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Through the efforts of Willie and Gus Montemayor, Prajedis Esparza, and Cameron County Historical Commission members; Chula and Sam Griffin, Prajedis Cavazos, Liz Jenkins, Santos V. Canales; and County Engineer, Michael Martin the cemetery was saved from destruction.


The Brownsville Herald


By:Dane Schiller

Just what is going on beneath a clump of mesquite trees about five miles outside of town?

Is a generations-old graveyard being raised for a parking lot, or preserved for the future?

"There were bodies," said Santos Canales, head of the cemetery committee for the Cameron County Historical Commission. "We don't know what has been done."

Canales says headstones are missing and caliche has been laid where people were buried at the fork of old and new highways 281, near the community of San Pedro.

But Lydia Longoria, owner of the land, said she's done nothing but show respect for the dead.

A portion of the land is being cleared to open a medical clinic, Tropical Health Center, which will target poor people who have had limited access to medical care.

"What we have done hasn't disturbed anything," said Isaias McCaffery, a part-time history instructor at the University of Texas at Brownsville and the clinic's administrator.

About six months ago McCaffery said, he visited the site and there were two headstones, the same pair that were there Wednesday.

Brush has been hacked away and a fence will be erected around the corner of the land where the graves are located, he said.

"The headstones are still standing so anyone can go out there and take a look at them," he said.

He said he's heard there may have been as many as 15 people buried in the area, but that those graves were moved long ago when the new military highway came in.

Cameron County Engineer Mike Martin said the site is not a registered cemetery, but at least two people are buried at the site.

"I don't know how many tombstones were actually out there," Martin said. "We're chasing it down as hard and fast as we can to get to the bottom of it."

A key will be what type of evidence the historical commission can turn over to prove there were more graves, he said.

Chula Griffin, of the county's historical commission, said she has rubbings from headstones which prove they were there.

There's also the word of Gus Montemayor, whose grandparents' graves sit a stone's throw from the clinic.

Montemayor, a Brownsville Independent School District counselor, said his sister and two brothers, who were twins and died as infants, are among 15 people buried there.

He said he drives near the graveyard nearly everyday and was shocked when he saw a parking lot being put up.

"I tried to stop them, but they wouldn't listen," Montemayor said. "I said, "This is a cemetery, it's against the law and you can't do it."

Montemayor said he wanted to buy the plot to preserve it as a family plot, but that now it has been destroyed.

He says the broken crosses which marked his brother's graves are gone and that his parents' headstones have been moved about five feet.

Canales, of the historical commission, said many small graveyards dot South Texas as part of the area's ranch land heritage.

Canales said people have a right to defend their relatives' graves, whether or not they own the land.

"It's important to preserve our heritage," Canales said. "They say someone was here and they built this town."

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