Santa Teresa de Cabora: The Hummingbird’s Daughter in Boyle Heights, 1902-1903, Postcript

Editor’s Note:  The end to this remarkable tale brought to us by Rudy Martinez, Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member, about Teresa Urrea, known as Santa Teresa de Cabora, is in the form of this brief postcript.  In it, Rudy notes what happened to Santa Teresa in the few years after her leaving Boyle Heights.

Several months after the devastating fire that destroyed her house and consumed most of her personal possessions, the Ventura County Superior Court finally granted Teresa Urrea Rodriguez her divorce in January 1904. In no rush to leave, she stayed in Ventura for a good part of the year. In late autumn, pregnant with her second child, Teresa returned with John Van Order to Clifton Arizona, now a bustling mining “boomtown.” She gave birth to her daughter, Magdalena Van Order, before the end of the year.

Above is a copy of page one of the document Theresa Rodriguez submitted to file for divorce in the Superior Court of the County of Ventura in October 1903. Courtesy of the Archives Department for the Superior Court of California, County of Ventura.
Although barely visible, one can make out the handwritten signature of Theresa Rodriguez in her divorce filing. Note that she spells her first name with an h. Courtesy of the Archives Department for the Superior Court of California, County of Ventura.

Coincidentally, Teresa arrived in Clifton just barely one week after the town’s infamous, “Great Arizona Orphan Abduction.” This incident occurred when nuns from a New York orphanage brought forty Irish children for placement in the homes of various Mexican families in Clifton. Enraged that Mexicans would raise white children (though Mexican labor in the mines was invaluable), Clifton’s white citizens formed an armed vigilante group to “rescue” the children from the homes of Mexican families and insisted only white citizens had the right to raise them. (In New York, it was difficult for the nuns to find homes for the orphaned children because, as Irish, they were regarded as less than white). The legal wrangling that ensued eventually went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the abductors. 

Albuquerque Weekly Citizen, 20 January 1906.

With the money she earned during her healing tour, Teresa built a two-story structure in which she lived on one floor and continued her healing practice on another. By this time, the father of her two children, John Van Order, was rarely a presence in their lives, spending most of his time outside of Clifton. But by mid-1905, Teresa began to grow visibly weaker, eventually confining herself to her home as her health rapidly declined. Her old Clifton friend, Dr. L. A. Burtch confirmed she had tuberculosis, a common disease in mining towns. 

Bisbee [Arizona] Daily Review, 21 January 1906.

Teresa passed away in Clifton, Arizona at the age of thirty-two on January 11, 1906, leaving her two children to be raised by a close family friend since her days at Cabora Ranch. She was buried in the town’s run-down Catholic Cemetery on Shannon Hill next to her father. Several newspapers throughout the southwest reported that it was one of the largest funeral processions ever seen in the area with almost four hundred people in attendance. 

However, just as in most of her life as she moved from country to country, and city to city, so it was in death that a final resting place would continue to elude Teresa. Three years later, to make way for a new smelter on the site of the cemetery, the Shannon Copper Company, supposedly, relocated the remains of all those interred, including Teresa’s, to a new Catholic cemetery a few miles away. But no burial records were kept or grave markers erected, and within a decade, this cemetery was essentially “abandoned” as cemetery displacement in mining country is common. With virtually no information, no one is sure where Teresa is buried; whether her unmarked remains lay in a remote and long-forgotten cemetery, or if they were never moved and the land was simply excavated and dynamited to move massive amounts of earth to expand mining operations. Today, the small town of Clifton is the site of the massive Morenci open-pit copper mine, the largest copper mine in North America and one of the largest in the world.

La Prensa [San Antonio], 28 February 1937.

Today, a four-story parking structure for White Memorial Hospital and Medical Center now stands at the southwest corner of State Street and Avenida César Chávez (formerly Brooklyn Avenue) where La Santa Teresa de Cabora once lived and “healed” in her simple “bumble bee cottage.”  Although it’s only speculation, perhaps Teresa had plans to resettle, maybe permanently, in Boyle Heights as soon as she was granted a divorce in Ventura County.  

At the time of the 1903 house fire, newspapers reported her Boyle Heights home was filled with her personal belongings, many of them collected during her “healing tour,” and all of them destroyed in the fire.  Today, no personal items belonging to Teresa, or the remains of Teresa herself, appear to have survived.   

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