Florida J. Wolfe, also known as “Lady Flo,” was one of the most remarkable, resilient, albeit mysterious Black women to live in El Paso, Texas. Consort and common law wife to Irish Lord Delaval James Beresford, who owned cotton plantations and cattle ranches in Canada, the southwestern United States and Mexico, Lady Flo was a proud African American woman who flaunted tradition, but in her good-hearted, generous manner earned the inexorable respect of citizens on both sides of borders of the bi-national cities of El Paso, Texas and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.
Born in Illinois, possibly the town of Salem, to Nancy and David Wolfe, Florida’s early background is shrouded in mystery owing to her parents’ divorce and lack of information on her early schooling. There are many unverifiable stories of Florida’s arrival in El Paso—ranging from having been brought to the city by Lt. Henry Flipper, West Point’s first African American graduate, to having met Lord Beresford in either New Orleans, U.S.A. or Chihuahua, Mexico, nursing him back to health, and soon becoming his housekeeper/companion. Fluent in Spanish, Lady Flo was often described as “looking Mexican.”
Lady Flo’s relationship with Lord Beresford made it easier for them to live in Mexico as Texas law in l893 prevented interracial marriage or cohabitation. The couple frequently traveled between Cuidad Juarez and El Paso in a multi-person entourage. Lady Flo gave grand parties and made contributions to the El Paso Fire Department and Police Department. With Lord Beresford’s death in a train wreck in Minnesota in December l906, Lady Flo claimed his property as his common law wife. Using her knowledge of ranching and farming, she expanded the ranch’s production after his death.
Lord Beresford’s family in Ireland contested Lady Flo’s claim and after a protracted court battle she received only $15,000 and a “few hundred head of cattle.” Nonetheless Lady Flo spent the remaining years of her life in El Paso, Texas, attending regularly the Second Baptist Church and giving away what was left of her fortune to the poor and downtrodden.
Florida J. Wolfe developed tuberculosis and died in El Paso in May 1913. The prominent Black physician, Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon tended to Lady Flo and ultimately signed her death certificate. She was buried in El Paso’s Concordia Cemetery.