Tobi Taylor's Journal

News > Thursday, January-07-2010

Trinidad Lopez and the Naco Cemetery

The tiny border town of Naco, Arizona, made the news a few years ago because a historic cemetery there was going to be destroyed in advance of construction of an RV park. I was doing research on Naco for an issue of Archaeology Southwest when I happened upon a list of the people interred at the cemetery that had been compiled by historian Robert Silas Griffin (www.mycochise.com/cemnaco.php). To my surprise, one of the names matched that of my maternal great-great-grandmother, Trinidad Lopez, about whom little is known.

Our family lore has it that, as a young woman in Tucson, Trinidad bore three children by John Rhodes, a cattleman from Texas who fell in with the brothers Ed and John Tewksbury, two of the major players in Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War. This feud, also known as the Graham–Tewksbury War, lasted about a decade and was responsible for the deaths of between 30 and 50 men.

In 1888, a year after members of the Graham faction killed John Tewksbury, Rhodes married Tewksbury’s widow and within a short time relocated his and Trinidad’s children from Tucson to Pleasant Valley. In 1892, Rhodes and Ed Tewksbury ambushed Tom Graham (the last of the Graham men) in Tempe, near the still-standing Niels Peterson House, at the intersection of Southern Avenue and Priest Drive. Rhodes was quickly arrested and put on trial. While in the courtroom, Rhodes was nearly killed when his victim’s widow attempted to shoot him. Rhodes was acquitted, and after that he seems to have become a more-or-less model citizen: he signed up at age fifty-six as an Arizona Ranger, and in 1907, he became the Pinal County Livestock inspector.

There is little direct evidence for the course of Trinidad’s life after Rhodes took their children to Pleasant Valley. But when I discovered her name among those at the Naco Cemetery, and then was able to obtain a copy of her death certificate (http://genealogy.az.gov/), various pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. From the 1864 census (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cenfiles/az/1864/jd1/dist1-pt04.txt), I had already placed her year of birth sometime around 1854–1856, and she appears to have grown up with a younger brother or cousin named Rafael Lopez. Interestingly, years later, when Rhodes was on trial, a Rafael Lopez corroborated Rhodes’s claim that he was nowhere near Graham’s property at the time the latter was killed.

The Trinidad Lopez buried at the Naco cemetery died in 1920 at age 65, indicating that she was born in 1855. On her death certificate, she is listed as a "widow," but her parents’ last name is the same as hers. Although it is conceivable that she had married a man with the same surname (and Lopez is an admittedly common name), it is also possible that the use of the term "widow" was a way of getting around the fact that she had three children out of wedlock. Family tradition suggests that Trinidad was not born in Tucson, but instead somewhere in Sonora. Both the census data and her death certificate bear this out.

Even though it is unclear what Trinidad was doing in Naco around the time of her death, we do know that she had various relatives in southern Arizona, including a cousin or uncle, Jose Lopez, who homesteaded a ranch in the San Pedro valley, her brother or cousin Rafael Lopez, a sister or cousin Josefa Lopez, as well as Trinidad’s children — Clara, who married Frank Acton and lived on the Acton Ranch near Mammoth, Juan Francisco (Frank), who was killed during construction of the copper mill at Hayden in 1911, and William (Billy) Rhodes, who worked on the Carlink Ranch, near Redington.

It is ironic that it took the potential destruction of the Naco Cemetery to bring so much attention to the individuals who have been interred there for so many years. Thanks to the residents of Cochise County and other interested parties, Trinidad Lopez and the other people at the cemetery can continue to rest in peace —que en paz descanse.

[A different version of this essay appeared in Archaeology Southwest in 2006.]


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