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
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
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
"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
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
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
Montemayor said he wanted to buy the plot to
preserve it as a family plot, but that now it has
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
"It's important to preserve our heritage,"
Canales said. "They say someone was here and they
built this town."