially true of many Native American tribes and most early Spanish settlers in New Mexico.
As Martina Will de Chaparro has explained in her exceptional study of death and burial practices in colonial New Mexico, most early Catholics preferred to be buried beneath church floors. There was, in fact, a “hierarchy of sacred space” with places nearer the altar considered more holy, and hence more expensive to occupy, while spaces nearer the door were considered spiritually less desirable, and hence less expensive to claim. Without church diagrams to remind later generations where earlier parishioners had been buried, graves were regularly disturbed when later burials took place. The remains of as many as thirteen colonists “mixed without distinction” were discovered in a single grave in the Santuario de Guadalupe in Santa Fe. A U.S. Army expedition of 1853 discovered “a great many human bones, which now lie scattered about,” on the church floor at Gran Quivira, the mischief of treasure hunters who had pursued an old tale that Spanish gold or silver was buried somewhere in the mission. Nearly a century later, Civilian Conservation Corps workers unearthed forty-one human remains (including an adult with a child wrapped in its arms) while assisting archaeologists in the old Spanish mission church at Quarai. An early twentieth century photo of archeologist Alfred V. Kidder at the Pecos Pueblo mission church shows Kidder beside a gruesome collection of human bones excavated from beneath the mission’s floor. Not even the graves of the most powerful colonial leaders buried in New Mexico can be readily identified. In the best example of this kind, E. Boyd asserted that Don Diego de Vargas, the reconqueror of New Mexico following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, was probably buried beneath the floor of a chapel located on the southeast corner of the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe when he died in April 1704. But with remodeling and the loss or destruction of the first book of burial records in Santa Fe, we cannot be sure where Vargas’s body lies today. In Boyd’s opinion, it is quite possible that Vargas’s remains may now lie beneath the pavement at the busy northwest corner of Santa Fe’s Washington and Palace Avenues, where the old palace chapel once stood. Others, led by John Kessell, believe that Vargas’s body was probably moved from the old chapel to a respected place near the altar when the parish church was built a short distance from the palace between 1714 and 1717.
A sign on the corner of Washington and Palace Avenues identifies the possible site of Don Diego de Vargas’s grave in Santa Fe’s first chapel. Unless otherwise stated, all photos in this book were taken by the author and are part of his private collection.
Efforts to identify specific gravesites hardly improved with time in the colonial era. Boyd believed that with the exception of two Franciscan graves “there is not one identified grave of any person of the eighteenth century in New Mexico.”13 A third exception has been discovered at the St. Augustine Catholic Church in Isleta where Fray Juan José Padilla died and was buried near the sanctuary’s main altar in February 1756.
Indoor burials were banned by royal decree in 1787, but the practice persisted for spiritual reasons and for fear of the desecration of outdoor graves by wild animals. Ideas and values changed slowly. Eventually, new attitudes regarding death and modern concerns for health and sanitation led a majority of Hispanics to request outside burials. By the mid nineteenth century Hispanics regularly used carved wooden and, increasingly, stone markers to demarcate and decorate their exterior graves, thus leaving far more reliable evidence of their gravesite locations. The use of more durable markers to identify the location of the deceased was a religious and cultural practice reinforced by New Mexico’s ever increasing Anglo population in the nineteenth century. Anglos brought new woodworking tools, paint, iron, and, eventually, granite stone--essential items for the construction of more lasting grave markers. Once built into New Mexico after 1879, the railroad delivered large quantities of these industrial goods, making grave markers increasingly accessible and, for some, increasingly affordable. By 1905 the demand for accessible, affordable gravestones was so great in New Mexico and across the United States that Sears, Roebuck produced a special tombstone catalog, with marble tombstone markers ranging in price from as low as $4.88 to as high as $173.30. Inscribed letters cost an extra six cents each. The historical period covered in this book thus emphasizes the years since the mid-nineteenth century when more lasting, identifiable headstones were erected in the exterior graveyards of New Mexico. Largely intact, despite the ravages of time, the elements, and shameful acts of vandalism, these headstones are the earliest of the 345 famous markers photographed, included here, and hopefully preserved to help future generations remember the central figures of our long past.
Each of the famous New Mexicans included in this volume is memorialized with the help of eight vital statistics: the deceased person’s name(s), source(s) of notoriety, birth date, place of birth, date of death (and age), place of death, cause of death, and current resting place. Similar notations are offered for New Mexican leaders not photographed for various reasons, from lack of space to missing remains.
Every effort has been made to accurately provide each famous New Mexican’s complete name, including first name, middle name(s), nickname(s), surname(s), original names (if later changed), maiden name (if married), pen name(s) (if authors), stage name(s) (if actors), and sundry aliases (if outlaws). As notorious badmen, Billy the Kid and “Bronco Bill” Walters vie for the record number of aliases and the dubious distinction of the best outlaw monikers!17
Each famous New Mexican’s notoriety is described briefly, focusing on his or her most noteworthy deed(s). These summaries are offered at the risk of neglecting other achievements that would undoubtedly be included if this work were a complete dictionary or encyclopedia of prominent New Mexicans--a much-needed endeavor far beyond the more modest scope of this work.
• Birth Dates and Places
The author has striven for accuracy in listing birth dates, although some birth months, days, and even years were either undocumented or reported differently at different times by different historians, later descendants, or even the subjects themselves. Confusion was especially possible if a person was born on the frontier where opportunities for record keeping, beyond the inside cover of a family Bible, were often rare and sometimes impossible, given a general lack of literacy and, frequently, scarce writing materials.
At least some observers were candidly honest about this lack of vital information. In the case of Billy Gunter of Estancia, a question mark was prudently placed in lieu of his birth year because no one could recall this information after Billy had passed on, if Billy had ever known it himself.
• Death Dates (Ages) and Places
Accuracy in reporting death dates and places is more likely than accuracy in reporting birth dates and places, if only because our most noteworthy historical figures were usually so well-known by the time of their respective deaths that their passing (down to the hour and minute of the day) was often noted in the press and in other public records by the early twentieth century. Difficulties still arose, especially because New Mexico has the dubious distinction of being one of the last two states in the nation to create a Department of Public Health. New Mexico and Georgia only created their departments of public health and began keeping death registration records in 1919, in the wake of the Spanish flu epidemic of the previous year. Even today, death records are closed to the general public for fifty years, meaning that the most recent accessible records are already fifty years old. Mistakes in newspaper reporting, on death certificates, and on gravestones themselves are woefully common. According to one estimate, death certificates are erroneous in one way or another twenty-nine percent of the time nationwide, with the death certificates of minorities most likely to suffer such unfortunate mistakes.19 Errors were discovered on the headstone of at least twenty-two famous New Mexicans, from Sadie Orchard, a nineteenth century madam, to William McDonald, our first state governor.
• Cause of Death
Cause of death is noted, especially if it was well known, as with notorious murders, or if it was tragic, as with most accidents. Of course determining the cause of many deaths was problematic in earlier periods of history when medical and forensic science was less advanced and when determining cause of death was often uncertain or simply wrong, based on what we now know in retrospect. At other times, cause of death was intentionally omitted or even changed, given circumstances that were socially or culturally taboo in the past. For these and other reasons, “unstated natural causes” is often the best conclusion we can draw from admittedly incomplete contemporary sources.
Although New Mexico has experienced more than its share of violence and is known for such violent characters as Billy the Kid and Clay Allison, the vast majority of famous New Mexicans succumbed to natural, rather than violent, causes of death. This was even true of famous lawmen. While a predictably high fifty-five percent of the criminals included in Chapter 8 (Lawmen, Criminal, and Victims of Crime) died in acts of violence, sixty-five percent of the lawmen listed in the same chapter died peaceably “with their boots on” of such common maladies as cirrhosis of the liver (as with Elfego Baca, aged eighty) and “heart ailment” (as with Prohibition agent Howard S. Beacham, also in his eightieth year).
• Resting Place
Current, rather than “final” resting places are noted, if only because many of our most famous New Mexicans have been laid to rest in various places over time. In fact, according to an author who has followed the “posthumous adventures” of famous individuals from around the world, “research shows that the more notable a person was during life, the less likely it is that he or she will be allowed to rest in peace” in death. In New Mexico history the long list of transient remains includes Zebulin Pike, Charles Bent, Kit Carson, Pat Garrett, Adolph Bandelier, and D.H. Lawrence. Reinterments were the result of such different circumstances as the abandonment of old cemeteries (as with most military forts in New Mexico by the 1890s), efforts to unite deceased family members (as with Pat Garrett), and attempts to bring the deceased home to New Mexico after they were initially buried elsewhere (as with Kit Carson, Adolph Bandelier, and D.H. Lawrence).
Billy the Kid’s gravestone--by far the most famous and most frequently visited in New Mexico--provides an example of yet another problem in photographing headstones: they are sometimes stolen! In Billy the Kid’s case, his gravestone was stolen not once but twice (including for a twenty-five year period), leading to the placing of iron bars not only around but also over his present marker. With entry into Billy’s current “prison cell” only possible by unlocking a large, heavy-duty padlock, the often elusive outlaw is far better guarded in death than he ever was in life.
Causing more confusion, older, decaying gravestones have sometimes been replaced with newer, more durable stones by descendants or later admirers. While well intended, this practice has led to the loss of some valuable historical artifacts, the loss of accurate historical information, or, sometimes, the perpetuation of original mistakes. Billy the Kid’s mother provides the best example of the latter problem. When Catherine Antrim died from tuberculosis in 1874 her gravesite in Silver City was marked by a wooden cross. Moved to a new cemetery northeast of town in 1882, her gravesite was marked with a headboard that claimed that Mrs. Kathrine Antrim had died on September 8 (rather than September 16), 1874, at the age of forty-five. Weather-beaten and decayed by 1947, the old headboard was replaced by a granite headstone donated by a Silver City funeral home. Fortunately, the wooden slab was saved and placed on display at the state historical museum in Lincoln. Unfortunately, while the generous makers of Mrs. Antrim’s new granite stone corrected her date of death (if only by not mentioning a specific month or day), they never corrected the misspelling of her given name.
Resting places are increasingly difficult to trace with the growing popularity of cremations. Some cremains have been buried in cemeteries with traditional ceremonies and headstones. But others have been scattered in less traditional locations, usually over places with special meaning in the deceased person’s life, including mountains (as with Ansel Adams), ranches (as with Georgia O’Keeffe), cultural ruins (as with Adolph Bandelier), or the sea (as with J. Robert Oppenheimer). Other ashes have been kept in urns or wall niches located in the homes of close friends or relatives or in (hopefully) secure public places (as with Edgar Lee Hewett, Raymond Jonson, Charles Lummis, and John Gaw Meem). (See Appendix C.)
Photographing resting places is also difficult when some remains have never been discovered, no less interred, as a result of tragedy or foul play. The most famous example of this kind involved the sad case of Albert J. and Henry Fountain, whose bodies were never recovered after this father and son pair mysteriously disappeared en route to their home in Mesilla in April 1896. In some cases, like the Fountains’, the missing persons are remembered with a cenotaph, or commemorative headstone. More than fifty cenotaphs have been erected in a designated section of the Santa Fe National Cemetery to honor servicemen whose bodies have never been recovered. Unfortunately, as in the case of Captain Maximiliano Luna (who drowned in November 1900 while attempting to cross a flooded river in the Philippines) not even a stone exists to honor many of those whose earthly remains have never been found, no less properly buried.
PHOTO 3 National Cemetery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
At least two famous New Mexicans were buried in gravesites that are known, but have gone unmarked. John Braden, one of the bravest, most selfless heroes in all of New Mexico history, lies buried in an unmarked grave in the old section of Albuquerque’s Fairview Cemetery. Doc Noss, famous for his rumored gold mine at Victorio Peak, lies in an unmarked grave at the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces.
Locating other gravesites has been difficult because a surprisingly large number of gravesites and whole cemeteries have been lost, moved, or forgotten. As a ranch girl who grew to maturity on the violent frontier, Agnes Morley Cleaveland remembered accompanying a young friend to an isolated place where two men had been attacked by raiding Indians and had been buried where they’d died near the Datil Divide. “[T]here was little to see--just two grave-shaped mounds of loose rock with rough wooden crosses at their heads.” After imagining the violence that had occurred at the scene, Agnes and her friend mournfully “mounted our ponies and rode away in silence.”24 Already obscure in the 1880s, the location of these gravesites has been lost forever in the passing years.
The same fate awaited a small cemetery discovered near Alma, New Mexico, by archaeologist Richard Eiseler, as reported in the Silver City Enterprise. Eiseler found five gravestones enclosed within a dilapidated fence in 1933. According to their headstones, Charles Moore was “murdered at Lovejoy” in 1880, Edward W. Lyon, an Englishman, was “killed by Apaches” in 1885, and L. Flanagan was “murdered at Mogollon” in 1899. Other New Mexicans have opted to be buried on their private land in remote sections of the state. James E. Cree was buried in one such isolated site. A Scottish nobleman who created the large Pitchfork VV Ranch in the late nineteenth century, Cree’s “lonely fenced grave” was located on a hillside on his former ranch between Capitan and Ruidoso. According to a 1939 article in the Lincoln County News, Cree’s grave was “the only reminder of the power that the Pitchfork VV cattle brand once carried in historic Lincoln County.” Far to the north, crosses marking the graves of several local ranchers can still be seen on the Ciero de los Difuntos (Mesa of the Dead) towering high above the surrounding plains.
Robert Julyan, the well-traveled author of The Place Names of New Mexico, tells of finding similarly isolated, often mysterious gravesites on now-abandoned homesteads, distant ranches, and long-deserted rural communities. Julyan knew of one such gravesite on “a featureless plain in the uninhabited badlands northeast of Socorro” only because he had seen the word “Grave” on an old U.S. Geological Survey fifteen-minute topographic map. Julyan recalls:
[I had to] derive latitude-longitude coordinates from the map and then use a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to take me there…. [When] my GPS unit said, “You’re here, at the grave,” I replied, “You must be wrong. There’s nothing here.” But as…I began looking closer, I noticed a dry stick pointing upward at an unnatural angle, and then the barest suggestion of an enclosure…. Someone had been buried here.
Julyan pondered how someone had come to be buried “on an anonymous treeless flat in uninhabited wilderness.” He concluded, “there’s an extra poignancy to a grave not only unmarked but also isolated from all others.” Julyan was, undoubtedly, the last person to ever visit that solitary grave before “time and weather will have toppled the dry stick and erased all trace of the faint enclosure.”28 Whoever was buried at this desolate spot may or may not have requested such a site for his final resting place. Most would not. According to an old cowboy ballad entitled, “Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie”:
It matters not, I’ve been told
Where the body lays when the heart is cold.
But grant, oh grant this wish for me
An’ bury me not on the lone prairie.
Countless travelers died on trails to and through New Mexico. Most were buried in unmarked graves (for fear their remains might be disturbed) like dead sailors cast into the sea and lost beneath the waves with nothing more to mark the sad end of their earthly journeys. A young man and nineteen-year-old Sister Alphonsa Thompson thus died of cholera on their trip west on the Santa Fe Trail in 1867. Sister Blandina Segale reported that all efforts to find their common resting place proved fruitless within months of their deaths. José Gurulé’s caravan experienced even greater losses from cholera on a return trip from Kansas City that same year. José later recalled that he and his fellow laborers “left one of their number behind under a mound of dirt” at almost every stop they made. These travelers’ remains were lost forever, as were the remains of Antonio José Chávez, a Santa Fe Trail merchant who was abducted, robbed and murdered by outlaws who “unceremoniously [tossed his body] into a deep gully…where it was left exposed to the elements and predators” in 1843. A tall stone marker was erected along the trail near the scene of the most famous crime committed on the Santa Fe Trail, but even this physical reminder of Chávez’s demise had vanished by the turn of the century.
Travelers also met their deaths during Indian attacks, especially in southern New Mexico. Cooke’s Canyon on the Butterfield Trail was so feared for its Apache ambushes that it was known as the “four miles of death.” Evidence of as many as hundred and fifty graves can be found along this treacherous stretch, making it the most dangerous part of the Butterfield Trail’s 2,975 miles. The city of Las Cruces is said to have been named for the multiple crosses that marked the graves of travelers killed by Apaches near the south end of the Jornada del Muerto, or infamous Journey of the Dead Man, on the Camino Real. The Jornada del Muerto, and specifically its campsite known as Aleman, refers to a seventeenth century German who died on this perilous route, perhaps from Indian attack.
Navajo captives perished by the hundreds during the U.S. Army’s campaign of submission and on the treacherous Long Walk trail of 1863-64. As many as twenty-five percent of the Navajo men, women, and children who began the forced march succumbed to starvation, disease, or rifle fire if they were unable to keep up the grueling pace in harsh winter weather conditions. No gravestones were placed to mark their remains along the long route to Bosque Redondo in the Pecos River Valley.35 Years later, a monument to them and to those who survived the march but died in captivity at Bosque Redondo was dedicated at the Fort Sumner State Monument on June 4, 2005.36 While a good number attended the dedication, “many Navajos will not venture to Bosque Redondo, considering it a slaughterhouse and a graveyard filled with too much pain.”
U.S. soldiers also dreaded death and burial in remote parts of New Mexico, especially if they were killed in combat and their comrades were too rushed in retreat to lay protective stones atop quickly-dug graves. Pointing out one such neglected gravesite during the U.S.-Mexican War, a disheartened soldier told a colleague, “I’m sure the wolves has [sic] eaten that volunteer’s body!” The gravesites of Buffalo Soldiers killed at the Battle of Las Animas Canyon on September 18, 1879, were not identified for over a hundred years. Their graves were so remote that it required “a good, heavy-duty, four-wheel drive vehicle with fourteen-inch or more clearance, and an experienced driver” to reach the field cemetery when it was finally dedicated with full military honors on June 14, 1997.
Many soldiers were buried in graves inscribed “unknown” because military records were poor, lost, or destroyed. The late nineteenth century removal of hundreds of bodies from post cemeteries and battlefield graves to the newly created National Cemetery in Santa Fe caused many identities to be tragically lost. In fact, the first bodies buried at the National Cemetery belonged to unidentified Union soldiers from the Battle of Glorieta who had first been buried near the battlefield in 1862 and reinterred in 1867 before finding a final resting place in Santa Fe. At least 495 tombstones in the National Cemetery are currently marked “unknown,” covering row after row in the eastern portion of the property. As many as fourteen unknown soldiers were buried in the same gravesite; forty-six men were buried in a single row of ten adjacent gravesites. The situation in Santa Fe was hardly unique. When Fort Union’s post cemetery was closed in 1891, 286 bodies were moved to the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery by May 1892. Of these 286, 146, or fifty-one percent of the total, were listed as unknown. The only marker that remains at Fort Union’s closed cemetery (now on private ranch land) reportedly belonged to a laundress, although her name, like the names of so many soldiers, is long forgotten.
As hard as it is to imagine, whole cemeteries have suffered similar fates. Some graveyards, like the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church cemetery, located by the Alameda plaza from 1710 to 1903, fell victim to a series of devastating floods over the years. The northwest Albuquerque graveyard was only found when heavy equipment crews unearthed the camposanto during road and utility projects. Legally required archeological excavations followed, although most of the damage done was irreversible.
Cemeteries in Santa Fe, Socorro, Bernalillo, Las Cruces, and Belen have been moved to make way for such modern conveniences as parking lots, wider roads, office buildings, private homes, and at least one mobile home park.44 Despite Manuel Armijo and José Leandro Perea’s considerable power and wealth in life, their remains in Socorro and Bernalillo (respectively) now lie buried without markers beneath enormous asphalt slabs in church parking lots. When former New Mexico state historian Myra Ellen Jenkins first visited Santa Fe, she found the old San Miguel Church cemetery and “spent three or four hours poling through and reading the inscriptions [on headstones].” Jenkins later moved to Santa Fe, but could not find the ancient cemetery she had once explored “until finally it was apparent what [had] happened: it was gone, torn down for the PERA [Public Employment Retirement Association] Building.” A part of the cemetery had even been bulldozed for a playing field. Some old gravestones from San Miguel were used to construct a walkway at a Santa Fe home.
Mass graves, dug during natural calamities (like the Spanish flu epidemic) or violent conflicts (like Indian attacks or the Civil War), were often left unmarked and consequently lost for years or, regretfully, forever. No trace remains of the mass grave used to bury twenty-one Tomé residents killed on a single day, presumably during an Indian attack, in 1777.46 Twenty-six Confederate soldiers who died in a makeshift hospital in Socorro after the February 21, 1862, Battle of Valverde were buried in a cemetery whose location on the west side of town has long since been forgotten.47 The mass grave of thirty-one Confederate soldiers killed at the March 28, 1862, Battle of Glorieta Pass was not discovered until 1987 when a local resident uncovered it on his property while digging a foundation with a backhoe.
Some cemeteries were sold to private individuals with the understanding that all efforts would be made to remove buried bodies before the land was utilized for new purposes. In 1892, for example, Jesuit priests at San Felipe Neri Church in Albuquerque sold an old cemetery to a farmer named John Mann with the agreement “that he would transport any bones he found to a common grave in the new cemetery” located elsewhere in town. Father Thomas J. Steele, S.J., writes that all went well until Mann began to level the land “and bones began to appear--hundreds of bones, wagonloads of bones, two tons of bones in all.” Parishioners with ancestors buried in the field protested, but “faced with a fait accompli and [with] several Jesuits tightly wrapped in their own righteousness, there was little more the people could do.”
Finally, the identification of specific gravesites in potter’s fields can be especially difficult. With few--if any--known friends or relatives to purchase durable stones, gravesite locations in potter’s fields have often been forgotten or confused with others over time. Often anonymous in life, the poor were thus doomed to anonymity in death as well. Such was the apparent fate of George Jones, one of Sierra County’s oldest prospectors when he died of natural causes in Hillsboro on December 31, 1926. According to his obituary that appeared in the Sierra County Advocate two weeks later, Jones “had no known relatives…and, like many others of his class, lived…in the expectation of ‘striking it rich,’ a dream that was never realized and he died a pauper.” Dead outlaws were often treated as paupers, for social as well as economic reasons. When killed by vigilantes, criminals there were usually disposed of in shallow, unmarked graves, as happened to two “bad actors” who dared to disrupt the peace on a Sunday morning in White Oaks in 1880.
Men, women, and children buried in institutional cemeteries often suffered the same fate as those unfortunate enough to have left this world as paupers. These institutional residents succumbed and were buried at the insane asylum in Las Vegas, the old State Tuberculosis Sanatorium north of Socorro, the old Indian School in Northwest Albuquerque, the old State Hospital and Training School in Los Lunas, and the original territorial (and later state) prison in Santa Fe.
Access to certain gravesites is not always possible, especially if sites are located in cemeteries normally closed to the general public, including those on private land, military bases, testing grounds, Indian reservations, and plots adjacent to moradas, or Penitente chapels. It is essential to respect these restrictions. Indeed, it is essential to respect all cemetery rules and etiquette based on local customs, religious beliefs, and security interests.
At the risk of undoubtedly preaching to the choir, I offer several essential thoughts to remember when visiting cemeteries in New Mexico--or anywhere in the world.
• Do not trespass or take photographs on private, military, restricted government, or Indian reservation land without permission, preferably in writing.
Access to cemeteries on Indian reservations is especially restricted for spiritual and cultural reasons. Restrictions have also been necessary because intrusive individuals, archeologists, and museum collectors have long pilfered Indian remains and sacred objects in the exalted name of history and science. Others have invaded Indian cemeteries motivated by sordid profits alone. In one such raid, Clotilde Grossetete, a late nineteenth century homesteader living near Apache Creek in western New Mexico, dug up “ancient Indian burial sites in search of fine specimens of prehistoric pottery that the early inhabitants usually interred with their dead.” Collecting over two thousand pots and, in the process, disturbing countless gravesites, Grossetete had her finds packed in barrels and hauled to Socorro for shipment and eventual sale in San Francisco. In a perfect example of poetic justice, every pot in the ill-gotten shipment had been shattered by the time the barrels were opened at their destination in California.
Legislation to stop the raiding of ancient burial sites was finally passed in New Mexico in
1989. Largely in response to the scandalous bulldozing of Mimbres burial sites in southwestern New Mexico and the publication of Tony Hillerman’s best-selling novel, A Thief of Time, the state legislature passed laws making the disturbance of marked or unmarked burial grounds a felony punishable by a fine of five thousand dollars or eighteen months imprisonment or both.
The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act has helped tribes locate and reclaim at least some of the bodies shamelessly removed from Indian land over the years. On May 22, 1999, the remains of almost two thousand Native Americans were returned from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology on the Harvard University campus, where they had been taken between 1915 and 1929, to the Pecos National Historical Park for reburial. Six hundred Native Americans greeted the truck carrying their ancestors’ remains in the largest single act of Indian repatriation in U.S. history. But there is still much to be done, and the damage in historical trauma can never be completely reversed. By 2000 only ten percent of the estimated 200,000 remains still kept in public collections were accurately accounted for in this ongoing national tragedy.
In the spirit of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and with deep respect for native privacy, no photos of Indian gravesites on restricted reservation land have been included on the following pages. Famous Native Americans are listed and described, but only gravestones found in public, non-reservation cemeteries are documented with photographs here.
Find, read, and obey each cemetery’s rules. They are usually posted near the property’s entrance or are available in the cemetery office.
Drive slowly, turning off car radios and stereos.
Do not walk on gravesites. This is not only a gesture of respect for the dead, but also a cautionary practice for the living. Old sites have been known to cave in, causing falls and possible bodily harm, not to mention great shock to an unsuspecting visitor’s fragile nervous system!
Do not remove anything, be it flowers, gravestones, pieces of gravestones, soil, or sundry “souvenirs,” from cemetery grounds. We should think of visiting cemeteries much as we think of visiting traditional museums filled with valuable artifacts displayed for us to see and admire, but not to use, disturb, or confiscate.
Do not take pets to cemeteries and, conversely, leave the wildlife at cemeteries alone. Amazingly, a cemetery in eastern New Mexico found it necessary to post a sign at its entrance to warn visitors against hunting on the premises!
Do not leave trash or vandalize cemeteries. Despite the efforts of conscientious groups and individuals, like Father Clarence Galli in Corrales, who have spent countless hours cleaning and restoring local cemeteries, problems still exist.57 Jazz great Lemon Jefferson went so far as to have the title of his popular song engraved on his Wortham, Texas, gravestone: “See that my grave is kept clean.” 58 One cemetery in Albuquerque’s south valley has even installed twenty-four hour surveillance cameras to help prevent vandalism. In Los Lunas, the old San Clemente church cemetery was so damaged by vandalism and the rattling of nearby trains that the parish priest had the broken pieces of old headstones cleared with a bulldozer and buried in a trench in 1978. Only a grotto with a bronze plaque listing the names of the 103 men, women, and children who were buried in the camposanto remains.
Such extreme measures should not be necessary. But vandalism persists, especially on Halloween nights. As Taos County sheriff Anselmo Valerio reported after Halloween in 1968, “unknown malicious spirits” had overturned gravestones and had thrown many markers into the road adjoining a northern New Mexico cemetery.60 Park Supervisor Julian Jaramillo had “some descriptive words” to say about similar vandalism at the Kit Carson Cemetery in Taos that same year.
Do not intrude by walking, talking, using cell phones, or taking photographs during funerals or while people are visiting their deceased loved ones’ graves.
Grave rubbings should be done carefully and only after receiving at least rudimentary training. Good sources on this skill include Your Guide to Cemetery Research, by Sharon Debartolo Carmack, and various web-sites, especially those made available by the Association of Gravestone Studies.
If common decency does not motivate graveyard visitors to follow these few rules, warning signs at the entrance of several community cemeteries threaten rather severe penalties for the disrespectful. At Chilili visitors are greeted with a sign that warns that “vandals will face court action.” Suggesting even more dire consequences, a sign posted outside the Tomé Catholic cemetery states:
Anecdotes Regarding Final Days or Funerals
Anecdotes regarding the final days or funerals of prominent figures in New Mexico history are often compelling, moving, and instructive. These brief, but poignant anecdotes can teach us many lessons about death as the last stage of life. Each story reminds us that regardless of one’s fame, fortune, or status in life, we each face the final phase of our lives alone, usually in our most fragile, vulnerable condition. Even when troubled by great pain and discomfort, most famous New Mexicans met this last stage with dignity and courage, much as they had lived most of their natural lives. As a collector of hundreds of last words from around the world has put it, these deathbed utterances can “open a window through which we feel we can catch a glimpse…of the entire life that preceded it.”
Other anecdotes point out certain ironies, especially in what is remembered about the deceased, as compared to how they actually lived much of their earthly lives. Laudatory newspaper obituaries for individuals like John Kinney and “Lottie Deno” Thurmond reflect the remarkable success of those with somewhat sordid pasts to reform or otherwise reinvent their lives in old age and onto death.
Finally, there are anecdotes about confusion regarding funeral arrangements and burials even when the deceased left exacting instructions as to his or her wishes. We are reminded of Kit Carson’s final wish to be buried in Taos—only to be first buried in Colorado!
New Mexico’s cemeteries are much like remote desert islands where historical treasures await those who are patient enough to discover, appreciate, preserve, and hopefully respect what others have long forgotten or overlooked. With few monuments to honor famous New Mexicans, gravestones are often the only public reminders left to assure that the lives of noteworthy New Mexicans are not doomed to obscurity on the larger map of human history.