Concordia - A Desert Graveyard

El Paso, Texas - Page 2

 

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Historic Individuals Interred at Concordia (cont'd)

Florida J. Wolfe, or “Lady Flo” (1867 to 1913), one of relatively few black women in the El Paso/Juarez community, became the mistress of a wealthy Irish lord, Lord Delaval James Beresford, who had vast landholdings in the Southwest, Mexico and Canada. Although little is known about her origins, said the Concordia website, Lady Flo, fluent in Spanish, rose to become a well-known socialite, apparently on both sides of the border. A member of El Paso’s Second Baptist Church, she contributed to the poor and to El Paso’s fire and police departments before dying of tuberculosis in May of 1913.

At least two figures who rose to prominence during the rapidly shifting alliances and violent power struggles of the Mexican Revolution once lay at rest in Concordia. One of the two, Victoriano Huerto (1854 to 1916), a general who climbed the political power ladder, led battles for and against Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. In the political turmoil that followed the dictator’s resignation, Huerto served as Mexico’s president, from 1913 to 1914.

The other prominent figure, Pasqual Orozco, Jr. (1882 to 1915), was a charismatic general who led revolutionary forces and captured various cities, including Juarez, in northern Mexico. (After one victory, Orozco gathered up his dead enemies’ uniforms and sent them to the dictator Diaz with a note: “Here are the wrappers; send more tamales.”) Needing each other, Huerto and Orozco formed an alliance in 1913. In the wake of combat and political setbacks, the two fled Mexico and wound up in western Texas. The heavy-drinking Huerto died in El Paso of cirrhosis of the liver and other ailments in 1916. Orozco died the previous year near Van Horn in a shootout with Texas Rangers. Buried in Concordia, they lay in the same vault, side by side, until Huerto’s body was moved to another cemetery in El Paso. Orozco’s body was moved to a cemetery somewhere in Chihuahua.

Jake Erlich – circus performer, movie actor, poet and painter – at 8 feet and 6 inches tall was said to be the tallest man in the world. Reportedly, he drove his car while seated in the back seat. He died in 1952 at the age of 46, said Maribel Villalva in an article for the El Paso Times. Erlich was buried in Concordia, according to the Underwoods, in a specially made casket more than 12 feet in length.

Ernest "Diamond Dick" St. Leon's grave marker.

Ernest “Diamond Dick” St. Leon, a French refugee’s son who was born and raised in San Antonio, ranks as one of El Paso’s more colorful characters. Educated and articulate, he served as a soldier, a Mexican Central Railway guard and a Texas Ranger, earning a reputation as a fearless gunfighter. According to an 1898 report in the Los Angeles Times, Diamond Dick “...had some of the characteristics of the dime-novel hero, and he [was] in the habit of ‘disguising’ himself by getting into the loudest and gaudiest of Mexican costumes, staining his face, and passing as a caballero...” He took his nickname from a large diamond stickpin that he always wore. “He was a deadly shot and had killed many criminals...” said the Underwoods. Diamond Dick died in 1898 from wounds suffered in a gunfight with three cowboys near the community of Socorro, a few miles down the Rio Grande from El Paso.

After his burial in Concordia, which his wife purportedly paid for with money from the sale of his stickpin his grave was lost for nearly a century before it was rediscovered in the late 1990s.

John W. Hardin's grave in the 1980s

John Wesley Hardin (1853 to 1895) certainly tops the list of Concordia’s most famous eternal residents. As Robert G. McCubbin said in his introduction to The Life of John Wesley Hardin As Written by Himself, Hardin “has become somewhat of a legend in Texas. He ranks head and shoulders above other notable desperadoes of that state, which certainly had no scarcity of the breed.” A fugitive from the law by 15, “Hardin became known,” said McCubbin, “throughout the country for his daring and skill with weapons.” He killed dozens of men, but, Hardin said, "I never killed anyone who didn't need killing."

Imprisoned in 1878 in Huntsville, Texas, for murder, Hardin resolved to change his life, taking up the study of law and religion. Released from prison with a full pardon in 1894, he practiced law, attended church and pursued political office. At the request of a relative, he came to El Paso as a lawyer to prosecute a criminal case. He would soon find that the city, as McCubbin said, “was one of the toughest towns in the country – Abilene, Tombstone, and Dodge City rolled into one.” Soon, Hardin yielded to old temptations, patronizing the numerous local bars.

On the night of August 19, 1895, standing at the bar of El Paso’s Acme Saloon, he died at the hands of El Paso Constable John Selman, who walked into the saloon and shot him in the back of the head, literally blowing out his brains. Today Hardin lies in a grave immediately west of the Chinese section of Concordia. Selman, shot to death by another peace officer a year later, lies in a grave not far away. “Cemeteries are really the history book of a town,” Melissa Sargent, Concordia Heritage Association Board Member, told Will Daugherty for an article in El Paso Magazine: The City, “and each of those gravestones is a chapter.”

Hardin's grave today.

Concordia Today

When my wife, Martha, and I moved from Houston to El Paso in 1981, Concordia felt desolate and largely abandoned. Gangs partied and dealt drugs there among the dead in the darkness of night. Vandals desecrated tombstones. Burrowing owls nested in the graves. Today, with the support of the Heritage Association, Concordia has begun a recovery, drawing history enthusiasts to its grounds. It lies on Yandell Street, immediately north of the spaghetti bowl intersection of highways 10 and 54. Except for special events, you can visit Concordia free from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm daily from April through September and from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily from October through March. For additional information on tours and special events, contact the Concordia Heritage Association at 1-915-842-8400 or visit www.concordiacemetery.org.

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