Originario de Polonia, muy joven vino al país y adquirió carta de ciudadanía mexicana. Radicado en el Estado causó alta en la Guardia Nacional el 1o. de marzo de 1873 a las órdenes del coronel Ángel Elías. En 1876 fue nombrado mariscal de Colonias Militares.
En 1882 fue ascendido a capitán de auxiliares del Ejército y comisionado en el Escuadrón de Colonias. Ascendió a mayor y pasó a mandar el grupo de gendarmería fiscal establecido en Magdalena.
En junio de 1906 desalojó a los rangers americanos que el gobernador Izabal usó para someter a los obreros en Cananea. Ascendió a coronel en 1907. En febrero de 1912 se retiró del Ejército después de 35 años de servicios. En junio siguiente fue llamado a filas para combatir a las partidas orozquistas que invadieron el Estado y ganó la acción de La Dura.
My dear friend, Mark Kasal stopped by Calvary Cemetery the other day to see if he could find Col. Emilio Kosterlitzky’s gravesite. It took the staff (all Hispanic) a long time to locate it and they finally did after he looked Emilio up on Wikipedia on his cell phone and gave them the date of his death. There were other names similar to his last name but the others were spelled differently. None of them knew anything about the Colonel.
Next to him is his daughter, Anita who died at only 17. She was an accomplished musician and had recently had a performance at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles.
Emil Kosterlitzky was born on November 16, 1853 in Moscow, to a German mother and Russian Cossack father. He was noted for his language ability; he spoke English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, Polish, Danish and Swedish. In his teens, Emil joined the Russian Navy as a midshipman. By 1871, at the age of 18, he deserted his ship in Venezuela. Kosterlitzky then traveled to the Mexican state of Sonora, where he changed his name to Emilio and joined the Mexican Army.
During the 1880s he fought in the Mexican Apache Wars. He also assisted American troops pursuing Apaches across the border under the 1882 United States–Mexico reciprocal border crossing treaty. Kosterlitzky became known to the American troops, who called him the “Mexican Cossack”. In 1885, Kosterlitzky was appointed commander of the Gendarmería Fiscal, the customs guard for the Mexican government, by President Porfirio Díaz.
In 1913, Kosterlitzky was captured in Nogales, Sonora, by revolutionaries during the Mexican Revolution. He was jailed until 1914, when he, his wife, Francesca, and two daughters moved to Los Angeles, California, in the United States, where he became a translator for the U.S. Postal Service. During World War I, he pretended to be a German physician. He returned to Mexico in 1927, to investigate a plot against the government of the state of Baja California. Kosterlitzky died in Los Angeles on March 2, 1928, and is buried in Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.
Russian-Born Soldier of Fortune Thrived in West
Emilio Kosterlitzky captured and released Geronimo, chased Pancho Villa and later went after rumrunners for the FBI during Prohibition.
Some of his critics called him a man without a nation in search of a good fight.
Emilio Kosterlitzky was the classic soldier of fortune, a Russian imperial sailor who jumped ship to enlist in Mexico’s army. He wound up working for the FBI in Prohibition-era Los Angeles, hunting down bootleggers and rumrunners.
For The Record
Emilio Kosterlitzky — The L.A. Then & Now column in the Dec. 18 California section, which was about Emilio Kosterlitzky, a Russian imperial sailor who enlisted in Mexico’s army and later spied for the U.S. while living in Los Angeles, did not credit some of the sources used.
In addition to those cited — Times articles published during Kosterlitzky’s lifetime and a 1970 biography by Cornelius C. Smith Jr. — sources included an article by Samuel Truett, assistant professor of history at the University of New Mexico, from the 2005 fall/winter issue of Huntington Frontiers magazine, a publication of the Huntington Library.
The Times column said that during Kosterlitzky’s last days at Ft. Rosecrans in San Diego, an FBI agent offered him a job in Los Angeles.
Truett’s article provided the specifics of that job offer, including the name of the federal agent who hired Kosterlitzky in 1914 to spy on refugees in the U.S. The column called him an FBI agent, but in 1914 the agency was known as the Bureau of Investigation.
The column also said that when Kosterlitzky and his soldiers in Mexico surrendered to U.S. troops to seek American sanctuary from rebels, “according to international law, the neutral U.S. had to hold them as prisoners of war until they could be repatriated.”
That information should have been credited to Truett. The column said some called Kosterlitzky “a man without a nation in search of a good fight,” language that also should have been credited to Truett. Other sources used in the column were Times articles published after Kosterlitzky’s death, a dispatch from the El Paso Times and the 1935 book “Los Angeles, City of Dreams,” by former Times columnist Harry Carr.
In addition, the column reported that Kosterlitzky captured Geronimo but released him because he thought the Indian was an honorable adversary. Kosterlitzky told at least one other version of the Geronimo story; the truth is in doubt.