Charles D. Brunt The Albuquerque Journal
October 22, 2008
SOCORRO Mary Silva's vacant lot a rocky patch of land as nondescript as any in this hardscrabble neighborhood of modest houses, ramshackle mobile homes and abandoned trailers is among the few valuable possessions she hopes to leave to her nine children.
But Ken Garrison, a Civil War buff and officer with the New Mexico Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Silva's lot, which likely holds hundreds of human remains in a long-abandoned cemetery, should instead be restored in honor of 27 Confederate soldiers believed to be among the unmarked graves.
In keeping with the organization's mission of preserving the history and legacy of the Confederate soldiers, Garrison said if the abandoned cemetery can't be preserved, the soldiers' remains should be exhumed and reburied "in a respectable location."
State law makes it nearly impossible for Silva or her eventual heirs to do anything with the land, officially designated as an "unmarked burial ground," or for Garrison to realize his dream of relocating the Confederate graves.
For such a small lot on Socorro's west side, Mary Silva's legacy is kicking up a lot of dust.
Civil War Cemetery
State officials have known about the abandoned cemetery since at least 1995, said Glenna Dean, a former state archaeologist who is now associate director of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area.
Dean said the cemetery, whose exact boundaries are unknown, was likely in use from 1853 to 1875, and was probably a former Presbyterian cemetery. It likely covers at least half of the two acres the Silvas bought from another family around 1966. Silva's home and those of two of her daughters and a granddaughter cover most of one acre. The other acre is bare except
for weeds and litter.
Although a quitclaim deed on file with Socorro County verifies the sale to the Silvas, there are no records prior to the quitclaim, Dean said.
"I want to pass it on to my family, and whatever they want to do later on, that's up to them," Silva said as she and three of her children sat at a whitewashed picnic table in her yard last month.
"It would have been good if somebody would have got those bodies out a long time ago," she said wistfully.
Those bodies, according to Garrison, include 27 Confederate soldiers who died of wounds suffered in the Battle of Valverde, a Civil War skirmish that took place on the nearby banks of the Rio Grande on Feb. 21, 1862.
After routing Union forces at a river ford 6 miles north of Fort Craig, Confederate cavalrymen from Texas marched 25 miles north to Socorro, where they ousted Union troops and took over the local hospital to treat their wounded. Over the next two months, 27 were buried on a hill west of town, Garrison said, including his great-great-grand-uncle, Cpl. Thomas Garrason,
who died on March 3, 1862, nine days after the Battle at Valverde.
"I have made it my mission to get them recovered and reburied somewhere suitable," Garrison, a retired golf pro from Albuquerque, said last month.
Silva said she can't understand why the 27 Confederate soldiers, if they're actually buried on her land, are so important to Garrison and his colleagues.
"I understand grieving for a relative you knew," said Silva, who has been a widow since 1984. "But they don't even know who those soldiers were."
Interim state Archaeologist Jan Biella said state law requires that anyone who discovers suspected human bones stop whatever activity that led to the discovery and notify law enforcement officials, who are then required to notify both the state medical investigator and the state historic preservation officer.
"In this case, we know there are human remains there, so the jurisdiction is with our office," Biella said. That means any excavation on Silva's property requires a permit from the state's Cultural Properties Review Committee and must be performed by a qualified archaeologist who has obtained a permit to conduct the excavation.
Any subsequent owner of the property would be bound by the same laws, Biella said, which also covers any artifacts associated with the graves.
Capt. Willis Lang
Taken from a letter written by
Capt. Lang on February 27, 1862.
"Please send copies of this letter throughout the country that the friends may know who have fallen and who have been injured. Send one to James Anders and tell him to kiss Ida a thousand times. I may not live to do so again."
Captain Willis L. Lang
more info on Capt. Lang
Still Looking for Photo of
Pvt. Isaac Marlin
Pvt. Isaac Marlin
Interview with Sarah Marlin Pruett,
In some manner, Isaac Marlin, the little ten year-old boy, managed to slip out of the house as the Indians got in, and he ran out in the dark and hid in a fence corner. The Indians cut Adeline's head off and scalped her long, beautiful hair from it. Her body was found in one place and the bloody, beaten head in another.
more info on Isaac Marlin
Civil War buffs have kept an eye on the lot for years, Garrison said, and have notified state officials anytime a suspected grave is disturbed such as in the 1970s when headstones and statuary disappeared from the cemetery, and in the summer of 1995 when rock-pile grave markers and the remains of a wrought-iron fence were bulldozed. Garrison declined to say who he thought was responsible for the damage.
In 2004, when the city graded Peralta Drive the street fronting the Silva property at least four suspected grave sites were unearthed. Despite the discovery, the graves were paved over.
No Simple Solutions
Two months ago, Garrison found another suspected grave on the western edge of Silva's property and notified state officials. That led to a mid-September meeting with Police Chief Lawrence Romero, Dean, Biella, Garrison, state Deputy Medical Investigator Amy Wyman and several colleagues. Because of friction between Garrison's group and the Silvas, the property owner was not asked to attend, Romero said later. What followed was a discussion most of the attendees had heard before.
"There are probably a couple of ways that this could be solved," said Dean, who dealt with the cemetery for more than a decade while employed by the state. "The potentially less expensive way would be to trade Mrs. Silva for another piece of land and return that property to sacred ground," Dean said. Although that doesn't immediately address Garrison's concerns, it "removes the immediate threat of damage to all of the burials," Dean said. "The only other way I can think of is to remove all of the remains so that it is no longer a cemetery, and Mrs. Silva can go ahead with whatever she wants to do with that land," Dean said. But that would be a lengthy and costly approach, she said.
State law requires each of the graves not just those of the soldiers be treated as an archaeological site, Dean said. And no one knows for certain where the Confederates' bodies lie. "So you have to get a professional archaeologist with a state permit, and a work plan that satisfies the requirements of the law that is then approved by the Cultural Properties Review Committee," she said. "No archaeologist is going to undertake a project of that size without funding," Dean said. "This is going to take months, if not years, to excavate, analyze and report on all of the remains in the cemetery."
But Silva, who said trespassers have been a problem for years, is against having the cemetery excavated. "I wouldn't like that, for them to come over here like that," she said. "I think I'd rather leave everything the way it is." "If they (the city) would give me land with a home on it and enough space to put (her family's) trailers on it, I might do that," Silva said.
Socorro Weighs In
Although the city is willing to consider a land swap, Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker said the first step is to find out exactly what lies beneath the Silva property. At an Oct. 6 City Council meeting, Councilors Peter Romero and Chuck Zimmerly were asked to work with Biella's office to determine what is in the suspected grave Garrison found in August. Bhasker said the city wants to "try to outline a plan which, I would hope, begins with identifying at least one set of remains." "We're just in the stage of trying to document if the bones and remains are of Confederate soldiers to begin with," the mayor said. Although the latest grave appears to lie partly in the Peralta Drive right-of-way and partly on Silva's property, "We would certainly have to get Mrs. Silva's permission to excavate," Bhasker said. "The other point that was made (at the council meeting) was that there are graves all around there, and that other people living there have graves on their land," Bhasker said. "I made it very clear that I want to protect their property rights."
The Silva's will not allow historians, archaeologists or even simple interested parties access to the land. Attempts to examine the property have been met with violence, intimidation and gun shots.
I will attempt to provide the owner of the property, and any other interested people, information which will illuminate who these soldiers were.****
**** There is a part of me which completely sympathizes and understands Mrs. Silva's perspective. I believe that we need to be very cautious and protective of our belongings, especially if those belongings may be financially valuable in some way. However, for example, I believe that the owner of the land in which the Glorieta Battlefield was found was able to work out a compromise which
to keep everything that was found, except the actual remains of the soldiers who were buried there. Mrs. Silva should be given the same assurances and guarantee by anyone who steps on her property.
Most Recent Update -- Click on the arrow button (below) to see the CBS report.
Published : Wednesday, 30 Sep 2009, 7:42 PM MDT
30 September 2009
SOCORRO, N.M. (KRQE) - City workers made a startling discovery in Socorro Tuesday when they dug up a human skull and pieces of a casket reopening a fight
over what may be a Civil War cemetery.
The February 1862 Battle of Valverde brought wounded
Confederate soldiers to Socorro, and some historians believe those who later
died were buried under what are now a paved street and the backyard of a local
The most recent discovery came Tuesday evening when two city workers digging
for a gas line uncovered more than pipe. This is the shoulder blade; right underneath about another six inches is
where the rest of it is, Dr. Heather Edgar, an anthropologist, said as she
inspected the site Wednesday.
Edgar said in the hole dug only a few feet into the ground revealed a human
skull, shoulder bones, leg bones and the handle to a coffin. Edgar said she believes the bones date to the 1800s but for now declined to
speculate beyond that. I don't know if it's male or female," she told KRQE News 13. "I don't know
anything about the person yet."
This isn't the first time an unmarked grave was unearthed on the street. Across
the street from Tuesday's discovery sits a pile of rocks in a vacant lot where
another set of remains was found several years ago.
Charles Mandeville, a member of the Sons of the Confederate Soldiers, said he
believes the abandoned cemetery, with the remains of 27 Confederate soldiers, lies
beneath the vacant lot. In this, behind us, was found the Knight's of
Pythias button, which was the organization that Lincoln founded to watch over
the graves of Union soldiers, Mandeville said. There are no placards and no records so the only way to find out what is
there is to dig, he said. We're trying to gain access to the property ultimately to determine who
might be here, Mandeville said.
However, the main portion of the property belongs to the Silva family, and
they've already told Mandeville he cannot dig on their property.
The city of Socorro told News 13 it needs more proof that Confederate
soldiers were buried there before Mandeville can get his way. So far Tuesday's
dig has not proved much.
I'd probably want to find some badges that say Confederate soldier on them,
Edgar said, I haven't found anything like that.
The bones and artifacts recovered in Socorro are being turned over to the
University of New Mexico Maxwell Museum of Anthropology.
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