I pulled out of Fort Stanton, the camp of the Buffalo Soldiers, away from the Visitor’s Center and toward Ruidoso, a town where I would spend three days wishing I was someplace else. Ruidoso is a ski resort in the mountains; a two-lane main street choked with gift shops and restaurants. The gift shops each sold the same things you could get at any mountain gift shop except here it would say `RUIDOSO’ on it, and cost more. You could dine on Mexican food in a hundred different places.
But, back to the road out of Fort Stanton. Out of the corner of my eye, off the winding blacktop, I saw something that barely registered at first. It wasn’t until I was past it by five hundred yards that I realized what it was. I turned and went back to the small cemetery. The reason I didn’t recognize it at first was because it was a cluster of less than two hundred graves, at least half without markers. There was nothing restricting entry. A low wire fence surrounded it and an arch invited access, but I saw no signs forbidding trespassing or warnings of the laws I might be violating.
What it is about graveyards? There’s an old blues song that goes;
The graveyard is a lonesome place
They lay you down on your back and
Throw the dirt down in your face.
Nobody wants to go to the graveyard that final time yet people visit cemeteries. They take rubbings, photos and videos of tombstones in Europe, they visit Los Angeles cemeteries seeking the graves of the famous. Some cemeteries have a policy of not revealing the location of famous graves and try to discourage tourism. Other cemeteries have tours.
I had a strange feeling in this place. For one thing it was the first time I’d ever been in a cemetery alone. I was the only living person there. There were no other visitors, no relatives, no digging machinery, no staff. Just me and the less than two hundred dead. The graves were in rough rows. The weeds had been knocked down and what vegetation there was lay parched in the sunlight. Some markers were wooden crosses with names and dates carved onto the faces. Victoria Salazar’s cross had fallen over. Her dates were unreadable. Jose Montano’s omitted the dates but listed Co. F. N.M. Cav. David F. McAdoo was born May 26 1855, died February 23 1907; fifty-two years, not a long life by our standard. A.V. Brady’s marker stood inside an elaborate, rusted, steel bed frame–a crib. A. V. Brady came here at age three and here A.V. Brady stayed. Rest In Peace.