Cemeteries of Las Cruces

The following was the first tour in a 2007 series entitled "Visit Our Ancestors" presented by the Branigan Cultural Center in Las Cruces, NM.

Are you acquainted with the ancestors of your area?


May 8, 2007
San José and Saint Joseph Cemeteries
100 South Espina

San José Cemetery is the older of the two cemeteries; Saint Joseph's lies east of it. Although the first recorded date for a burial is in 1859 when St. Genevieve's Church (the first Catholic Church established in Las Cruces) began keeping vital statistics of the parish, burials apparently began in what is now known as San José Cemetery around the 1870s. The oldest marked grave, located on the west side, is dated 1872. However, some early graves were not marked with permanent headstones.

St. Joseph's Cemetery on the east side contains more recent burials and is xeriscaped with rocks and drought-resistant plants. Many of its graves are decorated in the colorful Mexican tradition of placing silk flowers, plants, statuary, votive candles and other memorabilia on the markers of loved ones, although some graves on the older west side are also decorated in this manner.

Over the years several gravestones have crumbled or deteriorated so that inscriptions are blurred with time and the elements. However, a stroll through the grounds still reveals much history. Many soldiers who served in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War (President Theodore Roosevelt's horse-trainer), WWI and WWII are buried here.

Entrance to San José Cemetery (old west side)

The Amador Family played an important part in the history and founding of Las Cruces, and a major city street is named after them. To the left is their family mausoleum. Note the bow of light surrounding the structure!

Below: individual markers of Amador family members within the wrought-iron gates of the mausoleum.









A prone cross marker reclines amid windswept grasses.




Below: Just a few stones and part of an iron rod are all that's left to indicate the presence of this burial site.







Some plants are cultivated at various gravesites to naturally adorn them year-round.


Wrought iron is a popular decorating motif in New Mexico—in life or death.





A cross inlaid with buttons gives a home-spun touch.

PVC pipe is put to a sacred use.


The official emblems of Las Cruces (The Crosses) is built into the wall bordering the the east entrance of St. Joseph's Cemetery. There are two stories as to how Las Cruces got its name. One interpretation is "The Crossing" since it was an early pioneer settlement in the territory of New Mexico. However, another story relates that the city got its name from being the site where 14 Mexican soldiers were killed in conflict with the local Mescalero Apaches, their graves marked with "rude crosses" (Linda G. Harris, Las Cruces: An Illustrated History, p. 37).

Colorful decorations are common on many graves in St. Joseph's. A peek at the majestic
Organ Mountains may be seen in the upper right-hand corner between the trees.

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