The West Texas town of El Paso has a long and colorful history that began when the first Spanish Conquistadors established a colony here on the Rio Grande River. From these early beginnings El Paso would go on from being a Spanish colony, to becoming a Mexican city, and than finally the major American city that it is today. Over the centuries many people were responsible for the development of the city of El Paso into what it is today and the memory of these El Pasoans lives on at the historic Concordia Cemetery located in the center of El Paso:
According to the below marker, the current location of the cemetery became known as Concordia during the 1840s’s when this area was the home of Chihuahua trader Hugh Stephenson. In 1856 his wife, Juana (Ascarate), was buried in what is now part of Concordia Cemetery:
From then on the graveyard gained widespread use in the 1880s when El Pasoans drove three miles to Concordia to bury their dead. It is amazing to think that this cemetery was once on the outskirts when today it has been totally surrounded by dense urban sprawl to include being surrounded on two sides by the highway intersection in the center of El Paso known as the “Spaghetti Bowl”:
Here is a view from the cemetery with the Spaghetti Bowl as a backdrop:
Besides being backdropped by the busy highway turnpike, the cemetery has much nicer natural backdrop on its west and north sides with the Franklin Mountains:
Getting back to the history lesson, by 1890 various sections of Concordia Cemetery had been purchased by different groups and were designated Catholic, Masonic, Jewish, Black, Chinese, Military, Jesuit, city, and county.
These various sections in the cemetery remain to this day with the newest section being where the Buffalo Soldiers of Old West fame were relocated:
According to the plaque at the memorial site, in 1866 one year after the end of the Civil War and more than 18 months after the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was enacted, Congress had the need to reorganize the peace time regular Army. Recognizing the military merits of black soldiers, four black Infantry Regiments and two Segregated Regiments of black Cavalry were authorized. The 9th and 10th US Cavalry were destined to become the most decorated of all US Military Regiments.
It is believed that the nickname Buffalo Soldiers began with Cheyenne warriors in 1867. Out of respect the Cheyenne referred to the hard fighting blacks as Buffalo Soldiers because their hair resembled that of the revered Bison. Here is a close up of one of the graves:
This new memorial section is actually really nice and well done. What I did find odd though was that I have never seen sponsorship advertisements on headstones before, but I guess they had to pay for this memorial some how:
If you are wondering there are plenty of other veterans buried at the cemetery as well:
Another section of the cemetery located to the north of the new Buffalo Soldier Memorial is where the French family is buried:
Captain A.H. French married into the Hugh Stephenson family that originally owned this property and is buried here with his family to include Hugh Stephenson’s wife Juana Ascarate. Located to the south of the Buffalo Soldier Memorial is the are reserved for members of the Masonic Lodge:
This section for the Mason’s was quite large:
They even had a large obelisk to designate their corner of this large cemetery:
Most of the graves had a Masonic symbol on it such as this grave below of Charles Dyer who I wondered was the same person that the infamous Dyer street in El Paso is named after:
However, some of the graves did not have any symbols such as this section of graves for the Biggs family:
The grave for Lieutenant James Biggs is the person that Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso is named after. Lt. Biggs died in combat during World War I and his body was moved from Europe to where it rest today with the rest of his family at Concordia Cemetery. I also saw in the Mason’s section someone that was buried recently and his grave had no Masonic symbols for some reason:
Someone else also buried in this section of the cemetery is Captain James H. White:
He came to El Paso in 1869 after serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. In the 1870’s White served in both the Mexican and American armies before getting a job as a US Marshal in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He would later go on to become both the Sheriff and then a tax collector for the city of El Paso. He was a Mason, Shriner, and a Knight of Templar before passing away in 1907.
At the corner entrance into the Masonic section of the cemetery is this tomb:
Huerta had ceased the Mexican Presidency in a coup in 1913. He was later implicated in the German attempt to form a military alliance with Mexico in order for the Mexicans to attack the United States during World War I. He was later exiled in 1915 and worked his way from Europe and then to the United States as he plotted to return to power. He was arrested just up the road from where I live, in Newman, New Mexico by American authorities for violating the US’s neutrality laws. He was imprisoned at Ft. Bliss in El Paso. He would later die in jail and was buried in Concordia Cemetery.
Hardin was an outlaw that spent 15 years in prison for murder before being pardoned for his crimes in 1893. Hardin claimed to have killed 30 people before being imprisoned at the Huntsville, Texas prison. During his time in prison Hardin studied law and a few months after his release he passed the Texas state bar exam.
The outlaw and excon had now officially become a qualified lawyer. He then moved to El Paso to practice law and while gambling at a local bar Hardin was shot in the back of the head by 56-year-old constable, John Selman, Sr. who shot him after Hardin earlier that day had a verbal dispute with his son. It is an incredibly inglorious way for such a deadly gunfighter to go out.
From Hardin’s grave I next walked over to the Chinese section of the cemetery:
The Chinese community was first established in El Paso when 300 Chinese laborers came to the city to work on the construction of the railroads in the area in the late 1800’s. Some stayed and became permanent fixtures in the community. When they passed away they were buried in their own part of the cemetery:
I have seen plenty of Chinese cemeteries before in various areas around the world, but I have never seen one with grave coverings like these:
Here is a close up of the grave coverings, has anyone seen Chinese grave coverings like these before:
Here is an El Paso ethnic Chinese that passed away a few years ago who was also a military veteran:
Here was a marker located in the middle of the cemetery:
Here is something that I see in every Chinese cemetery, which is a burning tower:
Something strange about the Chinese portion of the cemetery is that they have been given a huge chunk of land to bury their dead, but there is hardly anyone buried here:
In the above picture in the top right you can see where the earlier pictured grave coverings are located. On this opposite end of the cemetery is a few more grave coverings, but most of the tombstones are of the variety pictured above. After checking out the Chinese Cemetery I decided to call it a day because it was 106 degrees out and I had been walking around in the cemetery for an hour and a half. There was still more sections of the cemetery to see such as the Jewish area, but I was spent from the relentless sun beating down on me. So I will just have to make another visit to this cemetery some time.
Anyway on the way out I happened to notice this gravestone of Olaf Cornelius Ellison who came to be buried here in El Paso after being born all the way in Norway:
However, he ended up all the way out here I’m sure is an interesting life story. Also on my way to the exit I also noticed this sign that provided some various facts about the cemetery:
Finally if you are wondering what the hours are for the cemetery here they are posted on the entrance gate:
The easiest way I found to reach the cemetery is by exiting US 54 on to Montana Street. Follow Montana to the west and then take a left on Houston followed by a right on Yandell Drive. Yandell runs parallel to the cemetery, so just follow it until you see the cemetery entrance on the left. The cemetery is actually pretty easy to find even for people visiting from out of town. The cemetery does have security guards for anyone worried about their safety while visiting because it is located in a somewhat run down neighborhood. The biggest thing I warn people of is what I mentioned earlier, the heat because there is little shade and no water available unless visitors bring their own. Another concern are the rattlesnakes that are known to live in the cemetery. It is best to keep an eye out for them when visiting, but likely visitors will not see any.
So for anyone deciding to visit Concordia Cemetery just keep these few tips in mind and their shouldn’t be any issues while visiting this historic cemetery.